The Rock Ethics Institute



Recognition, Desire, and Unjust Sex

Ann. J. Cahill
Hypatia 29 (2): 303-319 (2014)

In this article I will revisit the question of what I term the continuum of heteronormative sexual interactions, that is, the idea that purportedly ethically acceptable heterosexual interactions are conceptually, ethically, and politically associated with instances of sexual violence. Spurred by recent work by psychologist Nicola, I conclude that some of my earlier critiques of Catharine MacKinnon's theoretical linkages between sexual violence and normative heterosex are wanting. In addition, neither MacKinnon's theory nor my critique of it seem up to the task of providing an ethical account of the examples of “unjust sex” that Gavey has described. I come to the conclusion that an ethical analysis of sexual interactions requires a focus on sexual desire, but that desire cannot take on the by now heavily criticized role of consent. Rather than looking for the presence or absence of sexual desire prior to sexual encounters as a kind of ethical certification of them, we ought instead to focus on the efficacy of that sexual desire, that is, its ability (or lack thereof) to shape an encounter in substantial and meaningful ways. Abstract retrieved from philpapers. 

Cahill, Ann J. (2014). Recognition, desire, and unjust sex. Hypatia 29 (2): 303-319.

Sex, Lies, and Consent

Tom Dougherty
Ethics 123 (4): 717-744 (2013)

How wrong is it to deceive someone into sex by lying, say, about one's profession? The answer is seriously wrong when the liar's actual profession would be a deal breaker for the victim of the deception: this deception vitiates the victim's sexual consent, and it is seriously wrong to have sex with someone while lacking his or her consent. Abstract retrieved from philpapers.

Dougherty, Tom (2013). Sex, lies, and consent. Ethics 123 (4): 717-744. 

The Ethics of Sexual Objectification: Autonomy and Consent 

Patricia Marino
Inquiry, 51 (4): 345-364 (2008)

It is now a platitude that sexual objectification is wrong. As is often pointed out, however, some objectification seems morally permissible and even quite appealing—as when lovers are so inflamed by passion that they temporarily fail to attend to the complexity and humanity of their partners. Some, such as Nussbaum, have argued that what renders objectification benign is the right sort of relationship between the participants; symmetry, mutuality, and intimacy render objectification less troubling. On this line of thought, pornography, prostitution, and some kinds of casual sex are inherently morally suspect. I argue against this view: what matters is simply respect for autonomy, and whether the objectification is consensual. Intimacy, I explain, can make objectification more morally worrisome rather than less, and symmetry and mutuality are not relevant. The proper political and social context, however, is crucial, since only in its presence can consent be genuine. I defend the consent account against the objection that there is something paradoxical in consenting to objectification, and I conclude that given the right background conditions, there is nothing wrong with anonymous, one-sided, or just-for-pleasure kinds of sexual objectification. Abstract retrieved from philpapers. 

Marino, Patricia (2008). The Ethics of sexual objectification: Autonomy and consent. Inquiry, 51 (4): 345-364.

Sex Under Pressure: Jerks, Boorish Behavior and Gender Hierarchy

Scott A. Anderson
Res Publica, 11 (4): 349-369 (2005)

Pressuring someone into having sex would seem to differ in significant ways from pressuring someone into investing in one’s business or buying an expensive bauble. In affirming this claim, I take issue with a recent essay by Sarah Conly (‘Seduction, Rape, and Coercion’, Ethics, October 2004), who thinks that pressuring into sex can be helpfully evaluated by analogy to these other instances of using pressure. Drawing upon work by Alan Wertheimer, the leading theorist of coercion, she argues that so long as pressuring does not amount to coercing someone into having sex, her consent to sex answers the important ethical questions about it. In this essay, I argue that to understand the real significance of pressuring into sex, we need to appeal to background considerations, especially the male-dominant gender hierarchy, which renders sexual pressuring different from its non-sexual analogues. Treating pressure to have sex like any other sort of interpersonal pressure obscures the role such sexual pressure might play in supporting gender hierarchy, and fails to explain why pressure by men against women is more problematic than pressure by women against men. I suggest that men pressuring women to have sex differs from the reverse case because of at least two factors: (1) gendered social institutions which add to the pressures against women, and (2) the greater likelihood that men, not women, will use violence if denied, and the lesser ability of women compared to men to resist such violence without harm. Abstract retrieved from philpapers. 

Anderson, Scott A.  (2005). Sex under pressure: Jerks, boorish behavior and gender hierarchy. Res Publica, 11 (4): 349-369.

Sexual Morality: Is Consent Enough

Igor Primoratz
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 4 (3): 201-218 (2001)

The liberal view that valid consent is sufficient for a sex act to be morally legitimate is challenged by three major philosophies of sex: the Catholic view of sex as ordained for procreation and properly confined to marriage, the romantic view of sex as bound up with love, and the radical feminist analysis of sex in our society as part and parcel of the domination of women by men. I take a critical look at all three, focusing on Mary Geach''s recent statement of the procreation view, Roger Scruton''s theory of sexual desire as naturally evolving into intimacy and love, and several radical feminist discussions of sex in sexist society which argue that the notion of consent is unhelpful and, indeed, irrelevant. I argue that none of these lines of argument is convincing, and that consent remains the touchstone of morally permissible sex – although, admittedly, it may not be very helpful in discussing ideals of human sexuality. Abstract retrieved from philpapers.

Primoratz, Igor (2001). Sexual morality: Is consent enough. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 4 (3): 201-218.