Author: has written 5281 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
Return to: Homepage | Blog Index

112 Responses

  1. Niles
    Niles May 2, 2006 at 12:28 pm |

    Ok, call me way behind the times and vocabulary challenged, but I have not encountered ‘libidophobe’ before. I love this word. It trips off the tongue. It can be lobbed in coffee talk without tripping over it. It is adjective friendly. It wraps up all the sputtering, proselytizing, demonizing, slutifying anti-choice noise into one long sleeved tailored white jacket fit to order.

  2. Fred Vincy
    Fred Vincy May 2, 2006 at 12:31 pm |

    Kristof, Krugman, etc. are available on Nexis, which I think law students get free….

  3. Natalia
    Natalia May 2, 2006 at 12:35 pm |

    They want to punish women for having sex. That’s the real issue, in my not-so-humble opinion.

  4. Fitz
    Fitz May 2, 2006 at 1:26 pm |

    There was a debate about this over at marriage debate.com just the other day.

    I dont think its too hard to square the circle.

    Pro-lifers need to realize that different forms of contraception are effective & should be available.

    Pro-Choicer’s need to be able to posit a sexual ethic beyond “consenting adults”.

  5. BIllBones
    BIllBones May 2, 2006 at 1:56 pm |

    since my law-student ass is too poor
    Cute little joke – poverty is funny. Especially to an NYU law student. Enjoy your privledged life.

  6. Sara
    Sara May 2, 2006 at 2:05 pm |

    Fitz, how do sexual ethics differ from the ethics that dictate all other interpersonal relations? Communication and respect are what you need. The rest can be fleshed out by the two (or more) partners. Conservatives asking for much more are really asking for us to push their heteronormative and utilitarian view of sex. Count me out.

  7. Erin
    Erin May 2, 2006 at 2:07 pm |

    I wanted to mention that too–that you should be able to get all the Times Select Op-Ed writes from Lexus or I get them through a service called Pro-Quest that I had access to through a college library. So you should definitely be able to find them.

  8. Fitz
    Fitz May 2, 2006 at 2:28 pm |

    Sara

    I’m sure your out, but most people are not. Heteronormativity and sex’s utilitarian product are facts of life politically and personally. The author of the article was asking for sanity. Bringing up narrow academic theory is a bad way to strike political compromise.

  9. evil_fizz
    evil_fizz May 2, 2006 at 2:44 pm |

    Heteronormativity and sex’s utilitarian product are facts of life politically and personally.

    So, we should throw everyone who doesn’t fit into this model under the bus because it’s politically expedient? Pfft. Fuck that. There’s no consensus on what counts as proper sexual conduct and being in the business of what’s acceptable sexual behavior is a waste of time and money. The consenting adults in the privacy of their own home model is best thing going.

  10. Thomas
    Thomas May 2, 2006 at 2:46 pm |

    Fitz, for a guy who claims to detest ivory-tower opacity, you sure are guilty of it. When you say “sex’s utilitarian product,” you could mean any number of things. Any economist will tell you that “utility” means all the benefits derived from something. So, to an economist, the utilitarian products of sex could include orgasm, reproduction, and intimacy; or money, future favors, simply a way to pass the time. Now, I’m pretty sure I know what Sara meant, though her use of the term “utilitarian” is not one that either an economist or a philosopher would recognize. She meant the view among some conservative christians that sex is wrong unless it is “open to the possibility of conception,” a means to a very limited set of permissible ends that should not be utilized away from those ends. See Humanae Vitae or, if you like, D@wn Ed@n. But when you used the term, you didn’t just say “utilitarian.” said that “sex’s utilitarian product [is a] fact[] of life politically and personally.” This “product” construction is narrower, and I am not at all sure that I know what you mean. Please explain to us what it is that is a fact of life for us personally an politically.

  11. Thomas
    Thomas May 2, 2006 at 2:48 pm |

    And while you’re at it, Fitz, why don’t you explain to those of us that do not share your faith what ethical issues arise from private, non-commercial consensual sexual contact between adults.

  12. Auguste
    Auguste May 2, 2006 at 2:51 pm |

    Cute little joke – poverty is funny. Especially to an NYU law student. Enjoy your privledged life.

    Wow. I tend to be petty and bitter at people who get higher education than me, too, but at least I recognize what a six-figure student loan debt represents, even to lawyers.

  13. zuzu
    zuzu May 2, 2006 at 2:52 pm | *

    Not to mention, that future earning potential does nothing to help a student in the here and now.

  14. Tex
    Tex May 2, 2006 at 2:55 pm |

    @Fitz-

    Squaring the abortion circle is hard. Glibly insisting otherwise is a really bad way to strike political compromise.

  15. zuzu
    zuzu May 2, 2006 at 2:56 pm | *

    Not to mention, that future earning potential does nothing to help a student in the here and now. My current pay did nothing to help me out when I was in school and had to do my laundry in the bathtub or scrounge returnable bottles in order to eat.

  16. emily1
    emily1 May 2, 2006 at 2:59 pm |

    Pro-Choicer’s need to be able to posit a sexual ethic beyond “consenting adults”.

    why?

  17. PLN
    PLN May 2, 2006 at 3:00 pm |

    I like the thrust of the article, but I have to object to one line:

    “But contraception generally doesn’t cause sex, any more than umbrellas cause rain.” I’m not sure why this was bolded–it seems like an overly cute and rather silly statement. The grain of truth to the sexphobes’ agenda is that lowering the risks of sex, ceteris paribus, *does* encourage more of it. It’s not hard to find good studies that demonstrate this, and it certainly rings true in my own experience–I would be much less likely to have sex if there were no birth control. Wouldn’t all of you?

    Kristof acknowledges as much when he talks about spiked dashboards (which I’m sure I’ve heard elsewhere)–this WOULD encourage safer driving. It would also be barbaric and stupid, and result in more deaths. This is the point to harp on: be forthright about the incentive effects, but relentless in showing how crazy one’s values must be for “safer driving” to outweigh “more dead people”.

    The sad thing is that the same cultural factors of sexphobia and slutshaming that work through politics to keep Plan B away from people also *act directly* on behavior, which is a large part of the problem, as you all have so often wrote about. (Shame about sex leading to -not using- contraception, because it involves -planning- for sin in a way that much riskier “it just happened” sex doesn’t, etc.) And unfortunately pulling political levers can’t really fix that.

  18. Auguste
    Auguste May 2, 2006 at 3:01 pm |

    But zuzu, you’re forgetting about the time value of money. After all, the current value of a law education from NYU can be determined with PV= FV (1 + i )^N where i is the current rate of interest and N is the number of compounding periods. So let me see here…carry the two, times Black’s Law Dictionary…and we come up with…

    Yes, it’s Ramen Noodles.

  19. Auguste
    Auguste May 2, 2006 at 3:04 pm |

    Oh, I’m sorry, I made a mistake in the preceding equation.

    It’s not “current rate” of interest, it’s “average rate” of interest.

    Throw in a chicken pot pie and call it square.

  20. Thomas
    Thomas May 2, 2006 at 3:05 pm |

    Auguste, all investments are presently valued at their future cash flow discounted for time and risk. So, what does the distribution curve look like for the lifetime earnings of an NYU law grad? There’s both upside and downside from the mean.

  21. Fitz
    Fitz May 2, 2006 at 3:06 pm |

    Tomas
    By product of sex I meant the child. This is indeed a fact of life (sex produces children, often when your using contraception, or don’t intend it to- science reaffirms this concept)

    I suppose your alluding to religious affiliation when you say, “share your faith” – The article was a reasoned call for compromise and level headedness when it comes to birth control. I believe my call for a more nuanced and humane sexual ethic on the left is a fitting response to the author’s observation.
    Everything from discouraging promiscuousness, to encouraging dating norms, to raising the age of first sexual experience, to promoting respect for sexual restraint, monogamy, married childbearing and so forth are (I believe) appropriate, rational and progressive causes.

    The insistence by you and commentators like evil-fizz, that nothing less than hands off any societal standard regarding sexual matters only proves my point about the inability of the contemporary cultural left to transcend the sophomoric, puerile mindset of adolescent rebellion.

  22. Auguste
    Auguste May 2, 2006 at 3:16 pm |

    You’re right, and I’m obviously being quite snarky. In fact, law school does not really conform to investment models because TVM investment models assume that the investor is able to cover operating costs while the money is tied up in the instrument.

