Category Archives: Against moral neutral of sexual activity

Review of Christine Emba’s Re-thinking Sex: A Provocation,

Good Sex is Not the Good of Sexuality

I just completed a first reading of Christine Emba’s Re-thinking Sex: A provocation, Penguin, New York 2022. She vividly exposes the wounds inflicted by what I, and she too, calls the belief in the moral neutrality of sexuality. Roughly, the moral neutrality of sexuality creed holds that no consensual sexual act may be morally condemned.

With the polished style of a Washington Post opinion columnist, , Ms. Emba reports numerous conversations, interviews and studies uncovering a deep dissatisfaction amongst college students, especially females, and successful professional women. Believing in the moral neutrality of sexual acts, they consented to sexual activity which left them feeling profoundly unsatisfied even if they enjoyed intense pleasure during the activity.

Furthermore, there was a long-lasting regret which they might have called moral shame if they dared talk of morally shameful sexual acts. In short, the sexual revolution, which is accepting the moral neutrality of sexuality, leads to an ever increasing amount of what is popularly called “bad sex.”

Ms. Emba’s provocative, for her intended readership, re-thinking of sex, is casting aside the moral neutrality of sexuality. The first two thirds of Re-thinking Sex: A Provocation prepares readers for her provocative proclamation that men and especially women must realize that some sexual acts ought never be done even if they want to perform them. With moral limits, they will have less bad and more good sex .

She sketches out how we might discover the moral constraints. I shall not critically evaluate as insufficient her speculations basing sexual morality on intentionally seeking the good of the other party in sexual relations. Ms. Emba does not claim to be a moral philosopher. At this time, it is sufficient that a writer for a popular readership cries out for moral evaluation of sexuality. The fact that she is willing to morally evaluate her own sexual activity and desires shows the sincerity of her cry.

However, I interpret her as proposing sexual morality as a means for having more good sex and less bad sex. Our priorities are mistaken if we accept morality as some type of mental technique for enriching sexual satisfaction – having good sex. On the contrary, we ought to pursue good sex as a means for attaining the good of sex, viz., that for which sex is good.

I state dogmatically what I defend extensively elsewhere. The good of sex is procreation and the life-long monogamous bonding for the mutual companionship and support of men and women in the care of life created by sexual activity.

It is proper to separate the good of sex from good sex. If we hypothetically assume that evolution has purposes or goods, we could say that the good or purpose of human sexuality is spread and perpetuation of the human species. Whether individuals are satisfied with their mating is totally irrelevant to perpetuation of the species. Maybe even the pursuit of good sex by individuals thwarts the evolutionary good of sexuality. Individuals might pursue good sex which avoids procreation.

Keeping good sex as the primary goal of sexuality is, in effect, keeping pleasure as the primary goal – the good of sexuality. It just turns out that sexuality within the limits of morality is a higher, longer lasting and, may I dare say it “more feminine” pleasure. Unfortunately, it also turns out that the pursuit of pleasure for the sake of pleasure, even the most “spiritual” pleasures, leads to failing to find pleasure in what was pursued. Eventually, even morally constrained sex will become boring, viz., bad sex. And, then, when morality is no longer a recipe for good sex, the default setting is the downward spiral into sexual degeneracy which Ms. Emba has so saddeningly portrayed.

When our priorities are properly ordered, we will engage in sexual activity under moral rules to promote the good of sexuality and never intentionally frustrate them. Then it turns out that one of our sexual moral obligations is to pursue good sex in our married lives. Life shows us that we need to struggle-morally struggle- to avoid letting marital sexuality become morally dangerous routinized and boring. That’s a huge occasion of sin.

I try to avoid aphorisms. Nonetheless, I propose “Do not pursue sexual pleasure as the good of sexuality, but you ought to pursue sexual pleasure for the good of sexuality.”

