As an emeritus faculty member, I regularly swim and work out in The Ohio State University’s Recreation and Physical Activity Center (RPAC). At Ohio State, and throughout the country, there is serious concern about the problem of frequent, to put it mildly, less than fully consensual sexual activity amongst university students. Posters in RPAC proclaiming “Consent is Sexy” address the concern. One poster showing the heads and bare shoulders of an attractive couple looking into each other’s eyes tells us “When you look into each other’s eyes and see that you really want each other, now, that’s sexy!” On another we read “When you both tell each other what you want to do, now, that’s hot!”
I came to Ohio State in the early sixties as an assistant professor of philosophy In those days, the university explicitly accepted the role in loco parentis in governing student life in accordance with middle class morality. Indeed, I once served as a chaperone at a student dance! In the sixties the sexual revolution was beginning. In the second decade of the twenty first century, the revolutionaries are in control. They are finding that it is far easier to control public opinion than the strong sexual inclinations they have unleashed. The sexual morality of the revolution is no longer revolutionary. It is middle class morality. With words “sexy” and “hot” in the “Consent is sexy” posters, the university in its in loco parentis capacity is preaching the new permissive sexual morality. The new morality is preached not only to students. During Parent/Student orientation, RPAC is proudly shown to both parents and students. With the word “consent” the revolutionaries are conceding that the new sexual morality has not produced a garden of earthly delights.
These posters and the new sexual morality make me sad. Middle class morality is telling its children that this is what your life is all about and it is not much: getting pleasure. Your sexual inclinations are too strong for you to avoid promiscuity but at least we can avoid coercion and give you moresexual pleasure thereby.
There is a sexual morality at work here! By implication coercive sexual acts are morally condemned and hot sexy consensual acts are extolled as a great human good not to be inhibited and actively sought. Call hot sexy consensual acts voluptuous.
I argue in my Confronting Sexual Nihilism for a fundamental principle of traditional sexual morality which, is obviously, contrary to the new progressive morality. I am assuming that the typical sexual activity celebrated in the posters is between university students who are not married to each other nor committed to a long term relation. What might be a fundamental principle for sexual morality which would morally justify, and indeed celebrate, these acts because consensual? A statement of this principle which could be the principle underlying these progressive moral judgments might lead to questioning of these judgments by those accepting the “Consent is Sexy” sexual morality. The principle will seem so obviously wrong about the significance of human sexuality.
I write of a principle which could underly these progressive moral judgments. I use ‘could’ because particular moral judgments may not be based on any principle and a variety of principles could lead to the same judgment. But I want to propose a line of thought that leads to the progressive judgments and which is a very plausible principle if you think about morality being to promote what could be called the natural end of a system. (If you are uninterested in philosophical reasoning, skip down to Formulation of the Progressive Principle.
To uncover this fundamental principle, I shall stipulate a distinction between ‘function’ and ‘purpose’ to mark ‘function’ as a descriptive term and ‘purpose’ as a moral term. Human sexuality is that wide variety of behaviors constituting human courting, mating and bonding which a behavioral zoologist “from another planet” would pick out as the human reproductive behavior.
Human sexuality has several functions, or conditions it regularly brings about. Let us focus on three. Of course, one function is to lead men and women through courtship to mate for procreation and bond monogamously for care of the children and mutual support. In my book, I take the moral stance that this parental function is the purpose of human sexuality. I pay little attention to it here.
Another function of sexuality typically leads men and women, but not necessarily men and women, to form those intense relatively long-lived bonding relations we call ‘being in love.’ I cannot add anything to that complicated and incomplete answer to “what is this thing called love?” except to say that a fundamental moral stance about sexuality is to hold that the purpose of sexuality is to produce, promote and protect romantic love. Let us here note romantic love as a possible purpose of sexuality as a reminder that there are alternatives to procreation and parenting vs. genital sexual pleasure as the purpose of sexuality.
A third function of sexuality is to produce those unforced hot, sexy,viz., voluptuous matings, but not necessarily heterosexual, extolled in Ohio State’s “Consent is Sexy” posters.
To regard a function F of a system S as the purpose P of S is to hold that S and other systems are to be used to promote P and that no systems, especially not S, are to be used to inhibit P.
What would it mean to regard procreation and parenting as the purpose of sexuality? It would mean that we should control our sexuality to promote them and should not use our sexuality, especially in its functions of producing pleasure and love, to work against procreation and parenting. Of course, when pursuit of pleasure and romance promote procreation and parenting, they are to be encouraged. The progressive stance regards voluptuous matings as the purpose of sexuality. What principle follows from the progressive stance?
Fomulation of the progressive principle: we ought to promote voluptuous matings and not let any other function of sexuality such as love or marriage stand in their way. Of course, when love or marriage happen to go along with voluptuous sex, that is good fortune.
Why did the awareness that these peak sexual experiences were being promoted as the purpose of sexuality make me sad? There are costs associated with promotion of these hot sexy matings. There is need for contraceptives and education in their use along with backup abortion services. Constant vigilance needs to be exercised so that opportunities for these matings do not slide into occasions for less than consensual sex. Most of all, though, it was because a person’s sexuality is inseparable from who and what that person is. These posters, with their underlying sexual morality, are telling students that the best in their lives are short lived periods of intense sexual pleasure and that is not much. Girls are boy toys and boys are studs.
In my book, I argue that this trivialization of sexuality for young people when generalized to hold for all people leads to nihilism. See below how to purchase my book.
My book arguing that sexual neutrality leads to nihilism is Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Printed copies can be purchased here by credit card for $12.99, plus $3.71 for shipping and handling.
To purchase the printed book by check, send check of $16.70 per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
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