  23. afrit
    afrit May 2, 2006 at 3:26 pm |

    What the hell kind of progressive thinks the government should get to have any influence over when kids lose their virginity? Where do people like this get off calling themselves liberals?

    And for fuck’s sake, it’s “you’re,” not “your.”

  24. evil_fizz
    evil_fizz May 2, 2006 at 3:29 pm |

    The insistence by you and commentators like evil-fizz, that nothing less than hands off any societal standard regarding sexual matters only proves my point about the inability of the contemporary cultural left to transcend the sophomoric, puerile mindset of adolescent rebellion.

    Riiiight. Because two people do an entire movement make.

    This is not about transcending adolescent rebellion, you patronizing fuck. It’s a wholly defensible position which you seem content to dismiss out of hand in the name of “compromise.” Of course, by compromise, you mean throwing the homos and their ilk under the bus, but whatever the fuck, right? They’re just not normal enough to warrant being treated like voting adults.

  25. Tammy
    Tammy May 2, 2006 at 3:36 pm |

    Fitz, how is your stance–that sexual pleasure is suspicious and thereby the law must step in to make people suffer for having it if they don’t elect suffering on their own–“nuanced”? That’s the same old ridiculous Puritanical belief that pleasure is automatically bad for you that has plagued this country forever. That’s not nuanced, that’s applying a blunt, stupid rule to everything.

  26. Tex
    Tex May 2, 2006 at 3:51 pm |

    Tammy-
    oh but it is nuanced because married people with children don’t have to follow the rules of “sexual restraint”.

    How dare you accuse Fitz of applying a blunt rule?! It’s incredibly flexible.

    I’d dare say that “dating norms” are every bit as nuanced as “a sexual ethic beyond ‘“consenting adults”’.

  27. Kristen from MA
    Kristen from MA May 2, 2006 at 3:53 pm |

    fitz,

    what emily1 said.

  28. Fitz
    Fitz May 2, 2006 at 3:55 pm |

    NOTE
    I have not mentioned either goverment or laws.

  29. Thomas
    Thomas May 2, 2006 at 3:58 pm |

    First, there is an H in my name.

    sex produces children

    There is certainly a correlation. However, medical science provides us many ways to interrupt the process, from preventing hte introduction of sperm into the uterus, to preventing the release of eggs, to removing fertilized eggs from the uterus after implantation. Throughout history, infection has tended to produce illness and death, but we have done our best to interrupt this progression with medical science as well. In either case, of course, our success is less than complete due both the the limits of the technology and to human error.

    As to your asserted “a more nuanced and humane sexual ethic,” you have managed to give a merely conclusory answer. you say:

    Everything from discouraging promiscuousness, to encouraging dating norms, to raising the age of first sexual experience, to promoting respect for sexual restraint, monogamy, married childbearing and so forth are (I believe) appropriate, rational and progressive causes.

    (1) discouraging promiscuousness? Why? Are you arguing that there is some moral furniture of the universe from which one may derive a rule that a person ought to have only so many sexual partners and no more? If this is your position, what is the foundation of this extraordinary claim?

    (2) encouraging what dating norms? Do you have a handy guidebook that you would like us all to read? Or are you asserting that someone should author one? If the latter, what do you propose as the source of the rules?

    (3) raising the age of first sexual experience … meaning what? My son’s first sexual experience was touching his own penis as a newborn. If you are talking about self-consciously erotic experiences, I submit that you cannot change the age at which adolescents begin to masturbate unless you incarcerate them in the Panopticon. But I suspect you are either talking about the more prosaic topic of first penis-vagina sexual intercourse, or the broader topic of partnered sex. I’m not sure you can make a case that moving any of these to later in life is a particularly good way to accomplish anything I’d want to accomplish. It is my understanding that the Dutch, for example, have earlier average onset of PV intercourse and fewer unwanted pregnancies.

    (4) “promoting respect for sexual restraint” I’m all for sexual restraint; I’m a sadomashochist. I find restraints erotic, especially during heavy pain play. I don’t particularly find bondage exciting in and of itself, but I have always been respectful of those who do. But then, that’s not what you meant, is it? Instead, you meant to imply that folks here do not repect “sexual restraint.” I don’t know what you mean by that, but if it has something to do with adolescents deciding not to have sex I see no evidence that the readership disrespects those choices. Or maybe you mean promoting the idea that teenage sexuality ought to be subject to external restraint, which is a much tougher proposition to support.

    (4) promoting respect for monogamy and married child-bearing: I’m married and I have a child. Nobody here has disrespected my choice. I think you are using “promoting respect for” to mean “promoting as the only acceptable option.”

    You’ve phrased your “positions” so broadly that I can’t work out what it is you are for.

    sophomoric, puerile mindset of adolescent rebellion

    Mere pejoratives will not get you taken seriously. They might help to get you banned, and they might alienate readers, but they will not get you taken seriously. Nor will they help you find common ground.

  30. Tex
    Tex May 2, 2006 at 3:59 pm |

    doesn’t matter fitz.

    Private enforcement of things like “dating norms” have historically been quite, um,

    unprogressive.

    That’s why everyone is flipping out.

  31. RT
    RT May 2, 2006 at 4:01 pm |

    Ahh, our good ol’ friend Puritanism always raises it’s ugly head – the belief that somewhere, somehow, someone is having a good time.

    and thanks afrit, that you’re/your was burning my eyes.

  32. zuzu
    zuzu May 2, 2006 at 4:26 pm | *

    One word, people:

    Tunisia.

    Tunisia has figured out that selling Plan B over the counter is a good, sound, morally defensible stance.

  33. Fitz
    Fitz May 2, 2006 at 4:30 pm |

    So, its apparent from the proceding comments that no one here either
    a) can posit a sexual ethic
    b) has any interest in doing so.
    Which means
    c) we bring nothing to the table in negotiations with traditionalists.

    (we sound like perverts if you ask me, and that don’t sell politically)

  34. zuzu
    zuzu May 2, 2006 at 4:32 pm | *

    Fitz, did you swallow your Philosophy 101 textbook or something?

    And who is this “we” you speak of that sound like perverts?

    As for your political advice, keep it. You’re Concern Trolling.

  35. emily1
    emily1 May 2, 2006 at 4:32 pm |

    Fitz, you still haven’t said why the left should advance a ‘sexual ethics’ beyond support for consenting adults to make their own choices.

  36. afrit
    afrit May 2, 2006 at 4:36 pm |

    Why these people even want Democrats to win, when they don’t like liberalism in the first place, I don’t understand.

  37. emily1
    emily1 May 2, 2006 at 4:37 pm |

    b) has any interest in doing so.

    no. people have stated that they don’t find any compelling reasons for stigmatizing ‘promiscuity’ and privileging ‘monogamy’ as a superior choice. my ethical stance is that consenting adults should be allowed to make their own choices about the sex they have without harassment or interference from others who don’t approve.

  38. evil_fizz
    evil_fizz May 2, 2006 at 4:37 pm |

    emily: because we need to pander! it’s not politically expedient to make nice with teh gays, sluts, and perverts so we should throw them out the window.

  39. zuzu
    zuzu May 2, 2006 at 4:40 pm | *

    So, its apparent from the proceding comments that no one here either

    Preceding, dearest.

    You’re at a public library. Go to reference and get a dictionary down. Might help with those your/you’re issues. But be careful not to leave your sexual comments up on the screen where the librarian can see.

  40. Gordon K
    Gordon K May 2, 2006 at 4:47 pm |

    This “compromise” sounds like the “compromise” between ID and evolution. I mean, 2+2 is 5, right? No? You think it’s 4? Okay, let’s compromise and call it 4.5 – that’s the only fair way to do this.

  41. Kristen from MA
    Kristen from MA May 2, 2006 at 4:49 pm |

    again, what emily1 said. shouldn’t people -consenting adults- decide for themselves?

  42. Tex
    Tex May 2, 2006 at 4:56 pm |

    Zuzu, while it’s not the absolute most secret information, I find discussing folk’s ISP’s to be kinda creepy.

    The American Heritage Dictionary or some suchlike site would have gotten your point across just as well.

  43. Fitz
    Fitz May 2, 2006 at 4:57 pm |

    So, just so I can get on the same page. (and be a good leftist)
    Whats our ethic (or lack of one)

    Is it, TWO consenting adults
    (probably not)
    What about the ADULTS part, were do we draw that line.

