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.”