Sexual Ethics


Sex and Marriage

  • Marital sex = sex within a marriage 
  • Non marital = sex outside a marriage (e.g between boyfriend and girlfriend). 
  • Extra marital sex = sex whilst you are still married - occurs between a married and an unmarried individual.
  • The Bible regards marital sex as normal and moral behaviour. St.Paul stressed that marriage was the perfect place for sex to occur. He argued that if men couldn't resist their temptations, then they should get married to make the sex that they were having moral. He said ''marriage is no sin'' - so sex in this context is fine. 
  • Extra marital sex is regarded as a marital crime and is outline in the Ten Commandments (''you shall not commit adultery"). Jesus argued that a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits the sin of adultery. 
  • The majority of Churches today encourages the teachings of the Bible and argue that sex is the right environment for marriage. Roman Catholics argued ''every genital act must be done inside the framework of marriage''. 
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Homosexuality - Key Views

  • While many liberal Christians do not have a problem with homosexuality (so long as it represents a loving relationship) - Roman Catholics believe that homosexuality is wrong since two men or two women cannot fulfil their natural purpose of reproduction. Catholics view homosexuality as 'going against' the grain of human nature. God made man and woman in his image and intended that they should be together (Genesis 2:1). The Bible teaches ''you shall not lie with another man'' and Leviticus teaches that homosexual acts are punishable by death.  
  • Liberal Christians and secular Christians are usually not bothered by homosexuality and view it as acceptable providing that the two are in a loving and stable relationship. 
  • In 2003, an openly gay man, Gene Robinson was made the Anglican Archbishop of New Hampshire. 
  • Religion often has a very conservative approach which isn't necessarily relevant to our modern society. The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England are sometimes nicknamed ''the Tory Party at Prayer''. 
  • Religion trades on the idea that its truths are timeless. If they kept changing their mind - they wouldn't be a very good religion, so this is why religious and moral truths often stay the same. 
  • Religion often relies too heavily on scripture. Many stories in the Bible refer to geographical areas which we are unfamiliar with in terms of our culture. The Middle East is very different to the West and perhaps we shoudl adopt some more upcoming ideas. 
  • On homosexuality and female priests - the Church of England has been very slow. Female priests were not ordained until 1994 and the Church continues to reject homosexuality. 
  • Even though homosexuality is not encourage - God loves us all. 
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Divorce - Key Views

  • In a religious context, divorce may be seen as immoral since the married couple have made a commitment to each other and vowed to be with one another in front of God. God is usually regarded as the third member in a marriage and breaking marriage vows means a break in your relationship with God. 
  • In the Old Testament, divorce is accepted as a perfectly normal procedure, however, in the New Testament, Jesus proclaimed that any many who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. Christians have tended to value this teaching and rule out the other. 
  • For Roman Catholics, divorce is never right since the two have become one flesh in marriage and the couple have taken sacred vows in front of God. 
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Absolutists Views

  • Absolute means unchanging/unmoving. The ideas stay the same, the are absolute. Emphasises fixed moral rules at all times. Most religious ideas are absolute. Natural Law is another example of an absolutist theory. 
  • God designed our sexual organs for a purpose - reproduction. Failing to use them for this purpose is wrong, e.g sex for pleasure or homosexuality. By doing so, we are failing God's purpose for us in the world. 
  • Augustine, who initially experimented a lot with his sexuality argued ''men should go to their task with reluctance''. 
  • Growth in teenage pregnancies would have been prevented by further encouragement of absolute moral rules. 
  • Sex is a scared activity and must be done so within the framework of marriage. 
  • Rule utilitarianism, as a general rule, adultery inflicts pain and this pain is usually prolonged. Therefore, it is wrong. 
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Relativist Views

  • Relativist usually means dependent on the situation or culture. The action you choose to take is relative to the situation. This is more liberal than an absolutist theory but can also have some problems. 
  • What's wrong with having sex in a loving relationship? It's what couples do now and it's now regarded more as a fact of life. Children are educated about sex in schools and we are now taught that sex isn't something to be embarrassed about - it is no longer so taboo. 
  • Situation ethics teaches that love is the only ruling norm. If so, then sex outside a marriage is acceptable, so long as its loving. 
  • Surely the only sensible measure of sex is pleasure vs pain. If something causes pleasure for the majority (i.e two partners) then it is acceptable. If it causes pain (i.e adultery) then it should be avoided. However J.S Mill argued that sex is not a higher pleasure, but a lower pleasure (associated with sensory gratification) and therefore should not pursued. 
  • Harm Principle (J.S Mill) - You can do what you wish so long as it doesn't harm anybody: ''your fist ends where my nose begins'' captures the general sentiment of this principle. This means you can do what you wish so long as it doesn't bring pain or harm. However, this relativist principle can lead to child p*rnography being viewed and paedophilia. 
  • Additionally, if we're too relaxed about these rules, it could cause issues such as more r*pes and child abductions. 
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Views in the Old Testament