    Someone mentioned private (is this grounded – what about public sex, is that up for discussion)
    And this consent thing, (how far do we go with that)
    Can one consent to anything (is nothing inherently degrading or beneath human dignity)

    I need to know this stuff, I want to be consistent when someone claims the left “cant even posit a sexual ethic”.

  44. zuzu
    zuzu May 2, 2006 at 5:01 pm | *

    Zuzu, while it’s not the absolute most secret information, I find discussing folk’s ISP’s to be kinda creepy.

    I never said where.

  45. afrit
    afrit May 2, 2006 at 5:01 pm |

    You spend this much time thinking about other people’s sex lives, and you don’t want to be a Republican? Seems like you’re missing out.

  46. zuzu
    zuzu May 2, 2006 at 5:04 pm | *

    Fitz, you’re not a good leftist. You’re not even a good imitation of one. What you are is a troll.

    Seriously, either you are naturally the stupidest guy to ever walk the earth short of Doug Feith, or you are being willfully so. If you cannot comprehend the concept of “adults” and “consent,” then, well, I can’t help you.

    But you’re coming very close to being asked to leave, since you have managed to turn the discussion away from the post topic and to the subject of Fitz Is Just Trying To Help You Liberals Win Elections.

  47. Antigone
    Antigone May 2, 2006 at 5:05 pm |

    What do we bring to the table? The right for traditionalists to be TRADITIONAL. We’re not saying that they have to be promiscuous or what-have-you: if all you want is monogomous, married, missionary, have fun.

    The compromise is this: traditionals do what they want, progressive do what they want. There’s no need to force an either/or.

  48. Annie
    Annie May 2, 2006 at 5:14 pm |

    sorry to butt in randomly, but this is one conservative myth that really pisses me off:

    no one here either

    a) can posit a sexual ethic
    b) has any interest in doing so.

    Um. No. The belief that the state should stay the fuck out of the bedrooms of consenting adults is, in fact, a positive ethic. Insofar as it reflects the belief that sex is above all private – that people’s sexual choices, like their moral choices, are their own to make – it reflects a positive sexual ethic. The broader ethical foundation for my liberal belief that sex between consenting adults should be subjected to minimal legal and social intrusion is the belief that sex – like morality, like religion – is (on a personal moral level) a big deal, a big choice, and as such too important to legislate. As a Christian, I also have some specific beliefs about the ethics of sex – about how you should treat your body and the bodies of others, about love and self/ishness, and ultimately about marriage – but I can only truly live those beliefs in a social context that doesn’t force some rigid false-model of them (or any other) on to me.

    It depresses me profoundly that my society doesn’t give my gay friends the right to choose marriage and that it is full of pressures trying to eliminate their (and my) choice to have children. It depresses me that my society normalises “dating behaviours” that are repressive and dishonest and the narrow and miserable belief that there is only one kind of ‘real’ love, or ‘real’ sex, or ‘real’ committment. Those are my ethical beliefs, based on my wider belief in freedom as a first principle, based on my wider committment to Christianity. Liberals have beliefs, and positive ethics. Just because they do not coincide with conservative ones, don’t mean they don’t exist.

    Realy, I’m a little astonished by your hypocrisy here. On the one hand, you’re suggesting the lowest form of pragmatism – that liberals should abandon their principles, their moral commitments to freedom, equality, and social justice for everyone, in order to win elections – and, on the other, you’re attacking the very people resisting that idea for having no principles.

  49. emily1
    emily1 May 2, 2006 at 5:14 pm |

    Is it, TWO consenting adults
    (probably not)
    What about the ADULTS part, were do we draw that line.

    no, i don’t limit it to _two_ consenting adults. if three or more consenting adults want to enagage in sexual acitvities with one another, i think it is their right to do so without interference or harassment.

    what do we mean by ‘adults’? this is actually an important and relevant question to ask. most states have an age of consent that is lower than 18 and some have additional legislation to target exploitive relationships between teens and people who are much older than they are. i personally think these sorts of laws are a good idea because there is a huge difference between two 16 year olds having sex and a 35 year old and a 16 year old.

    when i say ‘adults’ i mean people who are 18 or older.

    Someone mentioned private (is this grounded – what about public sex, is that up for discussion)

    i do not think people should have sex in public. most states and municipalities regulate this, and i’m A OK with that.

    And this consent thing, (how far do we go with that)
    Can one consent to anything (is nothing inherently degrading or beneath human dignity)

    if someone gets their jollies by having someone shit or pee on them, i’m okay with them making that choice. i think it’s gross, but i don’t have any interest in preaching to them about it.

    I need to know this stuff, I want to be consistent when someone claims the left “cant even posit a sexual ethic”.

    i stated my sexual ethics as they pertain to people with whom i am not actually having sex: it’s none of my business what other consenting adults do. as for my own sexual partners, my personal ethics are:

    Don’t cheat
    Don’t lie
    Don’t coerce
    Don’t be a selfish lay

  50. Hugo
    Hugo May 2, 2006 at 5:20 pm |

    You know, I’m a reliably Democratic voter. My own sexual ethic is more conservative than most Republicans I know, even many on the religious right.

    But though I am prayerfully pro-life, I still find a place in the Democratic party — because I’m pro-choice when it comes to legalization, even as I favor a campaign to change hearts and minds to create a world where abortion is unthinkable.

    But I suppose I don’t expect political candidates to share my views on sexual mores. I care far more about their views on public behavior and less about private conduct. Given the choice between an environmentalist addicted to porn and promiscuity or a lovingly faithful husband who will sell our national parks to developers and oil companies, I’m going to vote for the environmentalist every time. (I might corner him and proselytize should we happen to meet, mind you, but private peccadilloes have damn all to do with how I vote.)

  51. emily1
    emily1 May 2, 2006 at 5:23 pm |

    there’s a right-wing homophobe who posts at Political Animal who uses the handle ‘Fitz’. or rather, there used to be. i don’t know if he’s there anymore.

  52. PLN
    PLN May 2, 2006 at 5:25 pm |

    I think, Annie, that your comment was exactly what he was looking for: you’ve given a clear sketch of *comprehensive* sexual morality that buttresses a liberal *political* theory. I think that’s all he wanted to hear; I’m not sure he was trolling exactly, if possibly somewhat off topic. But it is an *interesting* topic.

    Let me see if I can gloss Fitz’ claim in a way that is less contentious. (From here.)

    One can have both a political theory and a comprehensive moral theory that cover sexuality. A liberal would think it proper for one’s political theory to be much thinner than one’s comprehensive theory; there are a lot of bad things that the state ought nevertheless leave alone. As a political theory, “whatever two consenting adults want is okay” seems pretty darn good to me, in the sense that the state should not pass judgment beyond ensuring that this minimal bar is met. But I doubt most of us think that’s good enough to qualify as a fullblown theory of sexual morality; I at least have qualms, and I’m pretty darn libertine.

    Some of us might believe that sex is only okay in loving relationships; some of us might think it depends on a certain matching of viewpoints such that casual sex might be okay with someone but not with someone else. Some of us might think that sexual acts that reify patriarchal gender roles are morally problematic; certainly, authors with impeccable feminist credentials have made such claims. Indeed, it is precisely because one is against certain conceptions of female sexuality that one might object to a hypothetical traditionalist couple who (consensually, mutually) viewed sex as the paradigm of wifely submission to her husband’s authority. There’s nothing incoherent, of course, about a comprehensive theory that ends up with consent and nothing else as the criteria for rightness. But such a theory must be defended against all comers; not just traditionalist natural-law types, but radicals, too, who might object to expressions of sexuality that seem to deny the partners’ equal moral status.

    This doesn’t imply anything, per se, about what one should do with one’s moral objections, should one have them; one could believe, with Mill, that even social pressure might be too coercive to be legitimately employed in changing others’ practices. But that doesn’t mean the moral theory has disappeared; it’s still there, or ought to be, in one’s mind.

    Why care? Obviously, no one can be expected to have a fully worked-out, eight-chapter dissertation mapping out their comprehensive theory of sexual morality; I don’t think even Fitz expects this. But I think he’s right to imply that those who do have firmly held convictions about sexual ethics will be more likely to accept our political morality if they believe we have a comprehensive theory that undergirds it–even if they disagree vehemently with that theory. Insisting, instead, that sex is a morality-free zone, that anything goes once one has consent, is a much riskier proposition–unless one can back this up with good arguments, one risks being seen as an utterly amoral person, one whose views about political morality, therefore, can be safely ignored.

