Thursday, 3 April 2008

Sexual Ethics: Part I

Introduction and The Foundations of Ethics

We live in an age of a great and enthralling spectacle. Today, we, as onlookers and participants at once, cannot help but immerse ourselves in the ferocious battle being fought between those attacking and hoping to tear down that grim, cyclopean structure, tradition, and those who want to defend it and shore it up.

Like some vast and terrible castle, tradition looms over us yet, but this edifice's walls, weakened by the pickaxes of reason and by the disintegration of their aging matter, are crumbling. Nonetheless, this frightening construction is not falling into ruin as fast as its destroyers would desire, nor even as fast as it would be were it left on its own. There are those who, raised in its shadows, are either as blind as worms or as fearful of the light as cockroaches, and these venomous things oppose all the efforts of those who would demolish the walls that provide them with their reassuring gloom. These hordes, shaking with fear and anger, wage a war against the men with the bright torches and the complex tools. They are horrified that the structure built over the centuries to imprison them and keep them away from the light of reason might collapse. As their venerated castle, attacked by its enemies, falls down about them, as its walls tremble and its joints groan, they, while snapping and clawing at their foes, build crazy networks of scaffolding to keep the great heap from tumbling down.

This fight between those who would knock down the prison of tradition and those who would lock themselves in it rages all about us today, and its outcome is not, by any means, certain. Those who strive to create a world guided by reason might yet be defeated and mankind might yet be made to huddle in the darkness of bigotry and superstition.

Reason is not some adamantine sword capable of cutting through the toughest integuments of ignorance and stupidity. Nonetheless, there are people who, though intelligent, have been tricked by the magic lanterns, prestidigitation, and crude deceits of old fashioned magicians. They are not themselves stupid, but, like any person, they can be fooled. It is for the sake of these individuals that I now provide arguments. Perhaps I can, directly or indirectly, help someone to look at things critically, because, if a person does so, reason might just slice through the thin layer of prejudice that keeps him away from rationality.

Obviously, the great prison of tradition covers virtually every field of human existence with its darkness, and I cannot in one short essay dispel the gloom from every place it is found. I can, however, venture forth and raise my own torch in some corner, hoping that I might illumine at least some tiny part of the world.

So now, looking around for a suitable opponent, I immediately discover that, in the world today, there is much debate about sexual ethics. Everywhere I cast my gaze, I notice how gangs of people, inflamed by traditional teachings, rail against promiscuity, homosexuality, prostitution, polygamy, or whatever practice goes against the customs with which they were raised. Having spied these individuals, I cannot avoid noticing that not only are they turning away from a great many of the pleasures life has to offer, but they are also both keeping others from those pleasures and punishing many of those who enjoy them. Here are some opponents worth fighting.

The Foundations of Ethics
To make my attack on the position of those advocating traditional sexual ethics, I must ask what it is that makes some sexual act ethical or unethical. To do this, however, I must lay certain foundations. Specifically, I must ask what makes any action ethical or unethical.

My answer to this question begins with a simple claim, that all living things have innate worth. Perhaps this statement is an axiom, but it is one that I am willing to accept. Innate worth and being alive are effectively synonyms, since having innate worth is simply being alive. If we are to start looking at what constitutes worth, I cannot think of a less arbitrary or less controversial place. There will, of course, be those who will deny that all living things are of equal worth. They will say, for example, that a human being has greater worth than does an oyster. I will not deny that it is possible to assign degrees of worth to different kinds of entities. Doing so is not, however, the point of this essay and can be ignored for the moment. I will, for now, be happy even if the reader will accept that all human beings have equal innate worth. If someone does not accept that all human beings have innate worth, then I suppose I can stop discussing ethics with that person (although I'm sure I'd be wise to keep a watch on someone who denies the worth of other human beings, if only to make sure he doesn't try to kill me or steal from me). If a person claims the innate worth of one person can be greater than is that of another, then he will have to prove it. While he is doing so, I, however, will be keeping an eye on his activities. I'm afraid I've seen more than a sufficient number of the actions of people who make such claims (like Hitler, for example) to make me wary of those individuals. To the person who will admit that all people equally possess innate worth, I do have something to say. Because of an individual 's innate worth, and because, unless it can be shown otherwise, the innate worth of every person must be admitted to be neither greater nor less than the innate worth of another person, every person has a sort of native autonomy. Being of no less worth than another, a person has a right to make decisions for himself, and a right to be free of having the decisions of another imposed upon him. At the same time, since one person is no better than another, no person has a right to make decisions for another and impose his desires upon that other. What is more, because of his innate worth, the desires of a person also have worth, although this is an assigned worth, a secondary worth.

Having said all of this, let me now define ethics as that field of investigation involving determinations of what actions ought to be performed and what ought not to be performed. To make any such determinations, a person has to take into account both the innate and the secondary worth of those individuals with whom he interacts. Specifically, since every person is equal and, consequently, autonomous, that is to say, since every person has a right to make decisions for himself, a person making a decision about what is ethical must take into account the desires of other persons.

It follows from these claims that actions can be divided into three classes, praiseworthy actions, permissible actions, and improper actions. The first of these are duties; they are those actions that one ought to perform. Specifically, they are those actions that a person performs which are both intended to be and determined as likely being conducive to fulfilling those desires of another person that do not themselves impinge upon the fulfillment of the desires of yet another person. The second class of actions, morally neutral actions, are those that are intended to fulfill one's own desires but which are neither intended to be conducive to fulfilling another's desires nor are either intended or likely to impinge upon another's desires. Actions of both of these classes can be said to be ethical, in that such actions involve interactions with other people and are morally permissible. Fulfilling duties is, of course, praiseworthy while engaging in neutral actions is not, but a person does nothing wrong when engaging in actions of either sort. The last class of actions is composed of those actions that are either intended or are likely to impinge upon the desires of another. It is this class of actions that I regard as being unethical.

Because every person has the same innate worth, no person has the right to impinge upon the desires of another. However, when one person does desire to impinge upon the desires of another, because he has no right to do so, and has so acted unethically, it is not unethical to prevent him from doing so. In this case, a person is not impinging upon the desire of a second person simply to fulfill his own desire, but rather to prevent that second person from impinging on the desires of another. The measure is preventative rather than initiatory. Actually, I might add, that when one person impinges upon the desires of a second, any third individual who happens to witness this unethical action, recognizing the worth of the person being imposed upon, has a duty to help that second person, to act in such a way that this individual's desires are fulfilled. If I see a woman being sexually assaulted in a dark alley, I have a duty to help her, and walking away instead of going to help her is an immoral act. In fact, there is little difference between my walking away and the attacker's raping the woman. Both actions will result in the woman being raped. It might be a terrible nuisance, but we do actually have an obligation to our fellow human beings.