  • Fidelity and monogamy were not highly valued in the Old Testament. 
  • The majority of men had several wives as well as several concubines. 
  • Jacob for example, had two wives - Rachel and Leah and several concubines to satisfy his desires. 
  • The Old Testament is very patriarchal and power based. There is little consideration for women and the men have the power to do what they wish. Men needed power and authority and several wives/concubines reflected this higher authority. 
  • God is also viewed as the third member in a marriage. 
  • Women were viewed as ''unclean'' after childbirth e.g bleeding/periods etc. To have sex with a woman so soon after childbirth was essentially forbidden. 
  • Leviticus mentions that homosexuality is punishable by death and those commit adultery were stoned (although these were mostly women who'd been abused by their husbands and sought comfort elsewhere. 
  • The Ten Commandments are vital in understanding Christian views to sex additionally. 
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Views in the New Testament

  • Jesus doesn't make many comments on sexual relationships. 
  • Allows divorce in certain situations. 
  • Jesus centered relationships around God. You must love God first and then love others. ''Love God with all your heart and then you must love your neighbour as yourself''. 
  • Paul teaches you must stay celibate to the point where you can't resist otherwise - this is when you should get married. 
  • He also taught that homosexuality was a sin - punishable by death. 
  • Conservative approach. 
  • Augustine regarded the Fall as human deviation from God's wishes. He argued that ''men should go to their task with reluctance''. The sole purpose of sex was for childbearing and should not be used for anything else. 
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Influence of secularism

  • The division between society and Christianity has been growing since the late 18th century. 
  • In his book ''On Liberty'', J.S Mill introduced the Harm Principle, you can do what you want so long as you don't harm others. While this permits homosexual couples to have sex as well as unmarried couples, it can sometimes ''blur the lines'' in ethical decision making. For example, a married man may believe that he is not harming anyone while committing adultery since it is happening in private and has not yet harmed anyone else. However, when it all comes to an end and his wife finds out, he has trangressed the Harm Principle. Additionally, it allows for paedophiles to think sick thoughts about children and maybe watch child p*rnography in their own home. While this isn't direct harm - it is still wrong moral conduct. Perhaps rule utilitarianism would be a better approach or Peter Singer's preference utilitarianism. 
  • Kantian ethics says that sex is permissible if there is full and total consent. Sex between an adult and a minor is wrong since minors do not have full moral consent. Piaget and Kohlberg argued that we do not have a fully developed conscience until the age of 10. 
  • Dr. Jack Dominian, was a Roman Catholic who believed there should be some reformation to the Church's views on sex. He encouraged homosexuality and non-marital sex so long as it was loving. 
  • BBC programme ''Colateral'' by David Hare has recently raised issues regarding homosexuality in the Church. A female priest was reprimanded for being so open about her lesbian relationship, by the Bishop who was also gay but did not act upon his impulses. This has, to some extent made many of us aware of the issues which religious believers face and has normalised issues on homosexuality. 
  • In 1994, the first female priests were ordained, in 2004 we had civl partnerships and in 2013 - gay marriage.
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Natural Law Views

  • Emphasised the primary precepts: protect and preserve human life, reproduction, educated and raise your offspring, God should be known, society should be lived in. Based all moral actions on these principles and the secondary precepts (what you should not do). All influenced from Catholicism. 
  • Aquinas argued that sex for pleasure was an apparent good rather than an actual good. 
  • Also believed in human purpose/telos. The precepts are our telos e.g reproduction is the telos of sex. If it doesn't result in reproduction then it's wrong. 
  • Believes masturbation is a ''spilling of mans seed'' and a ''sin of self indulgence''. Since it does not result in procreation - it is wrong. 
  • Doesn't allow contraception since it prevents the purpose of reproduction being fulfilled. However, the doctrine of double effect allows for a woman to take the contraceptive pill so long as the purpose is to regulate her periods - not as a contraceptive. 
  • You should be married before having sex as an example of living harmoniously in society. Extra marital sex is wrong because it takes place outside the framework of marriage and it is for the purpose of pleasure not childbearing. 
  • Homosexuality is forbidden because it prevents reproduction from occuring and goes against God's telos for human beings. 
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Evaluation of Natural Law