    So: it’s not at all about abandoning one’s principles; it’s about demonstrating them, and showing how they support what seems, to traditionalists, like suspiciously thin political conclusions. Is there really nothing to this?

  53. emily1
    emily1 May 2, 2006 at 5:26 pm |

    Im a little short on the uptake guys,
    Were in the constitution does in mention privacy? or sex? or the all important legal safezone of the bedroom?

    Please point me to the clause.
    Like I said, Im slow on the uptake.
    Posted by: Fitz

    i don’t know if our Fitz and this Fitz are the same. but the similarities are interesting, no?

  54. Kristen from MA
    Kristen from MA May 2, 2006 at 5:29 pm |

    um, what annie said.

  55. PLN
    PLN May 2, 2006 at 5:32 pm |

    Ooops! I meant to say: “As a political theory, ‘whatever N consenting adults want is okay’ seems pretty darn good to me” — not “two”. (And even here, of course, there’s some shadiness … it seems really silly to criminalize two seventeen-year-olds having sex, for example.)

  56. Annie
    Annie May 2, 2006 at 5:34 pm |

    The line “we” draw, Fitz, is pretty much consent. That derives from the harm principle. Non-consensual sex = rape = harm to another = illegal. The “adult” element is part of that — if you’re legally a minor, the law deems you (sensibly, I think) unable to consent; sex with a child = non-consensual = rape = harm. Public sex, where it would be clearly offensive and/or disruptive to others, is probably within the harm principle and should be (and is) illegal as well. Beyond that, how many people you have sex with or how or where or why or when falls out of the realm of legal harm and therefore is nobody’s business but your own — i.e. that isn’t a line for the collective we to draw, only the individual you.

  57. Annie
    Annie May 2, 2006 at 5:44 pm |

    I think he’s right to imply that those who do have firmly held convictions about sexual ethics will be more likely to accept our political morality if they believe we have a comprehensive theory that undergirds it–even if they disagree vehemently with that theory.

    In an ideal world this would be true, but I’m unsure of whether it’s true in practice. In my experience, presenting people who have an extremely narrow code of beliefs about sexual ethics with any theory (however comprehensive or internally consistent) that strongly contradicts that code will only make their opposition more violent. The belief that you’re not only attacking law but morality itself … at the best, you get a shift from the belief that liberals are amoral to the belief that they are immoral. I’m not sure how that would be a practical improvement.

  58. Thomas
    Thomas May 2, 2006 at 5:45 pm |

    Fitz, Hugo is very sexually conservative and very Christian. Nobody here thinks he’s an idiot, an asshole or a troll. Some of us agree with things he says, and some of us disagree, and probably none of us agrees with everything he says. But Hugo is no troll. We’ll gladly engage with him on sexual ethics, and have done both here and at his space — he engages, rather than accusing everyone of refusing to discuss the subject the minute we evidence disagreement with his position.

    I gave you about ten column-inches to chew on, inviting you to say just exactly what it is you’re for. Your response is to declare that nobody wants to talk about it. That’s nonsense.

    If you have a position to state, state it instead of declaring that we need to bid against ourselves. If you actually state a position, maybe someone will agree with it. If you don’t, everyone will decide that you’re a disingenuous troll.

    Also, if you want to call me a “pervert,” well, I am a sadomasochist and lots of people think that makes me a pervert. I don’t like the term. I’m a sex radical. But if you’re talking about me, at least you’re expressing your bigotted opinion about something I actually do. Throwing around that epithet at people whose private sexual conduct you know nothing about is groundless. You don’t know a damned thing about how Emily or PLN live their lives. Worse, your descent (note the proper use of “your” and “you’re”) into insults has not passed unnoticed. Your facade of civility is slipping and the ranting troll is beginning to emerge, flinging pejoratives at his tormentors.

  59. Fitz
    Fitz May 2, 2006 at 5:52 pm |

    Fair enough guys.
    I thought the substance of the original post denoted a common sexual ethic, (in fact it does) or at least the idea is possible & practicable.
    PLN – nice, that’s what I was getting at, although I would go further.

    Annie
    “Beyond that, how many people you have sex with or how or where or why or when falls out of the realm of legal harm and therefore is nobody’s business but your own — i.e. that isn’t a line for the collective we to draw, only the individual you”

    What you fail to appreciate is that this itself is a sexual ethic. (i.e an ethical viewpoint regarding sex) although a thin one. I find it inadequate and ultimately regressive to our humanity.

    ALL
    To “problematisize” the situation further…
    What about prostitution?
    What about pornography? (of any extreme?)

    Both are currently regulated both socially & legally (should we go further with the consent proposition)

    Or adultery, polygamy, plyamory….
    I think thinking liberals should be open to a reassertion of a common sexual ethic.
    (albeit one less onerous then your typical 1950’s style ethos)

  60. Amber
    Amber May 2, 2006 at 5:54 pm |

    Public sex, where it would be clearly offensive and/or disruptive to others, is probably within the harm principle and should be (and is) illegal as well.

    How is offensive public sexual conduct different from offensive public speech (a t-shirt or sign bearing a blasphemous, profanity-laced message, for example)? In some areas, it might be offensive or disruptive to hold hands or kiss in public; this might be true for straights in India or gays and lesbians in Indiana. Making someone’s right to sexual expression dependent on the sensitivity of her neighbors seems like it might be a recipe for repression.

  61. emily1
    emily1 May 2, 2006 at 5:55 pm |

    yeah, what annie said.

    i would like to add that ‘harm’ does not include the moral panic and outrage of other people in reaction to the titallating porn movies they film in their salacious imaginations when they think about what might be happening in someone else’s bedroom. i suggest that such individuals take a cold shower, come out of the closet, get laid, or get therapy. for some, all of the above may be necessary. people who wish to aggressively impose a standard for something as diverse, intimate, and personal as sexuality lack an appropriate respect for psychological and physical personal boundaries.

    i just noticed that both Fitzes leave out apostrophes in contractions.

  62. PLN
    PLN May 2, 2006 at 5:56 pm |

    Annie, maybe you’re right, but I’d like to believe otherwise. I’m not saying we’re going to convince anyone to abandon his or her particular comprehensive moral theory. The goal is much more modest: to show that we, too, can speak the language of morality–and not just as a tactic, but because we believe in morality and try to live moral lives. I suspect many traditionalists believe, not that antitraditionalists have false moral beliefs, but that we have none at all, and I really think that’s much worse to them because more fundamentally other.

    At any rate, even if nobody changes their mind about anything, I think it’s worthwhile to think critically about sexual morality, comprehensive as well as political.

  63. emily1
    emily1 May 2, 2006 at 6:14 pm |

    How is offensive public sexual conduct different from offensive public speech (a t-shirt or sign bearing a blasphemous, profanity-laced message, for example)?

    well, aren’t these things also regulated to some extent? public school students are sent home for wearing T-shirts with profanity on them. one can be refused service for not wearing a shirt or shoes.

    Making someone’s right to sexual expression dependent on the sensitivity of her neighbors seems like it might be a recipe for repression.

    except that public sex is not simply personal sexual expression. it makes other people into unwilling spectators. as with all things, a line has to be drawn somewhere with respect to personal conduct in public. there are such things as noise ordinances, and even though people have varying degrees of sensitivity to noise, the law does draw a line that defines acceptable and unacceptable noise levels.

    the degree of freedom people have in sexual expression (not sure i consider kissing or holding hands ‘sexual’ ) is not an either/or choice between allowing people to screw in the local mall’s food court and forbidding them to hold hands. the value of drawing and respecting a private/public distinction is that it avoids the repression, which requires rigorous monitoring of private behavior. privacy is a key ingredient for freedom.

  64. Fitz
    Fitz May 2, 2006 at 6:17 pm |

    Emily1

    I don’t recall making that comment.
    However, If your asking me if I think there is a sexual autonomy right or privacy right in the constitution then the answer is no.

    (may I still be a liberal?)

    And how could I vote for Casey in Pennsylvania otherwise?

