Today my topic is principles of sexual ethics. Please understand that this piece cannot be exhaustive. I ask you to consider this a think piece, as all my podcasts are meant to be.
Principles of sexual ethics are those principles which guide us to a standard of personal ethics in our sexual encounters. I will not be discussing what one’s sexual ethics should be. Instead, I’m thinking about the foundation upon which we base our sexual ethics.
Sex is a matter of satisfaction. Who gets satisfied when? What is permission? When does “no” mean no? What is the power dynamic? Is it shared? If the power dynamic is uneven can there truly be consent? What does age have to do with it? What is the trade-off of danger vs orgasm? These and other considerations motivate my thought process here.
Years ago, as a Political Science major, I took a course on Principles of Justice. One of the principles involved the Mini-Max measurement for justice. Simply put the measurement applied reason to do the most good with the least harm. I’ve remembered that measurement for principles of sexual ethics. This principle states that sexual ethics be based on providing the most satisfaction to the participants while exposing them to the least harm.
For example, a man and a woman engage in casual sexual intercourse. The most satisfaction might be an adventurous unprotected uninhibited encounter. However, the woman is poor and isn’t on any pregnancy prophylactic. If she gets pregnant, she won’t be able to take care of the child. She can’t even afford to be out of work or be seen pregnant. Her alternative would be abortion. This would do undue and considerable harm. Or she gets a disease from the man and passes it on; or the man gets a disease to pass on. Hopefully, you can see the escalating harm being done.
If you have a sexually transmitted disease. How will you alter your behavior? How will you adjust your behavior during an era where unprotected sex can kill you or another or diminish each other’s quality of life permanently?
These considerations affect our approach to such a sexual encounter.
A second principle of sexual ethics is consent. While agreeing on the definition of consent can be argued. The lack of consent to sex is defined as rape. Can a mentally or emotionally impaired person consent to sex? Mentally and emotionally impaired is a cultural judgement. In my culture anyone under 18 is deemed too mentally and emotionally impaired to consent to sex.
Then there are those who have other mental and emotional impairments that affect their reasoning abilities.
In more current times we have defined an employee as unable to consent to sex with a boss. An inebriated person or someone under other mind-altering drugs, or a person that has passed out are deemed unable to give consent.
These are the basic standards requisite in considering our approach to sexual encounters.
During the age of the Christian missionary and letter writer Paul’s time there was a great scandal in the Roman military. Some officers were taking advantage of lesser ranked soldiers and having sex with them. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul takes to task the power inequality of persons using their position to put pressure on a person of lesser position to engage in a humiliating sexual encounter, oftentimes as punishment or retribution.
In Romans 1.24, Paul says, “The male burned in his appetite for another male, that of indecently engaging in retribution, which God hated.” (This passage is directly translated from the Greek. It is not a copy of an English translation.)
A third principle is consideration. A spouse, a mate, a significant-other is primed and ready for sex. His or her partner is not. Now what? Is there an unwritten obligation? What happens when your partner is just not in the mood? What happens when your partner is in the mood and you are not? It’s a dilemma to be considered.
A fourth principle is satisfaction. Who gets off? Is sex about me getting off or about me satisfying my partner? A good principle is that everybody gets their cookies!
The final principle is Sex is a Gift. Don’t abuse it. Don’t short-change the importance of the book of Song of Solomon in the Old Testament, or Hebrew Texts, which begin, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth. For your love is better than wine…”
Sex, sensuality, orgasms, affection, attraction are all gifts from God. Unlike some religious theorists contend, sex is not just for procreation. Sex is meant to be enjoyable. Abundant procreation is a result of how good it feels. Having sex to feel good is not a bad thing. Sex is a gift. God meant for us to receive this gift with respect and use it joyfully. That’s what a gift is. The unfortunate side of the gift is like so many things handed to humans – we too often abuse our gifts.
How do we abuse sex?
If we are selfish with sex, is that abusing it?
If we treat it like a bowel movement, a response to a primal need? Is that abusing it?
If we engage in sex and then publicly brag about it? Is that abusing it?
If we engage in sex for financial gain? Is that abusing it?
If we don’t enjoy it? Is that abusing it?
These and other queries are reasonable to ask if we are developing our sexual ethics.
The above questions are for you to answer or even consider based on what principles guide you in your sexual encounters.
Human sexuality is a gift from God. Sex is too often misused and abused. There are consequences to its misuse. HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis B, Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Scabies, Crabs, unplanned pregnancies, palm hair, all might be considered consequences of sexual misuse or abuse. (Palm hair was a joke.)
What I hope to impart today is that sex is amazing. Our sexuality is something to be celebrated. Our sensuality is a powerful natural effect of character, presence, and power. How we use our sensuality and how we control its impact is a matter of responsibility and conscience.
Sex is a gift granted thru exciting nerve endings and neural chemistry by a God that wanted to equalize all human beings. Whether rich or poor, smart or dumb, beautiful or ugly, powerful or weak, big or small, sex is a matter of preference not any other social marker or impediment. One’s ability to sexually satisfy a partner or be attractive is beyond any socio-cultural entitlement.
These are my principles upon which I build my personal sexual ethic. Because my principles are not exhaustive, I hope you will think through what principles might guide your own sexual ethic.
People of character have an ethos upon which they standardize their behavior, their judgments, and their evaluation of relationships. The principles behind our ethos are a matter of tradition and evolution.
In his book, Who Is Man, Abraham Joshua Heshel said,
“[A human being’s] total existence is, in a sense, a summation of past generations, a distillation of experiences and thoughts of his ancestors… The authentic individual is neither an end nor a beginning but a link between ages, both memory and expectation… Only he who is an heir is qualified to be a pioneer… [But] if one fails to accept the teaching of a tradition, one learns from cardinal experiences, from drastic failures or sudden outbursts of awareness, that self-denials are as important as self-satisfactions.”
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