Sexual Privacy Necessary for New Life

In the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, I appealed to the decent opinion of humankind to recognize my right to criticize the LBGTQ+ agenda as promoting immorality. In general, I exercise this right by defending traditional sexual morality. In particular, I illustrate defending traditional sexual morality by making a case that coitus in public is immoral. This apparently unusual issue may diminish anxieties that criticism is based on some non-moral tabu about the sexuality of LGBQT+ people.

An example shows how public coitus could be a reality for “ordinary” people. Massive pornography shows that public coitus is all too real. The standard careless utilitarian reasoning, preaching that what does not hurt anyone is permissible, is unable to locate any immorality in the example scenario. In search of alternative ways of reasoning about sexual morality, I turn to ancient Greece. We read of the Cynic Philosopher Crates morally criticizing his wife Hipparchia for being ashamed of public coitus. I dismiss Crates’ non-utilitarian reasoning for thinking that it is positively moral. I go on to set aside St. Augustine’s non-utilitarian reason criticizing Crates. Then combining elements of the new natural law morality of G. Grisez et al. , Kantianism and St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, I offer a line of reasoning to a conclusion that the marriage act, the coitus of a married couple, ought not be public. I indicate how a persuasive case can be made for crucial premises in the line of reasoning. The case for the premises uncovers the moral requirements inherent in sexuality. This shows that reasoning about sexual morality is not topic neutral; that sexuality is not morally neutral.

Dan and Lisa are hosting a small party in their apartment after returning from their honeymoon. The guests are two couples they have known since high school. After drinking a little wine, there’s a little bawdy chatter about how married life is really pretty good. As a serpent in Eden, someone proposes to the newlyweds “Why don’t you guys strip down and show us some of the kinky tricks you learned on your honeymoon?” Stunned silence, nervous laughter, then “”No, no, not really kinky” from Lisa. More suggestive remarks suggestive remarks. With more cajoling from the others, Lisa seems to waver. That breaks down all of Dan’s hesitation; Lisa and Dan start pawing on one another. They quickly pull off each others’ clothes to engage in especially passionate love-making inflamed by wine and the sense of being watched. With nervous “good by’s” the party prematurely dissolves.

There is no going back. Eden is no more.

Why was their love-making immoral? Immediately, we try to answer with what can be considered standard moral reasoning about sexuality. What harm was done? We can quickly imagine all sorts of disastrous consequences. Regret and shame might destroy their respect and love for each other leading to early divorce. But this example has been proposed for philosophic consideration of the issue. So, details are added setting aside all possibilities of physical or emotional harm. First might be added the detail that pregnancy resulting from this marriage act was highly desired by Dan and Lisa. Questions about emotional damage are set aside by specifying that somehow all present enjoyed a type of amnesia about the event. So, when all possibilities of physical or mental harm have been ruled out, standard moral reasoning leaves us with no resources for saying that anything wrong – morally wrong occurred. It is fair to require those of us who want to show that a type of act is intrinsically wrong to consider the act abstracted from all non-moral harm. It must be shown that it is wrong regardless of the consequences.

For perspective, let us look back to Athens around 300BC. In the Hipparchia article in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, we can read

[…] Crates of Thebes…was so passionate about Cynic ideas that, leaving behind the wealth of his father, he moved to Athens with his wife Hipparchia, who was an equally zealous follower of his doctrine. And when he wanted to lie down with her in public, and she…pulled over her cloak as a cover, she was scolded by her husband: “obviously you are not yet wise,” he said, “since you don’t dare to do in the presence of others what you know well to be the right thing to do.”
The story of Hipparchia’s Cynic marriage quickly became the premiere example of that virtue, which is based on the Cynic belief that any actions virtuous enough to be done in private are no less virtuous when performed in public. As exemplars of anaideia, Hipparchia and Crates influenced their pupil Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism.

About six hundred years later, St. Augustine comments on this case.

