Sexual Ethics and Human Relationships


Religion and Love

Sexual Love

  • eros is sexual and passionate love/lust which is expressed in **********
  • eros is not necessarily virtuous and can lead a moral person astray

Philial Love

  • Philial love is brother/sisterhood and friendship
  • can bond a community BUT it can lead to clan identity/conflict as it can be exclusive


  • agape love (unconditional, unsexual almost spiritual love) is the highest form and is an active and willed love that is thoughtful and volitional 


  • maitri or Advesa (unconditional love) illustrates the detatched compassion needed for spiritual enlightenment (has a self-sacrificial nature)
  • sensual or sexual love can prevent englightenment


  • prem is holy love
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Ancient Attitudes to Human Relationships

Ancient Philosopher Pythagoras

  • humans should abstain and instead lead a contemplative life
  • the 'physical' obstructs the soul's progress (dualism) into a new life and is therefore unholy

The Stoics

  • saw sex as a loss of control and an animal instinct and therefore disapproved

The Cyrenaics

  • celebrated physical pleasure
  • saw immdiate physical pleasures as the supreme good and persued them

The Ancient Isrealites

  • The Song of Songs sees a couple expressthe sensual ****** beauty they see in each other
  • Certain rules recognised the importance of sex in marriage (e.g. married men were excused from military service for one year
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Modern Attitudes to Human Relationships

Contemporary Western Culture

  • sexual pleasure is often presented as the holy grail, persued purely for physical satisfaction
  • many believe that, with mutual consent, any form of sex is morally acceptable
  • marriage is now not always a prerequisite of sex


  • despite changing attitudes towards sex, sexual crimes, teenage pregnancy and STI's (e.g. HIV and AIDS) are still a concern
  • views differ over the place and nature of sex educaqtion in schools
  • divorce rates are increasing (e.g. in 2011 42% in the UK ended in divorce)

Moore (1998)

  • purpose of sex WAS for producing children and the purpose of marriage WAS for providing a stable environment for their upbringing
  • "Masterbation,contraception...and oral sex were...contrary to the will of God"
  • "Old certainties are and its place in human relationships is one of the most controversial areas of modern Christian ethics"
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Christianity - Sex as relational, unitative and se

Crook - 'An Introduction to Christian Ethics'

  • argues that the Bible itself presents sex as a normal part of life, God-given and part of God's creation
  • through sex and the unity of man and woman humanity is fulfilled
  • the Bible uses the phrase 'to know' which means being deeply and intimately involved in a relationship or communion (e.g Genesis 4:1 "Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived")
  • in Genesis the purpose of human difference is the coming together of that different in the sexual union of man and woman

Song od Songs /Soloman

  • a poetic vision of the sensual love between a bride and bridegroom
  • "my love, behold, you are beautiful!"
  • contrasts the notion of sex being unholy
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Sexuality and Holiness

Jewish Scholar Frymer-Kensky

  • writes that there is a seperation of of sexuality and the sacred in the Bible
  • Moses commanded Isreal to abstain from sex for three days before the revelation
  • seperation of Priest's functions and sexuality

Many Early Christians

  • saw celibacy as more holy as Jesus did not marry (HOWEVER he did have a positive view of marriage - he repeated the Hebrew Scriptures of the importance of marriage)

Saint Paul

  • negative view of sex and recommended celibacy
  • acknowledges that celibacy is a special gift that is not for everyone, and it is better to be married than sin, but abstinence is still ideal
  • 1 Corinthians 7:2-4, "The wife's body does not belong to her alone but to her husband...the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife" = mutuality in sex
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Sexuality and Holiness 2

New Testament

  • polygamy and adultery are wrong because marriage should be a union of only two people
  • marriage reflects Christ's relationship with the Church 
  • Ephesians 5 - "The husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church"
  • As the Trinity is one God marriage sees two people become one
  • Jesus has a forgiving attitude towards sinners (e.g. Samaritan women at the well is the longest dialogue in the NT)


  • Jesus found actions immoral, not people
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Thatcher - 'Living Together and Christian Ethics'

  • in the UK more people enter marriage from cohabitation
  • cohabiters are as likely to return to a signle state as to enter marriage
  • 1960's saw a separation of sex and marriage
  • some choose cohabitation as preparation for marriage whereas some choose it as an alternative to marriage

Crook - 'An Introduction to Christian Ethics'