From what I have said about every person's innate worth and autonomy, it follows that, when acting on his own, in a way that does not affect others, questions of ethics are irrelevant. A person, being a free agent, makes for himself whatever choices he desires. Since he is autonomous and his decisions have conferred worth, whatever decisions he makes that affect only himself are legitimate. They are neither moral nor immoral. Of course, there are consequences of this assertion. While I have a moral duty to defend others, as I just noted, I do not have such a duty to defend myself. If another impinges upon my desires, I do not have an obligation to fight back. That said, because it is this other person who is impinging upon my desires and not me impinging on his, I do have a right to fight back. Doing so, however, is neither moral nor immoral. It is not ethically obligatory as is fighting to defend someone else. Should I be attacked by a man desiring my blood, it is morally permissible for me to defend myself, but I do not have a duty to do so. If I choose to allow him to harm me, I have the right to make that choice. Whatever choices I make for myself are mine to make, so long as they do not impinge upon the autonomy of others.

Sexual Ethics: Part II

The Basic Types of Sexual Interactions, External Factors Complicating Sexual Relationships, and The Law of Correct Sexual Behavior

The Basic Types of Sexual Interactions
Now that I have laid out a framework for my ethics, I can apply this framework to human sexuality.

When determining whether a given sexual action is ethical or not, I must first look at whether it involves one person alone or more than one person. If it involves a single person, then, because the determination of whether an act is ethical can only be made when an action involves or affects another person, the act is outside the scope of ethics. It cannot be ethical or unethical. Since every person is autonomous and every person's desires have conferred worth, it follows that a person has every right to engage in whatever solitary sexual acts he desires. To put it bluntly, if a person wants to masturbate, then he has every right to do so. The person is simply doing what he desires to do, and his actions do not harm anyone. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is unethical to condemn a person for masturbating. When someone is attacked or shamed for such actions, the intent of the person so condemning the actions is clearly to make the masturbator feel guilty for fulfilling his desires. The condemning person is thus impinging upon the desires of the person condemned by ignoring that person's desires to experience pleasure, to have self-respect, to enjoy privacy, and so on.

Having so freed the great bulk of human sexual activity from the onus of being unethical, let me now turn to the remainder of human sexual activities, namely, those activities that involve two or more persons. It is, of course, with regard to these that questions of ethics are relevant. Now, to determine whether any given act is ethical or not, the criteria given in the preceding section need to be applied to the actions of the persons involved. Once this has been done, it is possible to decide whether a particular act is praiseworthy, morally neutral, or unethical.

Of course, life is complicated, and a great many factors have to be taken into account in virtually any situation. These factors can, after all, greatly change the propriety of any action. Consequently, whenever a person acts, he has to look at every factor that bears upon the situation, at least to the best of his ability at the time. We are not omniscient, however, and we often must act without sufficient information. It is, nonetheless, still incumbent upon us to act in as informed a way as is possible. Inevitably, we will find ourselves in very complex situations, sometimes without clear answers presenting themselves. We even, on occasion, just have to guess what the best course of action will be, and, at times, we find that every possible course of action mingles the ethical with the unethical.

Since the world is so complicated, it would, perhaps, be best to simplify things so that we can have a basis on which to develop a more intricate system. To do this, to make things simpler, I'll posit a hypothetical situation in which no extraneous factors are present.

Let's imagine that on a deserted island somewhere two human beings spring spontaneously into existence as intelligent, knowledgeable adults. Let's call them Frank and Sally. These two look at each other and interact, with the result that each forms opinions about and feelings for the other. With regard to their sexual desires, there are three possibilities. First, each person desires the other. Second, one of them desires the second, but the second does not desire the first. Third, neither desires the other. The last of these scenarios can be ignored since no sexual interaction will take place. So let's look at the interactions that could occur with the first two possibilities.

If both of these individuals desire one another, then, insofar as each person is acting to fulfill his or her own desire without impinging upon the desires of the other, each is acting ethically when engaging in some sort of sexual activity with the other. Even if one of these individual is acting without intending to fulfill the desire of the other, that person is still engaging in a morally neutral act, since he or she is not impinging upon the desire of the other. Thus, although Sally is so excited that all she cares about is satisfying her urges, and isn't concerned with satisfying Frank's urges, since Frank also desires sex, she is not behaving wrongly. However, if either one of these two is motivated by a desire to fulfill the desire of the other, then that person is engaging in a praiseworthy act. Should Sally, though desiring to have sex herself, also have the desire to satisfy Frank's desire, then, insofar as she is acting to accordance with the second of the motivations, she is engaging in a praiseworthy act.

The situations become more complex when only one of the two persons desires the other. If the person feeling desire refrains from engaging in sexual activity with the second person because he acknowledges the desires of this second person, then he is acting ethically. If he attempts to compel the other person to engage in sexual activity with him, then, by impinging upon the desires of the second person, he acts unethically. As for the person who does not feel desire, if this individual refuses to engage in sexual activity with the first person, then such an action is morally neutral, because it is performed by a free agent and neither fulfills nor impinges upon the desires of the second person. The situation now gets even more complicated. Let's imagine that Frank is the person without desire for sex and that Sally is the person with such desire. Frank sees how Sally suffers because of her inability to fulfill her desire for sex and feels compassion for her. In such a case, Frank, though without desire for sex, might still choose to have sexual relations with Sally in order to fulfill her desires. In this case, Frank's actions are praiseworthy. Sally's actions will, however, need to be examined a little more carefully. If Sally, who desires to have sex with Frank, simply responds to Frank's actions, without realizing Frank's conflicted desires, then, because she is acting in accordance with Frank's expressed desires, her actions are not unethical. Actually, for Sally, the situation would be the same as that when Frank actually desired her. If she responds only in order to fulfill her own desires, then her actions are morally neutral. It is even possible that, believing she is fulfilling Frank's desires, she is acting in a praiseworthy manner. If, however, Sally, the individual with desire, is able to discern Frank's desires, it is incumbent upon her to take them into account. If she determines that there are two conflicting desires present in Frank's mind, namely, the desire to gratify Sally's sexual desires and the desire not to have sex with her, then she must examine the relative strengths of these. After all, when Sally fulfills one of these desires she will, inevitably, be thwarting the other. If Frank's desires seem to be of roughly equal or even of indeterminate intensity, then, as the praiseworthy action is negated by the unethical and the unethical by the praiseworthy, Sally may take her own desires into account. She may have sex with Frank and be confident that her actions are morally neutral. If she determines that one of Frank's desires is of greater intensity, then her own desires become irrelevant. She must do the minimum harm and the maximum good to the other person. Thus, if Sally honestly feels that Frank's desire to do her good, by having sex with her, is greater than his desire not to have sex with her, she should have sex with him. Moreover, while she does, she can put aside any concerns about thwarting his lesser desire and know that she has acted properly. If, however, Sally determines that the opposite is the case, that Frank has a strong desire not to have sex with her and a weak desire to satisfy her desire, then she should not have sex with Frank. In this case, if she does have sex with him, she would then be acting unethically. In both these situations, an action can be both ethical and unethical. To decide what course of action we ought to take in such cases, we must weigh the desires of individuals affected by our actions as best we can. Inevitably, we will make mistakes, but we must still try.