It is this which those canine or cynic philosophers have overlooked, when they have, in violation of the modest instincts of men, boastfully proclaimed their unclean and shameless opinion, worthy indeed of dogs, viz., that as the matrimonial act is legitimate, no one should be ashamed to perform it openly, in the street or in any public place. Instinctive shame has overborne this wild fancy. For though it is related that Diogenes once dared to put his opinion in practice, under the impression that his sect would be all the more famous if his egregious shamelessness were deeply graven in the memory of mankind, yet this example was not afterwards followed. Shame had more influence with them, to make them blush before men, than error to make them affect a resemblance to dogs. And possibly, even in the case of Diogenes, and those who did imitate him, there was but an appearance and pretense of copulation, and not the reality. Even at this day there are still Cynic philosophers to be seen; for these are Cynics who are not content with being clad in the pallium, but also carry a club; yet no one of them dares to do this that we speak of. If they did, they would be spat upon, not to say stoned, by the
mob. Human nature, then, is without doubt ashamed of this lust; and justly so, for the insubordination of these members, and their defiance of the will, are the clear testimony of the punishment of man’s first sin. And it was fitting that this should appear specially in those parts by which is generated that nature which has been altered for the worse by that first and great sin—that sin from whose evil connection no one can escape, unless God’s grace expiate in him individually that which was perpetrated to the destruction of all in common, when all were in one man, and which was avenged by God’s justice. Augustine, City of God Book 14.20*

Let us examine the reasoning.

I interpret Crates’ browbeating Hipparchia that she should not be ashamed to have coitus in public with him as follows.

Coitus with me is morally permissible in private.
What is morally permissible in private is morally permissible in public.
Hence, coitus with me is morally permissible in public.
Shame which is based on public opinion but not nature inhibits you from engaging in public coitus with me.
You ought not let that which does not come from nature inhibit you from engaging in public coitus with me.
So, you ought not let shame inhibit you from engaging in public coitus with me.

The argument demands Hipparchia work on developing the Cynic virtue of anaideia (an-ah’-ee-die-ah’ ) which means shamelessness.

Crates’ line of reasoning to twist Hipparchia loving him into a means for making a philosophic statement is terrible.

What is right in private may be wrong in public. A guideline for good management of employees is” Criticize in private, praise in public.” He assumes a ridiculously reductive sense of human nature. What is not natural for dogs who have no culture by nature is not natural for humans who by nature have cultures.

Augustine is not foolish as Crates. Mostly from the later part of the passage, I interpret Augustine as arguing that Hipparchia ought to let shame inhibit her from engaging in public coitus with Crates.

Shame is the instinct we have for hiding from public view that which clearly exhibits our fallen nature.
Actions which clearly exhibit being driven by passion far more than reason clearly exhibit our fallen nature.
Coitus is an action which clearly exhibits being driven by passion far more than reason.
So, coitus clearly exhibits our fallen nature.
We ought not clearly exhibit our fallen nature.
So, we ought to use shame to hide coitus from public view.

Augustine is correct about our being fallen creatures. To say that we are fallen creatures is to say that human beings collectively and individually are not as they ought to be. We are fallen creatures. However, admitting our falleness does not require admitting that what is good for us is any less good than “before the fall.” Our falleness resides in the weakness of intellect and will to know what is good and then choose correctly from what is good. In particular, coitus with its special mixture of thought and sentiment might well be as good now as “before the fall.” Actions driven far more by passion than reason do not clearly exhibit our fallen nature.

This critique of Augustine segues to a line of argument basing sexual morality on the goodness of sexuality

Sexual intimacy is a basic human good.
Sexual intimacy requires privacy.
To intentionally choose to engage in the marriage act in public is to intentionally choose to inhibit the basic good of intimacy.
One ought to never intentionally choose to inhibit a basic human good.
So, one ought never intentionally choose to engage in the marriage act in public.

