Sexual Ethics


What is sexual ethics?

  • Sex covers a wide range of things, e.g. homosexuality, marriage, prostitution etc. 
  • Sex is so natural to us, that we need rules.
  • ^ Richard Holloway: 'Human sexuality is like a runaway car' - it can be destructive or creative, but we are never quite in control of it.

Historical views of sex

  • Greek philosophers saw sex as something weakening to the mind.
  • ^ The pythagoreans (influenced Plato) believed humans should refrain from physical activities. In this way the soul, that's imprisoned in the body, is freed to move to a new form. 
  • This dualism can be seen in Plato's analogy of the chariot: beautiful white horse represents self control, and the ugly black horse that needs controlling with a whip. This could be seen as the desire needs controlling, but it allowed to exist - the charioteer needs his horses. 
  • The Cynics however saw no point in controlling pleasure and saw no shame in the sexual act, even going as far as performing it in public. 
  • ^ The Stoics reacted against this and linked sex only to reproduction and the continuing of the human race. 
  • For the Greeks sexuality is naturally excessive, so the problem is how to control it. This involved self-discipline, not laws. 

The Old Testament approach

  • Doesn't have a particular view - reflects its times. 
  • It includes love stories (Ruth and Boaz) and accounts of incest (two daughters that have incestuous relationships with their father to ensure the continuation of the line); and there are many tales of seduction and sexual revenge. 
  • ^ Many of these are recounted factually without judging. Sex is even celebrated in the Song of Songs. 
  • In Genesis 1 and 2 there's an understanding that sex is created by God for procreation, however, sex is seen as good, not wrong. 
  • But there contradictions as sometimes it shouldn't be practiced in sinful ways. 
  • Sexual involvement with non-Israelites was forbidden as it would lead you away from God, and adultery was forbidden (punishable by stoning). 
  • In this society women weren't equal to men, but had to be part of their household. 
  • Women had to be virgins on marriage so he could be assured the children were his. 

The New Testament approach


  • Said little about sex - gave very few rules.
  • Jesus left sex and relationships open - even his teachings about marriage and divorce aren't clear. 
  • He said 'whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her'. However this is hard to translate and could mean a variety of things. 
  • ^ In this it is clear that Jesus is challenging the idea of wife as a mans property and bringing in equality. 
  • Jesus sets and ideal and divorce falls short of it.


  • Much of his writing is based on the expectation of the return of Christ and the end of the world. 
  • There wasn't much point in talking about sex and relationships as all was soon to end. 
  • He attempted to move…


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