Argued that the sterotypical image of an ideal marriage is simplistic and marriages are changing because of changing patterns in society:

  • Changing status of women - women make up over 50% of the work force and have growing financial independence
  • Premarital sex does not carry the same risks or stigma as it did a century ago - development of safe methods of contraception and the availability of abortion
  • A deepening understanding of sexuality - biologically we now understand human sex drives outside of love
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Sex, the body and sin

  • Christian attitudes to sex and marriage are influenced by the ancient cultures out of which the religion was born
  • the RC Church, in Gaudium et Spes, states that "man is not allowed to despise his bodily life"
  • most Churches hold that premarital sex,adultery,masterbation and homosexuality are sinful

Saint Augustine

  • considered sex a sin unless for reproduction

St. Thomas Aquinas

  • positive view of the enjoyment of sex
  • still retain that sex HAD to be connected to reproduction


  • Roman Catholic Church still advocates celibacy for its Priests
  • most Christian monastic communitires have been celibate
  • Erasmus praised marriage as the natural state and celibacy as the unnatural state
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The Purpose of Marriage

  • Christian Chuch saw the purpose of marriage as fidelity, procreation and the union of parties
  • the purpose of sex and marriage can be established through Scritpures of Natural Law
  • in Genesis, the Lord sent man to "Go forth and multiply"
  • many denominations recognise sex as a uniting, bonding, healing and affirming act


  • writes that the RC Church and Eastern Orthodox Christianity understand marriage as a sacrament
  • a marriage between baptised Christians is a shared commitment to Christ
  • marriage is an ascetic practice which requires the renunciation of others

Roman Catholic Church

  • artificial contraception is prohibited as it prevents God's purpose
  • marriage is a necessity for sex as children require a stable environment
  • the Pastoral Constituion describes sex as "the mutual self-giving by which spouses enrich each other"
  • promotes conjugal love (married **********)
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Views of Christian Marriage

  • men and women offer distinct yet complementary gifts and roles - men have greater responsibility and headship
  • the Southern Baptist Convention wrote that "the husband and wife are of equal worth before God"..."He has to provide for, protect and lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously" = their roles are different but still equal

Maria Santisco

  • writes that the two sexes are not different in value but in function
  • argues that the Church has always promoted equality between men and women

Rueher (1991)

  • argues that many Christian traditions are ambivolent or less than supportive about about the idea of the equal dignity and status of women
  • she notes that St. Augustine denied that women posessed the image of God and belied that men have headship and superiority over women = she thinks this leads to the RC teaching that only men can be Priests
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  • in modern Western society there is a growing belief that homosexuality is not a choice but a disposition, possibly biological or genetic in origin
  • however, in many cultrures, homosexuality still has great stigma attatched (eg. the derogatory use of the word 'gay' in British society or the nail-bombing of a Soho gay bar in 1999)
  • in the early 20th century homosexuality was considered a mental illness for which appalling treatments, such as an operation on the brain, were proposed
  • in the medieval era, homosexuals were burnt at the stake
  • in many parts of the world (e.g. Afghanistan) homosexualtiy remains a crime and persecution is often ignored or condoned by state authorities
  • discrimination in areas such as adoption, sex education and the age of consent has sometimes been endorsed by the Birtish government
  • same-sex unions were recognised under law in the 2004 Civil Partnership Act
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Christianity - the Bible and homosexuality

  • no possibility of procreation from homosexual sex so is wrong on natural law basis
  • Leviticus 18:22, "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman: that is detestable"
  • Leviticus 20:13, "It is punishable by death"
  • in Romans 1, St. Paul describes homosexuals as "degrading their bodies"
  • orthodox interpretations of scritpure and natural law have led Christian Churches to oppose homosexual sex and sometimes homosexuality itself
  • United Methodist Church stated homosexuals are of "sacred worth" but "do not condone the practice of homosexuality + consider it incompatible w Christian teaching

Catechism of the Catholic Church

  • no sin involved in an inclination towards a member of the same sex - this is not freely chosen and is a trial for the person
  • teaches that such people are called to chastity with the help of friendship, prayer and grace to achieve Christian perfection - ACTING ON THIS IS AGAINST NATURAL LAW

Saunders and Stamford

  • Jesus said nothing on homosexualist and it is still a unitive act between a loving couple
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Liberal Christian support for homosexuality