  65. Annie
    Annie May 2, 2006 at 6:23 pm |

    What you fail to appreciate is that this itself is a sexual ethic. (i.e an ethical viewpoint regarding sex) although a thin one.

    Well, yeah, that was my point. State non-intervention in private life = a liberal sexual ethic. Re “regressive to our humanity” — I don’t think it is the role of the state to regulate our humanity. I think that devalues the importance of individual choice and individual conscience. As I explained earlier, that doesn’t mean I don’t think that there are morally right sexual choices — but to have any true moral content at all, they have to be chosen. So I don’t think my personal sexual ethics are relevant to this debate — FWIW, they’re fairly conservative in that I think marriage is a Good Thing, as is monogamy in general, but love, kindness, carefulness, and unselfishness trump anything else — since the very point I’m making is that ethical choices (whatever their content) have to made freely to be choices at all.

    The point is that this:

    liberals should be open to a reassertion of a common sexual ethic.

    misses a fundamental point about liberalism — the primary ethic that liberals have in common is the belief in individuals making their own moral choices, not having some other ‘common’ beliefs thrust upon them. And in the creation of a free space within which those choices can be made. For me as a liberal to dictate, therefore — to tell some (other) conservative Christian woman, for example, that ‘sex as a duty owed rather than as a joy shared’ is a horrible thing, and probably a sin, and therefore she shouldn’t have sex with her husband in a purely dutiful spirit, would be fundamentally inconsistent with my own beliefs. Her choice. Her life. Ditto adultery, polygamy, polyamory… they’re all choices I might disagree with, but the one ethic I hold in common with other liberals, who might otherwise have completely different concepts of sexual morality, is that that people should have the right to make them. So the reason that liberals don’t tend to have a single “common sexual ethic” is because they’re liberals and that isn’t what liberalism is about.

  66. Annie
    Annie May 2, 2006 at 6:36 pm |

    How is offensive public sexual conduct different from offensive public speech (a t-shirt or sign bearing a blasphemous, profanity-laced message, for example)? In some areas, it might be offensive or disruptive to hold hands or kiss in public; this might be true for straights in India or gays and lesbians in Indiana. Making someone’s right to sexual expression dependent on the sensitivity of her neighbors seems like it might be a recipe for repression.

    Yes, I agree that there’s a fine line there, that we need to be careful with. It’s one we’ve got to draw though, as we draw it with free speech. In a general sense, I don’t think it’s repressive: expecting some degree of cultural and contextual sensitivity of people living in any society seems reasonable. The question is what degree? In London, or Mumbai, I could walk down a crowded street holding hands with my boyfriend and be reasonably sure I’m not doing anything context-inappropriate: making out with him would probably cross the border in Mumbai, and standing too close to him would cross it in some village in the Punjab. A policeman coming up and advising me not to do it wouldn’t be “repression”, I don’t think. Being attacked by the policeman, on the other hand, would.

  67. emily1
    emily1 May 2, 2006 at 6:47 pm |

    What you fail to appreciate is that this itself is a sexual ethic. (i.e an ethical viewpoint regarding sex) although a thin one. I find it inadequate and ultimately regressive to our humanity.

    actually, most of us have been quite frank that respect for the freedom and privacy of others is the core principle behind our ethical stance towards sexual behavior.

    What about prostitution?

    prostitution is not ‘private’ in the sense that it is an economic transaction which, in my opinion, is legitimate game for state regulation. there is a compelling argument for opposing it on the harm principle. it is demonstrably an exploitive industry that contributes to the spread of STDs. in practice, it often has parallels to slavery. i recognize this not only as an ethical position, but a moral one.

    What about pornography? (of any extreme?)

    no children. no animals. they cannot consent because they don’t have the intellectual and emotional sophistication to make an informed choice.

    i don’t know enough about the porn industry to determine whether it is as exploitive as prostitution, so i’m not sure what i think about pornography on an ethical or moral level. i never thought much about it before. i think commercial porn is legitimately subject to state regulation because it involves economic transactions.

    private porn: it’s okay as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult. it should not be shared with anyone else without the permission of all involved.

    Or adultery

    i disapprove of cheating.

    polygamy

    i don’t know. i’m conflicted. i assume you mean legal recognition of ‘marriage’ of one person to multiple spouses.

    plyamory….

    i think it’s okay. i assume that, unlike polygamy, one person is not granted greater status and authority than their lovers/spouses(?). i’m not sure if you’re asking whether there should be legal recognition of these relationships. i’m not a lawyer, so i don’t know how difficult it would be to redefine family law to deal with such relationships.

    I think thinking liberals should be open to a reassertion of a common sexual ethic.

    i think you will find that liberals are characteristically unwilling to advance a one true ethic that is much more restrictive than the consenting adult standard because respect for personal privacy and personal boundaries is the basis for that standard. to write the liberal rule book for appropriate sexual choices would violate one of my fundamental liberal values: acknowledgement and respect for the freedom to be different.

  68. Annie
    Annie May 2, 2006 at 6:54 pm |

    PLN,

    Yes, in that sense I agree with you. A proper moral discourse between liberals and conservatives would, I think, be extremely valuable. I do think though, that where liberal and conservative people are in contact on a grass-roots level, that’s happening anyway. My ideas about pro-life ideas, for example, have been formed in response to the passionate argument of a dear friend of mine, a conservative Catholic. I disagree with her, profoundly, but I do understand and respect her views; as she does mine. The problem arises where people are so polarised that they only ever see the cartoonish straw-monster version of the opposing side. And I think that’s less a flaw in liberalism or conservatism as such than in our extremely adversarial, extremely media-driven political process.

  69. Lynn Gazis-Sax
    Lynn Gazis-Sax May 2, 2006 at 8:08 pm |

    It’s hard to state a comprehensive moral theory of sexuality in a comment box, but a big part of mine involves distinctions between what standards should apply in what context.

    For instance, I agree with PLN in finding “consenting adults” right on target as a political theory, but thinner than what I’d advocate as an ethical theory. Lots of things that I’d find unethical could be described as involving “consenting adults” in at least a narrow legalistic sense. For example:

    1) Trying to persuade gay people that their route to true happiness involves “recovering” from “same-sex attraction” and forming heterosexual marriages to people they may not be much attracted to.

    2) Cheating on someone.

    3) Sleeping with someone who’s only sleeping with you because they think they’re really, really in love, and neglecting to make it clear to them that you’re not the least bit really, really in love back.

    But even outside the legal/ethical distinction, there may be further distinctions. Should Christians be advocating the same standards to the world at large as to other Christians? (This would matter to at least me and Hugo, and probably some others in this thread – not that, as a liberal Quaker, I’m in a community that’s really big on being strict about sex, but still, the principle that some people may have committed to a level of corporate discernment that others haven’t may apply.) And might there be some standards that I should impose on myself, but not on anyone else? And so on.

    But at a minimum I do see a big difference between even wrongheaded social pressure, and legal imposition.

  70. Sara
    Sara May 2, 2006 at 8:42 pm |

    Lynn, I would refer you back to what I said upthread – sexual ethics don’t need to be any more complicated than the ethics that govern our other interpersonal relations. You are up-front about what you want and what you expect of your partner, and make agreements about what behavior is acceptable. It’s not like we’re arguing that sex occurs in a vacuum – there is some kind of relationship and it demands honesty and respect and clear communication, just like any other relationship. Sexual freedom is not the freedom to be an asshole.

  71. Amber
    Amber May 2, 2006 at 8:48 pm |

    Annie, a police officer who tells you not to engage in some kind of sexual behavior presumably has more authority than the average citizen; you might be fined or punished in some other way, or you might be arrested and taken into custody. This part of your argument seems unpersuasive.

    I don’t want to hijack this discussion, which is operating at an admirably abstract level, with a side issue. I’ve posted at greater length about it on my blog if anyone is interested.

  72. zuzu
    zuzu May 2, 2006 at 8:54 pm | *

    Insisting, instead, that sex is a morality-free zone, that anything goes once one has consent, is a much riskier proposition–unless one can back this up with good arguments, one risks being seen as an utterly amoral person, one whose views about political morality, therefore, can be safely ignored.

    Well, assuming that there’s no morality involved just demonstrates the problem of arguing morality or using the language of morality — whose morality are we going to use? The default in politics seems to be evangelical Christians, which necessarily excludes those who don’t share that moral point of view. The advantage of the liberal sexual ethic is that it acknowledges the differences in personal morality that people bring to their sexual relations and it also acknowledges that, absent harm, sexual relations are not a matter for state regulation.