  • Is an unnatural act always wrong if its mutual and consented to? 
  • Natural Law permits infertile couples from having sex. Surely they've suffered enough after finding out they cannot have children. Since they wanted to use their sex as a real good initially, surely they can have sex anyway in order to sustain their relationship. 
  • Delia Smith, a Church of England chef did not have any children but instead chose to put her focus elsewhere - her cooking. 
  • Casuistry - non-Catholics use to attack the system. Refers to applying the general rule of natural law to every situation. In a famous Roman Catholic league table r*pe was considered less serious than masturbation since **** could result in procreation. 
  • Without contraception, the world would be overpopulated and there would be a great spread of STI's. Even though we should perhaps discourage young people from having sex - they are most likely to enter into the task anyway and so contraception should be encouraged to prevent teenage pregnancy. The Pope Francis has recently said he accepts the use of contraceptives in countries where STIs are rife. 
  • Is it natural to only have one partner and be monogamous is sex is centered soley on reproduction? In Native American tribes, the men would often have several wives in order to expand the birth rate of the tribe. 
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Utilitarian Views

  • Rule utilitarianism - takes the principle of utility as a general rule or principle to follow. 
  • The greatest good for the greatest number. Good being pleasure over pain. 
  • Homosexuality - allowed providing it brings pleasure and not pain. However, across history - the Tyranny of the Majority has often won against homosexuality. Until 1967 - homosexuality was illegal because the majority of people disagreed with it. 
  • Sex before marriage - is acceptable again so long as it brings pleasure no pain. 
  • Extra marital sex is not accepted because it brings long term pain and harm. 
  • Mill's Harm Principle. 
  • Mill argued sex was a lower pleasure associated with gratification of the body. 
  • Recognises the pull of emotions unlike other theories. 
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Evaluation of Utilitarianism

  • Regards the pull of emotions. 
  • Relative to the situation - have sex if its ok, but if its not then don't do it. Emphasises consent: those who don't consent to sex aren't enjoying it. 
  • Allows sexual freedom and choice. 
  • Realistic - accepts that there will be sex outside of a marriage and homosexuality exists. 
  • Can be hard to apply the hedonic calculus to every sexual situation you find yourself in. Usually the pull of desires and emotions decides for you. 
  • Mill says that sex is a lower pleasure, but how can it be if it's about love?
  • Do all these emotions and passions cloud our judgement? Do they make us commit acts which are wrong? 
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Kantian Views

  • Three Universal Maxims - universalisability, don't treat people as means to an end, don't let people treat you as a means to an end. 
  • Three Postulates - we behave morally because we have free will, God and immortality are why we behave morally. 
  • Emphasises equality, i.e don't treat people as a means to an end and don't let them do that to you. Equality within a marriage is very important. 
  • There are some things we cannot universalise, like homosexuality, r*pe or adultery. These things are wrong. 
  • Homosexuality could be considered acceptable so long as you're not using your partner as a means to an end. 
  • Extra marital affair means using your mistress as a means to an end. You're using her to satisfy your sexual desires which you may not get from a loving wife at home. 
  • Emphasises the value of consent. You must treat people as equals (not use them as a means to an end - a bit like the golden rule). By ignoring the lack of consent you are not acting in a morally good way. 
  • Says that minors cannot consent because they do not have the free will in order to act morally. Piaget and Kohlberg say young children do not have a fully developed conscience. 
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Kant Evaluation

  • Emphasises the importance of equality and consent. 
  • Recognises that marriage is equal and you should value your partner. 
  • Means you cannot use people as means and you should not let them use you like this either. 
  • Ignores the pull of emotions (as it does in his entire theory). 
  • Just because something can't be universalised doesn't mean its wrong. 
  • Emphasises actions over consequences. An action could seem right in the moment but it may bring the complete wrong consequences. 
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Situation Ethics Views

  • Fletcher - preserved the notion of Christian agape. 
  • Love is the only thing which is intrinsically good, love is the only ruling norm. 
  • Do what you think is best in terms of the situation, but whatever you do - must provide a loving outcome. 
  • Person centric so focuses on people. Pragmatic - so it must be practical and work. 
  • Homosexuality is accepted - you must do what brings the most loving outcome. 
  • Extra marital sex is NOT loving. However, someone may use it to justify their act as loving, e.g a man saying the affair ''saved'' his marriage. 
  • Pre-martial sex is accepted. Allowed between a loving boyfriend and girlfriend but wouldn't allow for a one night stand etc. 
  • Doesn't permit masturbation as its not really loving/ 
  • Based on Christianity since Fletcher was a theologian so might not allow for divorce, but then again, it may allow for it if children are involved. 
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Situation Ethics Evaluation

  • You could do anything within a marriage and justify it as loving e.g r*pe. 
  • Allows for different cultural practices e.g polygamy in rural tribes where population growth is slow. 
  • Does not focus on a reason for sex and allows the reason to be interpretive unlike natural law. 
  • Respects the pull of emotions. 
  • Means gay couples aren't condemned. 
  • Allows for contraception - it wouldn't be loving to bring a baby into the world if you were not willing to provide for it. 
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