  • the quality of the relationship (whether hetro/homosexual) determines its moral value
  • Bible teaches we are all made "in the image and likeness of God"
  • if God creates men and women as homosexuals then that nature and inclination must be good
  • Christianity has been able to reject its previous approval of slavery so it may in future reject its opposition to homosexuality

John Boswell (1982)

  • critical of the use of Scripture to oppose homosexuality as other rules are not enforced (eg. the Bible condemns hypocrisy and greed but no one was burnt at the stake for such offences)


  • agrees with Boswell and argues that we pursue laws that attack minorities and ignore those we find inconvinient
  • therefore, Scripture is being used inconsistently to reinforce prejudices
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Libertarian approach to sexuality

  • sex is morally permissable if  their is mutual consent (contractarian view)
  • there is no need therefore to link sex to marriage or reproduction
  • autonomy is the most important principle
  • does not allow for sexual crimes (e.g. **** or sex with minors) as they go against the freedom principle
  • some Libertarians also adopt the 'harm principle' which ensures that no harm is done to either party or to other third parties (so does not allow for adultery if third party knows)
  • no restrictions on the kinds of sexual activity (e.g. mastermation/ oral sex) and no prohibitation of contraception
  • celebrates seuxal liberation
  • religion may be encroaching too far into peoples personal and private lives


  • when are we actually truely free to make such decisions
  • eg. Rocco sells his finger in exchange for $5,000 = although Rocco agrees, he did so to earn money for his poor family, so was he truely free to decide?
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Muslim approaches to human relationships


  • sexuality is a sign of God's mercy and bounty, (eg. Qur'an "He created for you mates among yourselves")
  • sexual desire shows God's wisdom apart from the purpose of procreation
  • sex is a "foretaste of the delights secured for men in Paradise" (Islmaic writer Mernissi) and is therefore sacred
  • sex is part of normal married life and marriage is encouraged NOT CELIBACY


  • The Qur'an permits polygamy/up to 4 wives, ""marry such women as seem good to you,two three, four" and men must treat all wives equally but the Qur'an makes few or no provisions for how they should be treated, The Prophet himself had at least a dozen wives
  • sex is to be the preserve of marriage and virginity is of great importance in securing a good marriage
  • men have a right to have their sexual desire fulfilled by their wives (may reflect culture not religion)
  • temporary marriage contract is possible (perhaps ethically superior to unmarried sex)
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Muslim Approaches to Human Relationships 2

Women and Marriage

  • men and women were "created from a single source" (Qur'an)
  • in some Muslim countries, Shaeia law means there are severe punishments for sexual crimes (e.g. unfaithful wives) which seem to ignore many of the Qur'anic principles of equality for women
  • the Qur'an contains many verses which state that women should have control over their own property and income and should have access to the same education as men
  • in Islam marriage is a contractual arrangement, not a sacrament, and must be negotiagted however many scholars debate whether women are in an equal position to set terms in these negotiations
  • Husbands have the power to issue divorce by Talaq as long as three months are left incase the wife is pregnant or reconcilliation can be made
  • one of the Hadiths (traditions which record what the Prophet said) states, "Those who entrust their affairs to women will never know prosperity"
  • many moderate Muslim scholars are sceptical about these Hadiths which lower the status of women, saying they reflect values at the time the Qur'an was produced rather than faith
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Feminist Approaches to Sexuality

  • dislike how most religious approaches rest on a defined cultural role for women as the submissive companion and child-bearer (e.g. the Hebrew view of women beign created for the man) this defined role disempowers women
  • Many religions rely on 'natural law' but this is the product of social conditioning, not nature = religions are irredeemably sexist + the idea of equality doesn't fit with the theology of these religious traditions
  • also dislike liberal approaches as they assume a level playing field
  • the socialisation process means that women still have less status within society
  • women may be so conditioned they are not aware fo their disempowered status
  • it is immoral for women to have sex in the setting of an imbalanced society

Feminist Mackinnon (1987)

  • argues that sexuality must be re-imagined before moral sexual relationships become possible

Feminist Johnston (1974)

  • wanted the seperation of men and women and for sex among women as a political statement to undermine the domination of men
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Against Feminism

Raymond Bellioti

  • women don't have to accept a lesser role
  • women are capable of deciding for themselves
  • does not see a problem with women accepting a socially defined role if they choose it
  • challenges the assumption that sexuality is fundamental to the human person
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