  73. Dustin
    Dustin May 2, 2006 at 9:20 pm |

    We also tell drivers not to speed, but provide air bags in case they do.

    Actually, having air bags has really liberated me from the whole “safe driving” thing — now I can always be found prowling the streets looking to get into an accident.

  74. geoduck2
    geoduck2 May 2, 2006 at 9:34 pm |

    Or adultery, polygamy, plyamory….
    I think thinking liberals should be open to a reassertion of a common sexual ethic.

    I think two questions come into play

    1) How does one propose to “assert” a regulation of sex
    AND
    2) Who is determining and creating the “common sexual ethic?

    Traditionally, the law and/or religious associations are the primary sites that enforce a regulation of sexual activity. I assume Fitz is not talking about that. So I wonder who he is talking about and who he expects to assert this new regulation of sex if it is to be asserted outside of both politics and religious institutions.

    For Example: Pornography. Feminists have had long and extended debates about pornography. Andrea Dworkin and her campaign against pornogrpahy comes to mind. (Is this what Fritz is talking about?) Certainly there was quite a lot of debate about the sexual ethics of pornography in the feminist community in the 1990s.

    However, as we can see, there are many different types of pornography. There are movies, pictures, cartoons, literature, written porn, ect. There is pornography about a multitude of topics. There is homosexual pornography and heterosexual pornography. There is soft porn and erotica.

    So it is much too simple to assert: Let’s have a sexual ethic about Pornography without being specific about when, why and how it is used.

    Like much of sexual activity, pornography can be used, as a tool, in a way that is unpleasant or exploitative or inappropriate. It can also be used, as a tool, to arouse two married heterosexual people who are trying to conceive.

    In other words, it’s much too simple for me to say – pornography is immoral or pornography is a great sexual tool. It depends on the context.

    Anyways – the topic of pornography is just one example of how complicated creating a sexual consensus outside of the legal or religious sphere can be.

  75. geoduck2
    geoduck2 May 2, 2006 at 9:48 pm |

    One more thing:

    It’s a mistake to assume that liberals, and, in particular, feminists, do not have a sexual ethic. It may not be dogmatically spelled out but in general there are some broad tennants:

    1) Feminists are quite sensitive to the problems of coersive sexual activity, which include, but are not limited to rape.

    2) Feminists are interested in all partners enjoying the situation in both a physical and psychological sense. The people involved should both be comfortable and honest with what is happening.

    3) A rejection of the sexual double standard.

    4) A understanding of power dynamics and how they can impact consent. Consent should be meaningful so people can make decisions based upon their own best interests.

    5) People should not take advantage of other people. (see number 4)

  76. Julie
    Julie May 2, 2006 at 9:50 pm |

    I think Annie and zuzu have it exactly right… I have probably one of the single most conservative personal sexual ethic code there is. I also respect that my views are not for everyone. Not everyone wants to only have sex with one person, not everyone wants to get married, not everyone wants to have children, etc… My political sexual ethic says that consenting adults have the right to make the most intimate and personal of choices by thesmelves. Do I think it’s a good idea to talk to kids about waiting until they’re ready to have sex before rushing into it? Absolutely… I will have a discussion with each one of my children that includes having sex when you are ready to do so respectfully and responsibly, when you are doing it because you want to and not because you are being pressured, not because everyone else is doing it. I think it’s a big part of the reason I don’t regret having sex when I did… I wanted to, I wasn’t pressured, I wasn’t forced and I wasn’t doing it because all my friends were. It was my personal choice. And not one that everyone agreed with at the time. Therefore, MY personal beliefs took precedence, as they should have.
    The same, frankly, goes for abortion. I’ll be the first to admit, I am relatively new to realizing this… I spent years on the pro-criminalization side of the abortion debate. The fact of the matter is that very simply, I don’t have the right to make a decision for another person what they must do with their own body. Can we discourage abortion? Sure, by helping women and their partners prevent pregnancy, by providing actual support to women who choose to carry to term, stuff like that. All the stuff that people who are supposedly “pro-life” are always against. That’s the whole point of the article, this isn’t some sort of wierd compromise… it’s what the pro-choice position is about. Giving women and men all the possible tools to make their own choices and respecting their right to do so.

  77. Lynn Gazis-Sax
    Lynn Gazis-Sax May 2, 2006 at 10:09 pm |

    Lynn, I would refer you back to what I said upthread – sexual ethics don’t need to be any more complicated than the ethics that govern our other interpersonal relations.

    Indeed, I’d see sexual ethics as similar to, say, financial ethics, in that you’re applying general ethical standards to a particular subset of behavior. “Consenting adults” wouldn’t be a full ethical standard for any sort of interpersonal relations, because it doesn’t cover all the ways people can be deceptive, hurtful, etc. And in that sense, any ethics governing interpersonal relations can get complex. But it’s not that sex is a special, separate thing, with rules totally disconnected from the ethical standards you’d use anywhere else.

    So, when it comes to stuff like pregnancy, the point would be to apply general rules about being responsible for the normal consequences of your behavior, not special rules about how sex has to be directed to procreation. Which means (getting back to the subject of the thread) that yes, of course, contraception, including Plan B, should be freely available.

  78. Flamethorn
    Flamethorn May 2, 2006 at 10:56 pm |

    So, Fitz,
    You still haven’t explained why there needs to be a sexual ethic other than “consenting adults”. All you’ve said is “because blah blah tradition blah blah 1950s morals blah blah because I said so blah blah”.

  79. geoduck2
    geoduck2 May 2, 2006 at 11:16 pm |

    I love how Lynn Gazis-Sax really sums up the important point here:

    Indeed, I’d see sexual ethics as similar to, say, financial ethics, in that you’re applying general ethical standards to a particular subset of behavior. “Consenting adults” wouldn’t be a full ethical standard for any sort of interpersonal relations, because it doesn’t cover all the ways people can be deceptive, hurtful, etc. And in that sense, any ethics governing interpersonal relations can get complex. But it’s not that sex is a special, separate thing, with rules totally disconnected from the ethical standards you’d use anywhere else.

    Yes, I agree completely. We do not need different ethics for sexual relationships; people need to apply the ethics that apply in all interpersonal relationships.

    For example: Don’t hurt someone; don’t be a jerk; don’t lie; don’t take advantage; be sensitive to other people’s needs; ect.

  80. Freeman
    Freeman May 3, 2006 at 6:13 am |

    For example: Don’t hurt someone; don’t be a jerk; don’t lie; don’t take advantage; be sensitive to other people’s needs; ect.

    Geoduck, I don’t mean to intrude, but you just reminded me of an excellent book I read several years ago. It was called “The Ethical Slut,” by Dossie Easton. It was technically a handbook for polyamory, but I found it incedibly informative just as a treatise on the ethics required to have a satisfying, experimental sex life of any shade. Even if, like me, you’re in a monogamous heterosexual marriage, I think there were lessons in that book that all of us could easily take away and apply. Just a thought.

  81. emily1
    emily1 May 3, 2006 at 10:01 am |

    Fitz stopped participating i think. i wonder why. this actually turned into an interesting and thoughtful discussion,

  82. Fitz
    Fitz May 3, 2006 at 10:17 am |

    Flamethorn

    “So, Fitz, You still haven’t explained why there needs to be a sexual ethic other than “consenting adults”. All you’ve said is “because blah blah tradition blah blah 1950s morals blah blah because I said so blah blah”

    Why? In order to facilitate greater human thriving through monogamous relations, satiating the desire for childbearing and human companionship. Preventing objectification and exploitation of women and the sexual act. Providing a structured family unit in which children grow up within households by their own mothers & fathers.
    And so on…

    I’m happy that a sparked such a wide ranging discussion. I’m trying to get up to speed. I still believe the left needs to posit a greater sexual ethic than “consenting adults” if it wants to promote/insure the above.

  83. zuzu
    zuzu May 3, 2006 at 10:23 am | *

    Why? In order to facilitate greater human thriving through monogamous relations, satiating the desire for childbearing and human companionship. Preventing objectification and exploitation of women and the sexual act. Providing a structured family unit in which children grow up within households by their own mothers & fathers.
    And so on…

    Non-responsive. What part of “consenting adults applying their interpersonal-relationship morality” do you find lacking in this?