I am reminded of an ancient story from India that illustrates this point quite nicely. In it, the protagonist happens upon a departed soul who is being punished by some particularly gruesome sort of torture for a sin he committed in life. The hero asks this individual what he did to be so tormented, and the soul tells his story. He relates how, in his last life, he had been a holy man who never lied and was always charitable. Then, one day, a man came running to his home in terror and begged to be hidden. The holy man told this person to enter his house and hide there. A few minutes later, a gang of ruffians carrying weapons and clearly desiring to kill the person who had been fleeing ahead of them arrived at the house. They asked the holy man if he knew where their prey had fled. Since he never lied, he told them the man was in the house. The ruffians entered it and killed their victim. Later, when he died, the holy man found out that he was as guilty of the murder of the man who had hidden in his house as were the ruffians who had been chasing him. In his blindness, the holy man had chosen to avoid a minor transgression, lying, but had, by doing so, caused the death of another human, which is hardly a minor transgression. The lesson here is clear. Sometimes, performing a good act entails committing an evil act. Should we fail to weigh the relative merits of these, we are not just demonstrating a lack of discernment. We can be acting immorally.

External Factors Complicating Sexual Relationships
The story of the holy man related above makes it clear that deciding on a proper course of action can require some reflection, and that the relative merit and demerit of different actions must be examined. A person cannot simply take into account the expressed desires of another individual. Thus, when the holy man in this tale decided to speak honestly about the presence of the man in his house, he ought to have considered the consequences the violent intentions of the ruffians would have on the man they sought. He ought to have realized that their desires would impinge upon the desire of the man hiding, but he did not. He reacted to their expressed desire to know the location of this individual, but he completely forgot about his obligations to other persons, specifically his obligation to the man who would be killed as a result of his truth telling.

Obviously, a person making an decision needs to weigh factors other than the desires of the persons directly affected by his action (such as the desire of the members of a band of murderous ruffians to hear the truth about the location of their prey). There are, in reality, various factors that can alter the dynamics of a situation. To be specific, these factors are any condition, action, or fact that must be taken into account along with the desires of the other party because these might 1) limit the freedom of one party to engage in an action since the performance of that action would involve doing something unethical to a third person, 2) incline one person not desiring to engage in an activity, here a sexual act, to do so by producing in that person a new desire, usually a desire to avoid pain, or 3) affect the ability of one party to make rational, ethical decisions.

In making ethical decisions, we must consider how these factors bear on the act we are thinking of performing. After all, there are obligations one person has to another - whether these are promises voluntarily made to another or the universal duty to consider the desires of others - which have ethical consequences for that person's interactions with a third individual. Additionally, when one person, whether intentionally or not, produces in a second person a desire to avoid pain that is so intense that the second person has two competing desires - one to avoid the pain and the other not to have sex - then, because he is infringing upon the second person's autonomy by creating such a desire and exploiting it to impel the person to have sex with him, he is behaving in a way that ignores the other's worth. There are even influences that, by reducing a person's capacity to make judgments and to behave ethically, nullify another individual's right to acknowledge all of the first person's desires. All of these factors must be considered when making ethical decisions about how any other individual should be treated. When these factors come into play, the simple guidelines just given are not sufficient to determine the propriety of a given action. Though a person should still apply these guidelines when making an ethical decision, he should do so with an awareness that additional factors could be complicating the situation.

Admittedly, not all human interactions are complicated by outside factors. There are many occasions when two or more people, both or all of whom are free agents and acting according to their desires, choose to engage in sexual relations. In such cases, their actions are completely ethical, just as those who do not engage in sexual relations because they do not desire to do so are acting ethically. Sometimes, conflicting desires in a person must be weighed against one another, and an action's being ethical or not will depend upon a person's acting in accordance with that determination.

However, it is not uncommon for outside factors to affect human interactions. Because such factors affect what our moral judgments will be, we must be aware of these factors, and we must take them into account. To do so, however, we must be aware of what such factors could be.

Coercion, for example, could be employed by one person on another in order to induce that other into engaging in sexual relations.

I do not here mean simple crude physical force, since physical assault is not really an outside factor as these have been defined. It is simply a series of actions performed by an agent that ignore the desires of another person. By means of physical assault, one individual overpowers another and prevents that other from refusing to have sexual relations with him. When saying that physical attacks are not an external factor, I am not, however, saying that physical attacks are anything but immoral. They are undoubtedly immoral. Because acts of physical compulsion directly impinge upon the desire of the person against whom they are directed, they automatically make any sexual act performed as a result of that compulsion immoral.

The threat of actual physical attack is, however, an extraneous factor as I have defined it, and, I might add, such a threat is as much coercion as is a physical attack. Allow me to explain. Clearly, it is possible for one person to employ some means of creating a sense of danger, physical intimidation, for instance, to produce in a person, the victim of the threat, a desire to avoid what is being threatened. This desire might even be strong enough to outweigh the victim's desire not to engage in sex with the person doing the threatening. If this is the case, the threat can impel the victim into consenting to having sex. Obviously, whenever one person threatens to physically harm another if that other will not engage in a sexual act with the first, that first person is behaving unethically. I hardly even need to argue this point. It should, I hope, be apparent to anyone that the person doing the threatening is impinging upon the desires of his victim by bringing into their interactions an additional factor, namely, the threat.

There are, however, any number of other kinds of coercion that can be just as effective as are any threats of physical harm.

It is quite possible for one person to threaten another with economic ruin, personal humiliation, or some other sort of non-physical injury in order to induce that person to have sex with him. Because, in every one of these instances, the person being induced to have sex does not desire to have sex and is consenting to have sex only in order to avoid an injury that is deemed to be worse than having sex with an individual who is not desired as a sexual partner, the individual threatening the other is behaving unethically.

Coercion does not, however, require the use of violence or threats. Coercion, after all, is simply causing a person to do something although that person has not expressed a desire to do it. When the person cannot make a decision to do something, then causing him to do it is, inevitably, coercion. Consequently, if a given individual is incompetent to consent to a sexual act, and another individual, one who is not incompetent, still engages in some sexual activity with the incompetent person, then the competent person is effectively coercing the incompetent person.