The marriage act is a tri-partite basic human good. Conception, sexual pleasure and intimacy are the three components. The focus is on intimacy. Long discussion of conception , sexual pleasure and their connection to intimacy would distract from the line of argument. Contrary to Augustine, note in passing that a component of the good of the marriage act is a special type of pleasure, or erotic joy, whose moral value ought not be overlooked. At the right time, in the right way, with the right person sex is and ought to be sexy.

Why, though, is in private the right way? The marriage act is doubly life giving. It is the biological procreative act and the human act for creating and re-creating the life long one flesh entity of a man and woman. It is to be life long for to bring to life that unity with an explicit or implicit intention to not hold the unity is to intend to abort the new life being created. A couple seeks privacy so that they can say, or signal, to one another “Right now, we have no interest but each other .” They strive to be one. They need, or need to be seeking, that aloneness so that they have nothing else to pull them apart. To intentionally preclude the possibility of that solitude necessary for that unity of will is to preclude the basic human good of the one flesh unity of a man and woman.

I could go on trying to articulate the necessity of privacy for the one flesh unity. It is important that this task can be left for non-philosophers. If intimacy is a basic human good, then its being so and its necessary conditions are accessible to all. The best support for the premises of my line of reasoning is the testimony of sensitive, wise and experienced men and women. Traditional sexual morality is to be defended by those who realize its truth. Philosophers only point out crucial premises for which testimony is needed.

In closing, reconsider how that night might have struck at the unity of Dan and Lisa. Imagine two continuation of their lives.

Dan and Lisa are mortified. They cannot believe they did what they did that night. Trust in themselves and one shaken. With our ability to push to the back of our minds the many stupid things we do in our youth, they go on with their lives as if it never happened. Yet, there is a new sadness in their lives. But life goes on. They delight in the daughter born nine months after that night. Over the next few years, they are feel blessed with two boys. In the eyes of their children their unity is being parents. God has forgiven them, long before they forgive themselves.

Dan and Lisa are surprised and delighted about how bold they can be in pursuit of sexual excitement. After that night, they start seeking out other couples interested in group sex. In the eyes of the group sex subculture, their unity is that of a team seeking sexual excitement.

Venial sins wound the soul. Mortal sins kill the soul.

*Source. Translated by Marcus Dods. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.)

Pregnancy is Not Sexual

How are moral commands given?

In my effort to characterize how God’s moral commands are given and received, I start by describing ways we might block ourselves from hearing divine commands. Perhaps, knowing how we suppress them will show what we are suppressing.

These ways of deafening ourselves to divine commands are commonly called “rationalizations.” Not all rationalizations are conscious. Indeed, becoming aware of a rationalization may facilitate hearing the divine moral command. For often the rationalizations expose themselves as poor reasoning once they become explicit.

In my previous post, I sketched out a far-fetched rationalization for abortion. See “Abortion Stops a Coitus.” The foundation for this far-fetched rationalization is a very popular belief which to many sounds like common sense. The foundational belief is the moral neutrality of sexuality. I regard the moral neutrality of sexuality as the major rationalization deafening the opinion forming elites to divine moral commands for sexuality. If pregnancy is morally neutral, abortion can be justifed on utilitarian grounds.

I continue to criticize the moral neutrality of sexuality by showing how it supports another far-fetched rationalization for abortion. I expose it as leading implicitly to an absurd extension of the sexual. The gist of the rationalization is that pregnancy is a sexual matter and because sexual matters are morally neutral so is pregnancy

How could the condition of pregnancy be regarded as sexual? One way is the far-fetched rationale I gave in my previous post is that pregnancy is still sexual because it began with sexual intercourse. Another way is to extend the imprecise, but legitimate and important, notion of sexual privacy to pregnancy.

The notion of sexual privacy needs much examination and clarification. But I think that any analysis of sexual privacy will admit that there is such a thing and that whatever it exactly may be the first premise of the syllogism below is true. However, such an analysis will expose, I believe, that only a desire to justify abortion by making pregnancy morally neutral leads to the second premise.