  84. Fitz
    Fitz May 3, 2006 at 10:40 am |

    Zuzu
    “consenting adults applying their interpersonal-relationship morality”

    I wasn’t aware we had expanded the “consenting adults” ethic to include “applying their interpersonal-relationship morality”. Even with this qualifier I cant subscribe to this ethic. Such a standard (I believe) would fail to promote what you quoted me above as advocating.

    Especially your use of the word “their” – far to subjective to qualify as an ethic.
    “everybody gets to do whatever they want”, is precisely the apposite of an ethic.

  85. bmc90
    bmc90 May 3, 2006 at 10:42 am |

    Fitz, I would posit that without the ‘consenting adults’ standard applying, the goals you state are unreachable. Even two married hetrosexual people do not always agree on what constitutes “human thriving”, whether and how many children to have, what the difference between explotation and fulfilling one spouse’s sexual desires might be, or what roles mothers and fathers are going to play in child rearing. And that’s just the people who come somewhere near having the goals you describle. Not everyone is interested in kids, marriage and the like. If your argument is that such people are not contributing to “human thriving”, I think that is where liberals get off the bus. In fact, I’d think that’s where most Christians get off the bus since Jesus seems to have contributed to ‘human striving’ without ever procreating or having a wife.

  86. geoduck2
    geoduck2 May 3, 2006 at 10:50 am |

    Freeman,

    Thanks for the book recommendation. Like you I’m married, but I’m always interested in a good book.
    —-

    The context of a sexual act often times changes the meaning of that act. That’s why it’s impossible to say things like Pornography=Bad. What pornography, when, and with whom?

    Fitz seems legitimately concerned with the “objectification and exploitation of women.” However the objectification and exploitation of women can easily occur in a monogomous marriage.

    (Marital rape comes to mind; also the concept that a wife is obliged to have sex with her husband is another one.)

    A complicated understanding of ethics needs to go beyond simple perscriptions, such as:

    X or Y sexual act is bad but the missionary position in marriage is good.

  87. emily1
    emily1 May 3, 2006 at 10:52 am |

    Why? In order to facilitate greater human thriving through monogamous relations, satiating the desire for childbearing and human companionship.

    you’re presenting a foregone conclusion that monogamy is a superior standard. you also seem to be claiming that sex should be primarily procreative. however, sex is not only about procreation for human beings because humans do not enagage in sex only when they are fertile.

    Preventing objectification and exploitation of women and the sexual act. Providing a structured family unit in which children grow up within households by their own mothers & fathers.
    And so on…

    well, i’m not sure why you think a liberal attitude towards sex objectifies women. i think that one key to fighting objectification of women is to treat them as agents who can and should have the power and the corresponding freedom to make decisions about their sexual relationships. you seem to be implying that heterosexual couples are superior parents, and i disagree,

    I’m happy that a sparked such a wide ranging discussion. I’m trying to get up to speed. I still believe the left needs to posit a greater sexual ethic than “consenting adults” if it wants to promote/insure the above.

    one of the emerging themes i see in most responses to your questions is that human sexuality is complex, diverse, and deeply personal. people have indicated that their ethics in sexual relationships are heavily informed by the ethics that govern all of their relationships. geoduck very nicely summarized some of the common themes in our responses to your quesions.

    so, what are your sexual ethics? you’ve asked a lot of questions, but you haven’t shared much about your own opinions except some vague support for committed monogamy.

  88. Magis
    Magis May 3, 2006 at 11:00 am |

    Other than “consenting adults” what business of the Government is sex? It is not up to the Government to establish standards. We had pretty much gotten out of that business until somebody let the fundies out from under their rocks.

    The Republicans have only one agenda to rob from everybody else so they can give to the rich. They can’t say that of course so they come up with a myriad of straw issues un the cloak of “morality.” It’s the old shell game.

    The Democrat stance on morals should be “Do you really want the Government in your bedroom?”

  89. Fitz
    Fitz May 3, 2006 at 11:00 am |

    bmc90
    “Even two married hetrosexual people do not always agree on what constitutes “human thriving”

    In order to construct and apply an ethic, its not necessary to get everyone to always agree, just most people (or a large number of people) to somewhat agree.

    “And that’s just the people who come somewhere near having the goals you describle. Not everyone is interested in kids, marriage and the like. If your argument is that such people are not contributing to “human thriving”, I think that is where liberals get off the bus.”

    I believe that the majority have marriage & children as part of their life goals. As stated above, that’s more than adequate for achieving a practical social ethic regarding sexuality consistent with what I outlined above.
    There are multiple ways to contribute to human thriving, so yes – I would not consider the unmarried or childless as non-contributors to the human project. Indeed: they may very well help contribute to the very ethic I stated. (just not be its most obvious beneficiary)

  90. El Mocho
    El Mocho May 3, 2006 at 11:02 am |

    Fitz:

    (And sorry to jump in on the bandwagon late, but this is interesting)

    I think life is more complicated than the behaviors you wish to idealize and/or mandate:

    You think the Left– or society in general– Needs to posit a greater sexual ethic than “consenting adults” to promote

    1. Greater human thriving through monogamous relations

    What about relationships outside monogamy? An inclusive system of ethics needs to account for them, too. Also, I find “greater human thriving” a little too weasely for my taste, because people will define thriving in different ways. You need a more concrete benchmark.

    2. Satiating the desire for childbearing and human companionship.

    And what about those who have no desire for childbearing? There is room in the world for people who don’t want children. As for human companionship, I’ve gotten that from my drinking buddies with no sex involved. If you mean “physical companionship,” that’s more precise.

    3. Prevent objectification of women and the sexual act.

    Again, this assumes that objectification is always a bad thing. I think depersonalization is a bad thing, but there are some forms of objectification I approve of. We would have to sharpen this definition in our set of ethics.

    4. Providing a structured family unit in which children grow up within households by their own mothers and fathers.

    Also good wishful thinking, but reality doesn’t work that way, and only had the potential to work that way during the 1950s. Have you ever read The Way We Never Were by Stephanie Coontz? She argues that before people had the financial ability to form the nuclear family, people lived in larger family units. They were raised not just by fathers and mothers, but uncles, aunts cousins and grandparents of all sorts. Also, your model does not account for bad parents: What if someone’s birth parents are abusive or incestuous?

    What we’re getting at is that if you try to codify every situation, you will end up with a very complicated set of ethics that shift for different situations, so we favor simple broad guidelines over meticulous rules.

  91. zuzu
    zuzu May 3, 2006 at 11:08 am | *

    Once again, with feeling: what business is it of the government to dictate interpersonal sexual ethics?

    The business of the government is to not interfere with the private affairs of adults who are consenting. Where the government has a role is in determining the parameters of “adults” and “consent” — which, if you were a good little liberal like you claim to be, you’d know already. You’d also know that liberals do a great deal of work with those issues, for example, with rape, abuse, coercive behavior, sexual harassment, etc.

    Your concerns are chiefly those of family, not sex. The tax code supports families by providing deductions for dependents. Public-health programs help families by ensuring that kids are vaccinated and have adequate nutrition. Schools help families and society at large by educating children. Social workers support families. Welfare is geared to families rather than single adults. Marriage itself is a bundle of rights and responsibilities conferred by the state for the benefit of families (which may or may not include children). Inheritance statutes and intestate succession statutes support families.

    Perhaps your objection is that liberals do not equate sexual behavior with familial behavior. But there is no way that you can claim that liberals do not support families.

  92. emily1
    emily1 May 3, 2006 at 11:14 am |

    I believe that the majority have marriage & children as part of their life goals. As stated above, that’s more than adequate for achieving a practical social ethic regarding sexuality consistent with what I outlined above.

    well, i have a question for you — is acceptance of the right of consenting adults to have non-monogamous, non-marital, non-procreative sexual relationships necessarily a rejection of the idea that monogamous, marital, pro-creative sexual relationships can also be fulfilling and wonderful? i would agree with you that most people will choose monogamous marriage with children. they aren’t really in danger of persecution and and harassment for these choices.

    many commentors here, myself included, are very interested in protecting the freedom of the minority to choose differently.

  93. geoduck2
    geoduck2 May 3, 2006 at 12:55 pm |

    Fitz: To your question about Pornography.

    Here’s an example of how a simple question about “sexual ethics” can get complicated, quickly.