There are, moreover, an almost infinite number of reasons why a person might not be competent to make the decision to consent to a sexual act. Such an individual could be unconscious, intoxicated, very young, disturbed by extreme emotions, severely mentally ill or handicapped, or afflicted by any number of other conditions. Although it is not always possible to determine if a given individual is incompetent for one of these reasons, it is incumbent upon the competent person to attempt to make that determination. If he does, then, even should be incorrect, he will know that his actions were not improper. If he does not, then he is guilty of coercing another person into having sex with him and has so behaved unethically. For example, a man might meet a woman who displays certain eccentricities. These strike him as possible indicators of mental illness. He then should make a genuine effort to discover if the woman is competent to make the decision to engage in sexual relations with him. If he does so and honestly concludes that she is sane enough to make this decision, then he is behaving ethically if he has sex with her, even if he later learns that he was incorrect in his assessment. If he ignores the signs of possible illness and proceeds to have sex with the woman, he has behaved unethically, even if he later discovers that the woman is perfectly sane.

Admittedly, every person, being autonomous, has the right to make his own decisions. Nevertheless, experience demonstrates that all persons are not equally capable of making decisions. In most instances, we just have to accept others' judgments, since, though they might be unwise, or even destructive, they are, nonetheless, made by a person who is simply relatively less capable than another. In other instances, however, a person, because of a particular mental state, simply cannot be trusted with making decisions. That person, because of this impaired mental state, is observed to be incapable either of seeing the consequences of his actions or of making decisions at all. This individual, consequently, is likely to make decisions that will be harmful to himself or others. When this is judged to be the case, other people have a moral obligation to prevent this individual from acting upon his decisions. Once again, I am not talking about those who are unwise or who have opinions judged different from my own. I am talking about those whose mental functioning is demonstrably impaired.

Even should such a person express consent to performing a sexual act, this does not relieve the mentally competent individual who proceeds to have sexual relations with this person of the guilt of having engaged in an unethical action. Expressions of consent by a person incapable of giving consent do not constitute consent. Because this is the case, I condemn the actions of the man who would convince a severely mentally ill individual to have sex with him, as well as those of the man who has sex with someone who, having had too much to drink, has passed out, and those of the man who, finding some person distraught over the loss of a loved one, sees an opportunity to exploit that individual's severely impaired reasoning for his own gratification.

The actions of the person who is impaired are, however, generally outside the scope of ethics. Since such an individual has a limited or non-existent capacity for discerning right from wrong, he is incapable of making ethical decisions. This is why the intoxicated person who has sex with a willing sober partner has done nothing wrong. It is the sober individual who has sex with this person who has done something improper. It follows from this that when two persons who are intoxicated have sexual relations, neither is doing anything wrong. Neither is capable of making rational judgments, and both are acting in accord with the expressed desire of the other. The situation does become more complicated when an intoxicated person has sex with another person who, whether intoxicated or not, does not wish to have sex with him. In such cases, though the intoxicated person is incompetent to make the decision to have sex, he was competent to make the decision to drink and so render himself incompetent. He is, then, guilty of unethical behavior. When a person is not competent to make a decision as a result of some condition over which he has no control, and this person compels another to have sex, the situation is different again. In such instances, it must be admitted that the individual has not behaved unethically, because he is incapable of making a rational decision. Nonetheless, because the individual could be judged to be dangerous, it would be foolish not to confine him. If, for example, a mentally ill man rapes a woman, that man ought to be institutionalized. His freedom is not, however, being restricted because he has acted unethically, but because he is dangerous.

There are, unfortunately, even more ways that one individual can coerce another into engaging in sexual activities.

In this complex and unequal world in which we live, a person might be compelled to engage in a sexual act with another person simply because the first of these individuals is in a position that is subordinate to the other. When one person, the superior, has such a relationship with another person, the subordinate, then the interactions of these two are inevitably tinged with potential threat to the well-being of the latter. In hierarchical relationships, any interactions the superior has with the subordinate can, as a result, be colored by the latter's feelings of fear. Consequently, should the superior desire to have sexual relations with the subordinate, the subordinate's consent could well be given simply out of a fear of retribution. The threat of such retribution need not even be overtly stated. The subordinate need merely know that if the wishes of the superior are not fulfilled, there could be consequences, and this knowledge comes simply from knowing the nature of the relationship.

Because there is always, in such relationships, the potential for feelings of fear, there is no way that the superior can be certain that the subordinate is consenting to sex because of a desire for sex. It is always possible that the subordinate is agreeing to have sex simply because of fear. As a result, even if the superior does not intend to use his position to threaten the subordinate, he cannot rule out the possibility of coercion. Relationships between individuals one of whom has authority over the other are, therefore, almost invariably improper. Thus, teachers should not have sex with their students, employers should not have sex with their employees, military officers should not have sex with enlisted personnel, and so on and so on.

Similar issues arise whenever two individuals who are of radically different economic or social backgrounds interact. Because the person of the less privileged social class might be fearful of retribution if he rejects sexual advances made by a person who is of a more privileged social class, and so has, or is perceived to have, power to do the former harm, this latter person will be acting improperly whenever he fails to take such feelings into account. If a rich man has sex with a poor woman, it is quite likely that she is consenting to the act not because she desires to have sex with the man but because she fears that he might be able to do harm to her or to those she cares about. It is also possible that, because of received attitudes about persons of certain more privileged social classes, that the less privileged individual could be overawed by the other and agree to the performance of a sexual act simply as a result of being dazzled by the presence of one perceived to be somehow prestigious. Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of people who will have sexual relations with another because they are so awed. Just look at the number of women who will throw themselves at celebrities in the hope of gracing their hero's beg for a night. While there are certainly examples of women doing this with a clear mind, I cannot but imagine that a fairly high percentage of such women are simply so awed, so overcome by emotion, that, being virtually drunk, they are not thinking clearly. Those of the more powerful class who engage in sexual relationships with persons of a less privileged class are, for both of the reasons given, behaving unethically.

The last means of coercion is simple deception. When one individual convinces another to have sex with him by misleading the other, then he is acting unethically. If the deceiver is providing information to the other, the deceived, that is not true, in order that the deceived person will make a decision based on this false information, then, although the deceived is acting upon his own desires, those desires are not based on the actual situation. Were the truth known to the deceived person, it is possible his desires would have been different. Even if they would not have been, because the deceiver is manipulating the deceived in order to produce desires favorable to himself, rather than to the deceived, and because he is preventing the deceived from forming desires based on facts, the deceiver's actions are, in effect, coercing the desires of the deceived. The deceiver's actions are, consequently, improper. When, for example, a man tells a woman he loves her, though he does not, because he realizes that she will be willing to have sex with a person she believes loves her, he is acting unethically. The woman, being deceived, engages in an activity she would not have engaged in had she not been deceived.

Before concluding this discussion, I want to emphasize a point already made, namely, that it is possible that an individual might coerce another into having sex without being aware that he is coercing this other. Is he, then, behaving unethically? Unfortunately, the answer to this, like many answers, is not simple. If the person unintentionally coercing another does so by not being aware of the other's feelings, situation, mental state, or whatever when he could have been so aware, then he, by not respecting the other's autonomy, is behaving unethically. Being negligent might not be as bad as being deliberately hurtful, but it is still not right. We have an obligation to try to know what others feel, and if we make no effort to find out, we are responsible for our failings. That said, if there truly is no way for a person to know that he is coercing another, if, for example, that person is wealthy and the other, though poor, is pretending to be wealthy, then the person unintentionally coercing the other will have done nothing wrong.