What is sexually private to a woman is something with which a woman may treat according to her will.
Her pregnancy is something sexually private to a woman.
Hence, her pregnancy is something with which a woman may treat according to her will.

Abortion Terminates a Coitus; Not a Human Life. What??

Consider a defense of abortion which I have never heard anyone present. I present it to show the baneful distortions in thinking stemming from accepting the moral neutrality of sexuality.

Abortion is categorically prohibited even for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape. Abortions are direct intentional stopping a human life. It is a hard teaching. Much grievous individual and social pain is eliminable by some abortions.

Why do so many decent people ignore the fact that abortion is an intentional direct taking of a human life? Many of my fellow Catholics simply will not look at abortion as murder. They look only at the problems to be solved by termination of a pregnancy. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most of these decent people also accept the moral neutrality of sexuality. What I want to show is that looking at pregnancy in a certain way along with accepting the moral neutrality of sexuality provides a moral defense of abortion. If people unconsciously look at pregnancy in this certain way to justify abortion, then we have an explanation of why decent people vigorously defend abortion.

What is this special way of looking at pregnancy? It is looking at pregnancy as a continuation of coitus. Of course, this is far fetched but not totally incoherent. When exactly does coitus end? Upon ejaculation the male might be pretty well finished. But coitus is a mutual act and it is not clear that the woman’s part is over once the man withdraws. It is possible to consider fertilization as a continuation of a single mutual action of ovulation and ejaculation. I do not want to continue with details because this is all fuzzy thinking. The point I want to make is that there is a line of loose unconscious thinking which connects pregnancy primarily with sexuality for moral purposes. Indeed the exception some ardent pro-lifers grant to allow abortions for pregnancy starting from an incestual coitus or rape suggests that they may be identifying these pregnancies as parts of impermissible sex acts.

If pregnancy, for moral purposes, is looked at primarily as a condition connected with the coitus initiating it, then continuation or termination of the pregnancy falls under sexual morality. In the very widely held stance of moral neutrality of sexuality, viz., there are no categorical prohibitions of any sexual act, then abortion is open to being justified by references to its consequences.

An ultra sound is a fact check showing that pregnancy is no longer a matter of sexual morality.

Pope Francis on the Role of Satan in Sexual Abuse

Let us endorse Pope Francis recognition of the devil’s role in the sexual misconduct of some priests.

In this post I diagnose the action of the devil as insinuating the theory of the moral neutrality of sexual activity into human thought and profess that ultimately prayer in addition to reason is very helpful, if not needed, to combat the morally corrupting theory of the moral neutrality of sexuality.

As a reminder of Pope Francis’s thoughts on the role of the devil in sexual abuse, consider an excerpt from an April 1, 2019 National Catholic Register translation of of Pope Francis’ March 31, 2019 in flight press conference on his return flight from Rabat Morocco

In a question a Ms. Cristiana Caricato, TV2000. noted: “you often denounce the action of the devil, you did so also at the recent Vatican summit on abuse”.
Pope Francis emphasized his realistic stance about a devil by responding :

“I try to give you all the explanations and also the limits of the explanations. But there is a point that cannot be understood without the mystery of evil. Think of this: virtual child pornography.” . . .”this is not understood without the spirit of evil. It is a concrete problem. We must solve it concretely, but say that it is the spirit of evil.”. . . “to overcome the spirit of evil is not ‘washing one’s hands,’ saying ‘the devil does it,’ no. We too must struggle with the devil, as we must struggle with human things”.

I agree with Pope Francis that we must struggle with the devil. But how?

To resolve the sexual abuse crises we need to be clear about the misdeeds, we need to understand their causes and how to prevent the operation of those causes.. There are two kinds of misdeeds in the abuse crises. On one hand, there are the sexual acts of priests; usually with boys. On the other hand, there are the so called cover-up by clerical officials of the actual sexual misconduct. As a Catholic it is proper to regard the misdeeds as sins and their causes as temptations. Catholic tradition tells us that the world, the flesh and the devil are the sources of temptation to sin.

