Why Sexual Wrongs as Gravely Wrong
In this post, I try to make a case that all sexual wrongs are gravely wrong, by making a case that masturbation is intrinsically gravely wrong. I make this attempt under the assumption that that some sexual acts are intrinsically wrong. Masturbation and homosexual acts are included in this assumption.
The assumption of the intrinsic immorality of male masturbation and male homosexual acts is well justified. The purpose of male orgasm is procreation and the unitive bond of male and female. These basic human goods are never to be directly inhibited. Male masturbation and homosexual acts directly inhibit the procreative and unitive goods of sexuality. So, they are always on the wrong side of being right. That takes care of intrinsic wrongness.
See Intrinsic Wrong vs. Formal Wrong for a defense of using “intrinsically wrong instead of formally wrong.
But how wrong? How grave? Compared with all the horrible evil humans inflicted upon one another, a couple of guys messing with each other’s penises seems naughty rather than evil.
In common sense and the law, the graveness of an immoral act is extrinsic to a wrong act. Gravity depends upon inflicting serious physical or mental harm or being done with the intent to inflict such harm. It is obvious that masturbation is not extrinsically grave as we ordinarily talk about gravity of offenses.
I could specify other extrinsic feature of masturbation as what makes it grave.
The Catholic church – my church- has simply specified that it is grave where “gravity” means that it must be forgiven in a sacrament of confession as a condition for avoiding the even more grave evil of receiving the Eucharist without such sacramental forgiveness. Of course, organizational specification of a type of act as gravely wrong is a feature external to the act.
Other external feature of sexual acts felt to be immoral, are cultural judgments about the gravity of these acts. Personally, I think that a horrible feature of humanity is the horror felt against sexual wrongs. These harsh attitudes and action upon them vary from place to place and time to time. But harsh societal reaction to harmless sexual acts is real. There may be social evolutionary explanations for these harsh judgments about sexual misconduct.
But the goal is to try to articulate the insight of the Church in her imposition of such sacramental requirements.
So, if masturbation is a grave wrong, its gravity must be intrinsic.
I suggest the following. The masturbator recklessly treats making the act for continuing humankind incapable of continuing humankind. That reckless attitude towards what is necessary for humanity to exist is a grave matter.
More generally, why might all sexual wrongs be gravely wrong? Other wrongs inhibit goods such as knowledge, friendship and beauty. But sexual wrongs inhibit human life. The fundamental nature of life for other goods makes inhibition of life a grave matter.