The final factor that can come into play in the interactions of potential sexual partners, and that can make one or more of those persons' sexual actions unethical, is some contractual obligation. If a given individual has entered into an agreement with a second individual not to engage in particular sexual activities, and yet that person does so, then, because he is deceiving the second person and reneging on obligations he took upon himself, he is behaving unethically. When, for example, a man marries some woman and promises to remain monogamous for the duration of that marriage, any time he engages in sexual activity with a third person, he is behaving unethically.

Though we must always consider a person's desires, we must look at them while being aware that there are other factors that can complicate a given situation. Sometimes, these factors limit one person's ability to make decisions. Sometimes, these produce, often very forcefully, new desires, such as the desire to avoid being harmed, which are contrary to a person's other desires and so impinge upon the autonomy of the individual in which they are created. Sometimes, these are obligations that one person has taken upon himself and which limit, or should limit, his ability to act upon his desires..

The Law of Correct Sexual Behavior
In summary, any sexual act must be admitted as being moral when it is performed by two or more free, uncommitted, competent, and roughly equal partners who both or all have consented to that act. To be more specific, any sexual act is moral as long as none of three prohibitive conditions is present. These prohibitive conditions are: 1) that one partner has entered into an agreement with a third person not to engage in the act in question, 2) that one partner is intentionally coercing the other into performing the sexual act, and 3) that, if coercion occurs but is unintentional, the person who is so unintentionally coercing the other can reasonably be expected to be aware that he or she could be coercing that second person. Possible forms of coercion include: 1) one person physically constraining the other and thereby compelling the other to engage in a sexual act, 2) one person threatening the other with harm, whether that harm is physical, emotional, economic, or something else, 3) one person's having a position of authority over the other so that the second person's ability to choose whether or not to engage in sexual activities may be compromised by a fear of retribution, in the case of the second person's decision not being in accord with the desires of the person who has authority over him or her, 4) one person's inability to consent to the sexual relationship, whether as a consequence of extreme youth, mental illness, brain damage, intoxication, unconsciousness, or something else, 5) one person's convincing the other to engage in a sexual act by means of deception, or 6) an extreme disparity in the social or economic conditions of the persons involved, which disparity could prevent one person from making a rational decision about whether or not to accept the first as a sexual partner. If none of the three conditions mentioned above is present, a sexual act performed between two or more persons cannot be immoral.

Sexual Ethics: Part III

A Modern Debate About Sex: Sodomy, Premarital Sex, Promiscuity, Marriage, and Vows

"Well," some irate traditionalist might object, "I ain't too sure about how right your definition of sexual morality is. You say that any kind of sexin' is okay as long it's done by competent consentin' folk, but if that's the case, it'd mean that a whole lot of sins are just fine. Frankly, your definition don't seem useful at all for figurin' out what to consider moral or immoral. We ain't all into free love and wild livin'. Some of us still have values, and we think there are some things that just ain't right. What about sodomy? What about premarital sex? What about adultery? What about women who go a-whorin'? You've got to admit that those are all things that just need to be condemned."

Let's look at these behaviors in the light of what I've said. Maybe that'll help to determine if they're ethical or not.

Is sodomy wrong? If the act is performed by two or more free, uncommitted, competent, and roughly equal partners who both or all have consented to the act, then I'd have to say that the act is perfectly moral. I suppose there are those who will claim that the use of certain body parts is just innately unethical, but I don't know how they could justify this rationally. Maybe there are tiny invisible devils living in certain human organs, and these nasty little fiends sprinkle those organs with "devil dust" to make them impure. Since such a claim is complete make believe it does not, fortunately, need to be addressed. No part of the human body is more or less pure than any other. If someone thinks certain parts are more or less pure than others, then his opinion is based exclusively on inherited prejudice, not on any empirical evidence. For that matter, his belief in purity itself is based on such prejudice. It's a completely made up concept. Even if he appeals to the actual presence of bacteria in or on particular body parts, he's going to be in trouble, especially since he'll never be able to use his hands or mouth again. Actually, I wouldn't complain if some traditionalist did make such a claim. It would be good for those of us devoted to reason if he did. Since this individual wouldn't thereafter be using his hands or mouth, he wouldn't be able argue his position in writing or verbally. That would keep him out of a good deal of mischief.

"That ain't it all," my traditionalist snaps. "It just ain't natural to have sex with the mouth or the anus!"

I have to admit that I'm not entirely sure what my old fashioned friend means when he says that something isn't "natural." I suppose that there are really two possibilities. It could be that he believes that something isn't "natural" if it doesn't serve a biological function. However, if that's what's intended, then my traditionalist must oppose religion, literature, education, and engaging in business. Because none of these things serve a biological function, they must not be natural, and, not being natural, they must be condemnable. The second possible intended meaning of the word (that I can see) is as a label that allows us to make a distinction between things that are devised by human beings and things that are not, the latter being "natural" and the former being "unnatural." Of course, if this is what is meant, then, since it's not natural to wear clothing or build houses, I assume this person is also a nudist living under a tree.

"That's different," he answers. "We have our intelligence. We can learn how to do new things."

Now that's a relief! The traditionalist agrees with me. He concedes that we can employ our intelligence to learn how to do new things, like using the mouth, the anus, the elbow, the foot, the ear, or anything else to do what we want, namely, to fulfill our sexual desires.

"That's pretty nasty. Still, at least you ain't sayin' it's alright for two men or two women or a man and one of them trannies, or whatever you call them, to go at it."

I thought I had said exactly that when I mentioned that any sexual act performed by two or more free, uncommitted, competent, consenting, and roughly equal partners is morally acceptable. I completely fail to see how the genders of the persons involved would be relevant. To tell you the truth, the claim that the genders of the persons involved is relevant is so nonsensical and so arbitrary that I don't even see why it needs to be addressed. I might at well address the relevance of the shape of the participants' eyebrows, the number of moles they have on their ears, their ethnic backgrounds, or their religious or political affiliations.

"Okay, you perverts do what you like, but you still have to admit bumpin' uglies before you're married just ain't right."

Why should I? I've laid out pretty specific conditions for determining if an action is unethical, and I don't see how engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage violates any of those conditions. If a person wants to have sex, then he should have sex.

"Okay, you have your sex before you get married," my traditionalist now hoots, "but you better not say it's right! Just look at the risks. You go around havin' sex with different folks, and you're sure gonna catch some kind of sickness."