The sexual misdeeds always involve mortal sins: Always by the seducer and sometimes by the seduced. In this post, the focus is on the sources of the temptation to these mortal sins. In my opinion, many of the cover-ups are at most venial sins. Outright perjury is, of course, a mortal sin. I suspect, however, that many of the cover-ups were simply imprudent acts of mercy and forgiveness. We do not need to invoke the devil to explain imprudent acts of mercy and forgiveness. Any parent with a wayward child understands that temptation all too well as coming from a natural love for their children. Imprudent love for one’s children can be classed as a temptation coming from the flesh – human nature. I concede that it is almost certain that many of the cover-ups were motivated by a concern to protect the reputation of the clerical order. Such a temptation could be interpreted as coming from the world – concern about status in society. And the temptation could be called clericalism. It seems unlikely that concern about clerical rights and privileges are operative in a man lusting for a boy, or girl for that matter. Indeed, if a priest uses his clerical status to seduce a boy, lust explains his succumbing to temptation and “clericalism” only labels a means he has chosen to act out his temptation.

So-called clericalism is relevant for explaining the cover-ups; not the sexual sins. So let us turn to the role of the flesh and the devil in temptations to the actual sexual sins. Strong sexual desire, which I here equate with lust, may be a necessary condition for a sexual misdeed; but it is not sufficient for explaining sexual sins.

I propose that the devil by making available to us moral rationalization* techniques together with lust is almost sufficient for sexual sins. There still needs to be the free choice even after moral rationalization has concocted all sorts of excuses for setting aside moral rules.

In previous posts, I have sketched out how a devil corrupts human thought by providing moral rationalization techniques. One of the main posts is What is Satan?

Here is a brief synopsis of my model for the devil. God created an intelligence almost as great as his own. The function of this intelligence is to convey God’s thoughts to humans by placing God’s thoughts in human thought. (Angels are beings for conveying God’s thoughts.) Human thought comprises those thoughts which are somehow common to all human beings. Whoever thinks can think what is in human thought. God gave this supreme messenger free will. It could convey to human thought what God willed or it could choose to will something else. This supreme messenger rebelled by chosing to reserve to itself whether or not it would convey what God willed. Before conveying what God willed, it would consider whether or not it had reasons for passing on what God willed. This supreme messenger was the first moral rationalizer and it passed on to human thought this thought of rationalization-seeking reasons for setting aside the moral law.

Hesitating to obey an command known to come from God is illogical and immoral. By logic about the concept of God what comes from God is right and ought to be. So this moral rationalization of this supreme messenger is irrational and immoral.

In brief, the work of the devil is making available to human thought rationalizing thoughts for following the temptations of the world and flesh. In regard to sexual temptations the basic rationalizing technique is the thought of the moral neutrality of all sexual activity. According to this moral rationalizing thought there are always considerations which can justify any sexual activity. When under the pressure of lust simply thinking that there might be justifying considerations can lead one into succumbing to sexual desire.

So to struggle against the devil when sexual temptations arise is to block oneself from any rationalizing thoughts, which all depend upon the thought of the moral neutrality of sexual activity. Prayer and religious activity may not be necessary conditions for blocking rationalizing thoughts from becoming active in your thought. But I, and presumably those who have recommended prayer, have found that prayer and religious activity are sufficient for filling the mind with thoughts and sentiments which keep out rationalizing thoughts.

* I modify “rationalization” with “moral” because in general “rationalization” is an honorific term suggesting the removal of objections raised by reason. However, I intend “moral rationalization” to be a pejorative term. In moral rationalization, objections – reasons against- are raised which logically and morally ought not be raised. Indeed, my model of Satan is type of rationalization.

My book 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. In my book, I argue that the assumption of the moral neutrality of sexual activity ultimately undercuts all objective morality. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.

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