I'll grant that, for both pragmatic and ethical reasons, every person should be aware of the risks of having sex, but being aware of such risks does not mean that he shouldn't have sex. Certainly, any person ought to know that there will be a risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease if he has sexual contact with another person. He has no ethical obligation to himself to be so aware, but it would be prudent to know this and to act in accordance with this knowledge. What is more, every sexually active person does have an ethical obligation to his partners to be aware of the risks of sexual activity. If an individual engages in unsafe sex with multiple partners and infects one or more of those partners with a sexually transmitted disease, his negligence makes him at least partially responsible for the suffering that other person or persons will endure.

Acknowledging that there are risks involved in an activity does not, however, mean acknowledging that the activity is unethical. It's risky to walk down the sidewalk. If I close my eyes, I might run into a pole or another pedestrian. I might, if I jump too merrily along my way, stumble and fall in front of a car. I might even knock someone else in front of that car when I fall. Since I acknowledge that there are dangers involved in walking, am I to think that walking is unethical? No. I just admit that I should walk in a responsible way that takes those risks into account. The same is true with sex. There are risks involved, but having sex isn't made unethical because of their existence.

"You are a sick thing!" the traditionalist now shrieks in disgust. "You just don't know how good it is to wait for somethin' special. Now, that's why some of us save ourselves till we get married."

I'll admit that there's no ethical reason why a person should have sex before getting married. Doing so is entirely a matter of personal choice. Nonetheless, waiting does strike me as being rather foolish. A pleasure deferred is a pleasure missed. I guess there are also people who forgo eating until they encounter that special dinner that will mean something extra to them. I cannot, however, understand how anyone would be so blind as to think this would be a fulfilling course of action. As someone once said, chastity is as much a virtue as is starvation. That is true. Both are equally pointless self-deprivations.

That said, there are legitimate reasons for forgoing a pleasure. It might be dangerous, like indulging in hard drugs is. It might, if experienced, prevent one from experiencing another greater pleasure, as might eating some snack just before being served a nice meal. It might require that a person ignore his responsibilities, as might some activity that prevents a person from going to his work to earn a living. It might be illegal, like gambling is in many places. In all of these instances, a person is probably wise to forgo the pleasure in question.

However, if there is not such a reason and a person passes on experiencing some joy life has to offer simply because he feels that the pleasure is wrong, when it is not, then he inevitably diminishes the quality of his life. He reduces the bliss he might have relished in his days upon this earth, and deliberately missing out on life's pleasures by devaluing these is just being foolish. Now, let's be honest, this is usually why a person forgoes a pleasure. The person who is celibate has, more often than not, chosen to be so because he has been deceived into thinking that certain or all sexual acts are wicked. This said, I will not try to prevent any person who has so been deluded from renouncing sex. I won't even prevent the most extreme hater of the flesh from living naked in a cave, eating nothing but worms and moss, and flagellating himself every day. If that's how he chooses to live his life, he's free to make that choice. Nonetheless, in all likelihood, his desire for this ascetic existence was aroused as a result of his being deceived, and I will hardly claim that he is being wise when he fails to see this. He is, after all, wasting his chance to experience the wonders of this incredible world and, in particular, sex, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest joys of life. I would, instead, tell him to seize the pleasures this world has to offer. Do not reject them. Of course, when I say that, I am telling that person to have sex.

Admittedly, as I already said, there can be reasons to forgo a pleasure, and a person might find a reason to forgo sexual pleasures at some time. In fact, brief periods of celibacy can be useful for various reasons. For instance, periods of celibacy can create such sexual tension that a person's mental state is so affected that he is able to immerse himself deeply in activities involving extreme emotions, such as certain ecstatic religious festivals. If the positive consequences of periods of celibacy are desired intensely enough to justify the loss of sexual pleasures during those times, then I would not argue that such celibacy is foolishly adopted. The fulfillment of one desire, that for sex, is simply sacrificed for the fulfillment of another desire that happens to be greater. Nonetheless, such instances are of limited scope and do not affect my general assertion, that a person is diminishing his existence by willingly adopting a celibate life. To put things simply, if he doesn't have a good reason to be celibate, it's just silly for a person not to have sex, even if he's not married.

"You nasty dog!" my traditionalist howls. "I guess you ain't capable of knowin' how good it is not to experience some pleasure. You just sink into your mire of fleshly delights and wallow there. I'm happy to atone for Adam's sins by mortifyin' my meat. I'll bet you even despise the holy bond of matrimony. You probably think folks ought to just ignore that sacred chain and go stickin' their gooey dipper in every honeypot that looks sweet to them."

Well, I have to admit that if we're talking about some supernatural institution that imposes certain taboos on any person that involves himself in that institution, then I don't see how it could really bind anyone. Is this some magical rite that's being talked about? Is it some enchantment that will bring down curses of boils and plagues of toads? Let's face it, no such transcendent entity exists. Consequently, this institution cannot impose anything on any human being. If people are guided by the belief in such an institution, then they have been deceived. It's the same as being afraid of a witch's spells or the dangers of stepping on cracks.

However, if my opponent is referring to the oaths people make to one another, then I fully agree that those who make such oaths should honor them. We have obligations to one another, and if we make promises, we should keep them. If two free and competent people enter into a relationship and promise one another to remain monogamous for the duration of that relationship, then, if either of them violates that promise, he or she is behaving unethically. After all, each person freely made this oath in exchange for a relationship with the other, and, by violating his oath, he is violating that agreement. Specifically, he is impinging upon the expressed desire of the other person to continue the relationship under the terms agreed upon.

Of course, it is quite possible for two, or even more, people to enter into a committed relationship with one another without agreeing to limit their sexual partners. If such is the case, then a person, though married, need not remain monogamous. There are an endless number of possibilities here, but these need not be elaborated.

"Wait a second! Hold your horses!" my traditionalist interjects. "Are you sayin' what I think you're sayin'? Are you defendin' wife-swappin' or somethin' like that?"

In effect, I am. As I've already said, marriage is not some mystical institution that imposes itself upon human beings. It is simply that relationship existing between particular human beings who have agreed to enter into such a relationship, especially, in the context of the Modern West, when this relationship is defended by laws that differentiate it from other types of relationships not so defended. For the sake of ethics, these legal elements of marriage can be ignored. What is relevant is the commitment that one human being has made to another.

"There you go. Now you're talkin' sense. That's what marriage is all about: one man and one woman together till they die."

Actually, that's not what I said. Certainly, one man and one woman can make a commitment to one another and promise to remain monogamous. There are other possibilities, however. Two men could make such a promise, or two women could. Three men could do so, or three women could. The list could go on and on, although I suppose that there are practical limitations. Still even more complex arrangements could be made. One man could take multiple wives or one wife multiple husbands. A group of people of both genders could even form a communal unit.

"By gosh! You are raunchy! Still, at least you ain't advocatin' wife-swappin'."

Who said I wasn't? Actually, I thought I already said I was. While the persons in a given relationship might have made an agreement not to have sexual relations with persons not in that relationship, there is no reason why they have to do so. It's possible that married persons might want to be in a relationship with each other but still have sexual relations with others. If the married persons agreed to this, then there's nothing wrong with their acting in accord with that agreement.

In fact, as far as I can tell, the variety of possible restrictions that might be agreed upon is infinite. I'll give you a hypothetical example just to illustrate this. Let's imagine that four people, two men and two women, enter into a relationship. According to the agreement by which this union is formed, the first man can have sex with any person willing to have sex with him, whether this person is in the relationship or not; he just can't enter into a contractual relationship (a marriage) with that other person. The second man can only have sexual relations with the first man and the first woman. The first woman can have sex with any of the other three in the relationship, as well as with any other man (though not any other woman). The second woman can have sexual relationships with the first man and the first woman and can form a marriage with any other person so long as that person agrees not to have sexual relationships with anyone other than her and the first man.

Obviously, it's unlikely most people would form such complex unions, but any union, whether simple or complicated, is just an agreement made by its members to behave in certain ways in exchange for the perpetuation of a relationship with the others. What the terms of this union are depend entirely upon what the individuals involved decide upon as free agents, but whatever these terms are, they do bind those who make them, at least ethically, if not legally. What is relevant here is not the precise organization of a relationship, but that a person keeps any promises he has made to another.

"Well, I can't say I like your ideas of marriage. You're gonna let perverts have all kinds of dirty fun. Still, I'm glad to hear you say that promises are important. That's why, when my daughter turned eleven and got afflicted with Eve's curse, I made her promise me she'd stay pure till she got married. Now she's got a promise to keep, and if she don't keep it, I'm gonna whip her in this life till she gets a feel of what the devil's gonna do to her in the next."

That sounds like a nice way to raise a daughter. Unfortunately, children are not competent to enter into contracts. Because they don't have the knowledge or the experience to make reasonable judgements, we can't hold them to any agreements. Now, I'm not saying a child shouldn't be punished when he makes a promise and then breaks it. He should be. However, his punishment is an attempt to teach him. It's not being imposed because he's behaved unethically. Until a person is old enough to make rational decisions, he is outside the scope of morality. What that means is that your daughter is under no moral obligation to keep a promise she wasn't competent to make in the first place. Even if she was mature enough to understand the agreement, since you have such power over her, I can't see how she could possibly freely consent to any contract with you. It's quite likely she agreed simply to avoid being punished in some way. Contracts made under duress, sadly for you, are never valid.

"Okay, okay. It doesn't matter anyway. If she goes and acts like some hussy, I'm gonna knock her upside her head so hard her eyeballs are gonna pop out of her skull. That'll keep her in line. I'm a lot bigger than she is, and she knows I can whoop her. Yep, that'll keep her in line. I don't need no promise from no puny little girl. It's the promise of my wife that really matters. I'm sure you agree that since she promised to stay with me 'till death do we part,' she can't leave me."

That is quite a commitment. I assume, of course, that you have treated her the way that she expected to be treated when she made that agreement with you. If you did not, then you might have voided the contract yourself. In that case, she would no longer be bound by its terms.

"I always treat her right. I hardly ever whoop her."

Even if you have treated her right, I suspect that she might have agreed to stay with you until one of you died without thinking about what that entails. If that's the case, then she was wrong to make the agreement in the first place, but maintaining a relationship only to avoid violating a contract that shouldn't have originally been made is going to do nothing but bring about unhappiness. Bringing about such misery is far worse of a thing than voiding a contract, especially a flawed one. Let's face it, feelings and circumstances change. We should acknowledge that fact by acknowledging that relationships can be ended. We should not, consequently, enter into contracts the terms of which are unreasonable by their not conceding this reality. Of course, it is wonderful when two people stay in love with one another their whole lives. Nonetheless, we have to admit that many people are just being unrealistic if they are absolutely certain that their feelings for another person will not change. Relationships, even when sanctified as marriages, can always be dissolved.

Sexual Ethics: Part IV

A Modern Debate about Sex: Prostitution and Scripture

A Modern Debate About Sex: Prostitution and Scripture
My traditionalist is probably by now boiling with anger and indignation. He must be convinced I'm a great mass of sin.

Barely able to contain himself, this old fashioned moralist now says, "My ears feel dirty from just listenin' to your wicked lies, and it ain't just the wax in 'em, either. Still, I ain't done with you yet. I'm gonna hoist you with your own petard. You said that if one fella wants to have sex with somebody, probably another fella, but that other fella is conflicted, that he wants to make the first fella happy but he don't wanna have sex with him, then maybe it ain't right for the first fella to go a-sexin' the other one. You said that now. You can't deny it. Okay. Here's the deal. You've got to admit that whorin' ain't right, 'cause I don't know no whore who ever wanted to go sex some john just to make him feel good, and no whore ever wanted to have sex for free, neither. What that means is that, when a john has sex with a whore, he's doin' somethin' that goes 'gainst her desire. He's doin' somethin' wrong. Now you've got to agree with me about that."

I don't agree, though. The details of such an interaction are a little different than those just described. I agree that, in a given situation that could lead to a sexual encounter between a prostitute and a client, it's unlikely that the prostitute desires either to have sex with the man or to fulfill his desires. However, the prostitute does want something else. She wants to be paid. When she is engaging in a sexual act, she is doing so in exchange for money. It's a simple transaction.

"But she's still doin' somethin' she don't want to do, so it's wrong."

This isn't necessarily the case. Virtually all human beings engage in transactions in which we agree to perform some action that we have no desire to perform in exchange for something that we do desire. Very few of us, after all, are employed without compensation. Admittedly, some people enjoy their jobs. Some might even do them without compensation. Most people, however, work in exchange for something they need, money. They engage in an activity that they might not like in return for being given something they do desire. As long as there is no coercion involved in agreeing to such an exchange, then, since a person is a free agent, he is free to consent to engage in actions he does not desire to perform in order to receive something he does desire. A prostitute is as free to do so as is anyone else.

"There's a difference, though. I'm a plumber. I use my hands, and I have skills. A whore's just spreadin' her thighs. It's dirty and wrong."

I thought I'd already established that no part of the human body is innately dirty. A person's genitals are every bit as worthy as his hands are. They're just as beautiful, just as clean, and just as liable to being employed by that person for whatever end he sees fit. What's more, it's quite possible that a prostitute could develop as much skill at sex as a worker of a different sort develops with regard to his trade. Even if she doesn't, there's nothing shameful in unskilled labor. Frankly, it's as dignified as any other work is. It's often more so, in that unskilled laborers often suffer in terrible conditions and receive low wages and yet they work to provide for their needs and the needs of those they love. It would seem that they are more worthy, in this way, than are those who work little for high wages used to provide for an indulgent life-style.

"Okay, okay. Maybe a whore can flex her money-maker all kinds of ways. Still, you're talkin' about transactions between free agents. A lot of them whores ain't free. They've got pimps beatin' them if they don't go get johns. Some of them whores even get sold to their pimps. How are they free to agree to some transaction?"

Well, my old fashioned enemy will be happy to hear that this is one point I'll concede to him. If a person is forced into prostitution, if she is coerced into engaging in sexual activities in return for money, then the person so compelling the prostitute is behaving in an unethical fashion. The prostitute is, of course, a victim, and she is doing nothing wrong. Anybody compelling her is.

"Now I've got you. Now you've got to admit the john is actin' wrong too. He's havin' sex with a woman who's bein' coerced into havin' sex with him."

You are, indeed, correct. If a man goes to a prostitute for sex and has reason to suspect that she's working as a prostitute because she's being coerced, then, should he have sex with her, by so impinging upon her desires, by effectively raping her, he is behaving unethically. I might add that it is always unethical to take advantage of the labor of a person who has been coerced into doing that labor. This rule does not apply to prostitutes alone.

"Glad to know you got some sense. I hope you'll admit that another reason why we should get rid of whores is 'cause they spread disease. Besides, a whore might tempt a married man to commit adultery."

I suppose my traditionalist enemy was not paying attention earlier. I thought I had already discussed how a person would be acting prudently if he learned what the consequences of his actions could be and how he would be wise to take these into consideration when he does act. The same rules apply to a person's patronage of prostitutes as apply to any other sexual relations he might have. Again, an activity's having risks does not make it wrong.

As for a married man having sex with a prostitute, the same standards apply as would if he had sex with any other person. Obviously, if a person has freely agreed to limit his sexual partners and does not do so, then he is guilty of violating that agreement. It makes no difference if the person with whom he breaks that agreement is a prostitute or not.

"Alright, then," my irate moralist yells, "you let them whores lead good men astray. I suppose you love them nasty hussies like they was human beings. Okay, okay. I've got a problem for you. You want to let these whores go sell their goodies all legal like. Ain't you worried about them? You know whores get roughed up. You know most of 'em are bein' told what to do by mobsters or gang bangers or other criminals like that. Ain't you concerned about that? Or do you just want to see them whores suffer? If you don't, how can you say it's okay to visit a whore?"

Yes, I am concerned that prostitutes are often the victims of violent crimes and that organized criminal groups do have a hand in running prostitution rings. It's partly because of these concerns that I believe that prostitution ought to be legalized. Of course, the primary reason that prostitution should be legalized is that there is nothing innately immoral about the practice. The persecution that prostitutes face does not affect this. If it did, then I suppose the traditionalist would have to admit that since Christians faced persecution during certain periods of Roman history, it was then immoral to be a Christian or to patronize Christian churches. The persecution of prostitutes, of those who patronize prostitutes, or of anyone, for that matter, does not somehow confer upon those persons persecuted the onus of immorality. Engaging in such persecution, which itself is to be condemned, does, however, make those persons or that society perpetrating it immoral. It is, thus, our own society that stands condemned by the problems mentioned, not prostitution or prostitutes. In fact, the problems mentioned actually support arguments in favor of legalizing the profession. In places where prostitution is illegal, if a prostitute is attacked, she has little recourse to the law, since she is herself a criminal. If her actions were legal, then she would have far more protection from dangerous clients. Also, if prostitution were legal, it could be regulated and criminal organizations would have far fewer opportunities to involve themselves in it. So, not only do the reasons given for condemning the institution of prostitution actually condemn society, but they also provide additional justification for the legalization of prostitution.

Now my dear traditionalist is surely annoyed.

He exclaims, "I sure hope I don't live to see a society like what you want, with people goin' around havin' fun, enjoyin' their sinful meat, girls not hidin' their precious flowers until marriage, men gettin' nasty with men, whores walkin' around like they're regular folks. It just makes me sick. That's not what I was raised to believe was right, and I don't believe none of that stuff is right."

It occurs to me that most of the sexual actions traditionalists claim are unethical are perfectly acceptable. In fact, I can't find a reason why any of the actions they rail against, premarital sex, sodomy, masturbation, and so on, should be condemned. Traditional concepts of sexual ethics are no more than a hodgepodge of irrational prejudices and don't deserve being given any credence whatsoever. They are completely without justification and are frequently hurtful. Traditional sexual ethics are utterly unethical.

"Okay," the irritated traditionalist now cries out, "you think you're so smart, but God is smarter than you are. He made this whole world in seven days, after all. He made the sun revolve around the Earth, hid fake dinosaur skeletons underground, and fitted nice slats in the sky so that He could spill rain on us. He even wrestled with a giant, killer hippopotamus, that Leviathan, to keep the world safe. God's mighty clever and He's as powerful as they come. You've got to admit that, and you've got to admit that God says, right there in the Good Book, that them things I hate are bad. He says that men who go a-sexin' other men are headin' for the fiery pit, and that women who go around spreadin' their thighs ought to be put down like rabid dogs. Face it, you've got to admit that if God says those kinds of things are wrong, then they must be wrong."

I will admit that the Bible and other scriptures do contain injunctions about what is moral and what is immoral. I will also have to admit that I am bound by my own intelligence. I cannot, for example, admit that two and two equal five. Because I must evaluate the world with my intelligence, I have to make ethical judgments based on what I, using that intelligence as best I can, determine to be right and wrong. I might make mistakes - actually, I'm sure that I do - but I'm still compelled to think and follow my best judgment. There is, after all, a difference between rational beliefs, which are justified, and irrational beliefs, which are not. The former are based on informed, critical judgments; that is to say, they are based on judgments that themselves are formed by depending upon experience and logic. The latter, however, are based on uninformed, uncritical judgments. Unfortunately for the traditionalist, belief in scripture falls into the latter category. Such a belief does not, after all, depend upon experience or logic. It is simply an unquestioning acceptance of the veracity of a particular text, and this sort of belief is the very opposite of a rational belief. Often, in fact, the statements of texts accepted as scriptures, that is to say, as being authoritative, are contrary to both experience and logic. That said, when a rational judgment about some matter accords with statements given in some scripture, I will concede that the scripture is correct with regard to that matter. However, when my judgment is at variance with some scriptural injunction, then I have to say that the scripture is wrong. So, when the Bible condemns the man who has sexual relations with other men, or the woman who has sex outside of marriage, I just have to say that the Bible is wrong. I cannot abandon my reason.

So what does all this mean? It means that virtually all traditional sexual ethics are more than just misguided. They are usually hurtful and, consequently, unethical. In this great war between tradition and reason, let's turn to reason. It is, after all, reason that tells us to behave in ways that acknowledge both the worth of others and the worth of our own desires. The old ethics are nothing more than irrational injunctions that bring suffering to the world. The new ethics can be joyous celebrations of life.