    1) The Karma Sutra: Porn or Not Porn? Good or Bad? Moral or Not Moral?

    2) Writing about sexual acts in romance novels: Porn or Not Porn? Good or Bad? Moral or Not Moral?

    3) Cartoons depicting sexual positions and behavior: Porn or Not Porn? Good or Bad? Moral or Not Moral?

    Fitz: Can you answer these questions? Why or why not?

  94. Fitz
    Fitz May 3, 2006 at 2:56 pm |

    El Mocho

    Have you ever read The Way We Never Were by Stephanie Coontz?

    As a matter of fact I have read several of Coontz books. Below is a short review I wrote concerning her most recent work as well as the book you mention.(as you will see, I don’t support the validity of her approach.)

    Stephanie Coontz basic approach is fundamentally flawed. In her book (Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage) she collapses thousands of years of human history into 448 pages of agenda driven obfuscation. It is standard operating procedure for scholars in the contemporary academy to elevate the particular over the universal. By examining the institution of marriage through this lens, Coontz distorts its core meaning and value. Of coarse marriage has always served a variety of social functions; this or that culture or class has sought to harness its power for this or that end. At this particular time, it is the agenda of gay & feminist activists to harness its power to normalize homosexuality, promote androgyny, and (in many cases) weaken marriages normative power.
    None of this says anything about marriages essential purpose. She continually ignores its primary function of bringing men & women together in stable households for the successful rearing and education of their children. By focusing instead on the particulars of everything from the 16th century aspirations of romantic love, to feudal landed aristocracy’s ambitions of greater wealth and power, Coontz is able to distract the reader away from these universal timeless truths. In much the same way Coontz previous book (The Way Never Were: American Families and the nostalgia Trap) was able to use the straw man of 1950,s Ward & June Clever imagery to convince her audience that marriages essential features are a fanciful shibboleth of mere nostalgia.
    Feminists assertions to the contrary; marriage has never failed to promote this core normative function. Coontz has dismissed intellectual integrity and moral vision by using her work to foment an evolutionist paradigm that views progress as whatever happens next. She is merely another apologist for contemporary family breakdown. Coontz attempts to shift attention from the grave problems of modern society in its struggle to bring men and women together in lifelong monogamy; for the good of themselves, for the good of their children, and for the good of all society.

    Most of the other inquiries you make in your post are answered in my posts above.

    geoduck2

    I understand you question, and am aware of the problems inherent in defining what is pornography. (Lady Chatterlies Lover)
    The question is one of line drawing. As a matter of fact we draw such lines at present, and continue to at the local, state & federal level. Examples abound like child sex, bestiality, rape scenes and so forth.

    (you ask)
    “Fitz: Can you answer these questions? Why or why not?”

    Oh- I can answer your questions but it seems a rather moot point. I’m not advocating that I decide what pornography is acceptable and where, but rather that “We” continue to do so. (as we do presently) By “we” I mean “We the people” as per our rights to do so. Now were we draw this line (and if we become more restrictive than at present) is a part of that “sexual ethic” I hope we can achieve as a society.

    zuzu
    “what business is it of the government to dictate interpersonal sexual ethics?”

    I think dictate is too strong a word. If you mean write and enforce laws – well we already do, always have, and continue to do so. (sexual harassment law is a good contemporary example of legislating morality)
    The rest of your post brings up plenty of examples of other more passive ways government (not dictates) but encourages traditional sexual norms and gears them toward monogamy.

    Emily1
    “well, i have a question for you — is acceptance of the right of consenting adults to have non-monogamous, non-marital, non-procreative sexual relationships necessarily a rejection of the idea that monogamous, marital, pro-creative sexual relationships can also be fulfilling and wonderful? i would agree with you that most people will choose monogamous marriage with children. they aren’t really in danger of persecution and and harassment for these choices. “

    No. (not necessarily) & I cant condone persecution or harassment.

  95. zuzu
    zuzu May 3, 2006 at 3:14 pm | *

    At this particular time, it is the agenda of gay & feminist activists to harness its power to normalize homosexuality, promote androgyny, and (in many cases) weaken marriages normative power.

    Oh, good Lord. Androgyny? Androgyny?

  96. geoduck2
    geoduck2 May 3, 2006 at 3:35 pm |

    Fitz,

    It sounds like you want to use the state to promote a particular vision of marriage. (And I suppose we could argue about the history of marriage – in particular, I would point to the industrial revolution, urbanization and the creation of the middle class in America as one of the primary reasons that the birth rate began to lower in 1810, and continued to lower through the 1930s.

    I also suspect that you have a problem with that trend in society.

    I’m not interested in excluding non-heterosexuals from marriage. In addition, I do research on 19th century laws, and I’ve read many case files about criminal adultery and criminal seduction cases. I’m also not interested in bringing back that legal regime. In general, I’m not encouraged with the state’s past actions in regulating sexuality.

    What I would find interesting is for society to promote sexual health; for society to promote the respect of individuals and ethical interpersonal interactions; for our society to confront sexual coersion (how do we make consent meaningful for everyone); for colleges to confront the problems of date rape; and the pressure on people (particularly kids) to engage in sexual activity when they are not interested in doing so.

    However, as the quote pulled out from Zuzu demonstrates, I suspect we are interested in different, and possibly oppositional outcomes of the state’s role in regulating sexuality.

  97. Fitz
    Fitz May 3, 2006 at 3:55 pm |

    geoduck2

    Yes, I remember you from Althouse’s Blog.
    A lot of what you state (above) I am not opposed to. Some of it is so vague and benign that one could be opposed to it. (I now formally come out strongly against rape) Distinctions must be drawn however between what we have done in the past, and what is being done currently. There is no properly “going back” to the past. (nor would I if I could) Contemporary pleas for change however should be viewed in relation to what has happened in the recent past, what trends are harmful, what groups are advocating for what change & their respective philosophy. As this sight makes clear, there our a variety of opinions, but social change is possible when debate is fair and democracy is allowed to flourish.

  98. geoduck2
    geoduck2 May 3, 2006 at 4:15 pm |

    Fitz,

    Aside from a general concern for a promotion of sexual ethics, I do not know what specifics you want to promote. I have a vague idea that you may wish to use the legal system, but I do not know if that is what you are speaking of.
    ——-

    I would more generally, want to use the educational system, if I hoped to use any state-sponsored institutions at all. For example, health classes could discuss the importance of rape/consent/sexual pressure and coersion. Or, for example, if the health teacher pointed out a self-defense class available from the park district as an extra-credit activity.

  99. geoduck2
    geoduck2 May 3, 2006 at 4:29 pm |

    One last thing:

    Lady Chatterly’s Lover (am I spelling that right?) was a horrible book. It wasn’t erotic and it wasn’t interesting, either. I couldn’t figure out why the man didn’t “get” that he didn’t need a penis to have sex with his wife.

    I was stuck at home after my wisdom teeth were pulled with that book and Emma. Thank God for Austin, or I would have gone insane.

    Anyways – that book does not qualify as porn for me. Porn has to at least make an attempt to be erotic.

    I was referring to written erotica or the romance novel genre. I wasn’t necessarily referring to “literature” which had been banned for obscenity.

  100. Ledasmom
    Ledasmom May 3, 2006 at 4:38 pm |

    And then, of course, there’s the scene in Lady Chatterley’s Lover where said lover shoots his daughter’s cat dead, right in front of her, because he’s the gamekeeper, and doesn’t feel any remorse about so doing.
    One wonders what the book would have been if written, instead, from the point of view of Mellors’ wife.

  101. El Mocho
    El Mocho May 3, 2006 at 4:58 pm |

    Fitz:

    It seems to me you dismiss Coontz because she studies what people really use marriage for rather than what you think people should use marriage for.

    Put another way: instead of starting out with conclusion that marriage serves a universal purpose of bringing men and women together for stabilizing society and studying how that works (Inductive logic)– she starts out by studying the institution and what factors actually affect it.

    Thanks for the reply– as to other questions, it looks like I was typing feverishly along with about five or more other posters, so many of the questions– or those similar to them– were already asked.

  102. Nomie
    Nomie May 3, 2006 at 5:54 pm |

    primary function of bringing men & women together in stable households for the successful rearing and education of their children.

    WHAT.

    Since when?

    Many societies used marriage primarily to increase wealth and social status and further the family line (which has very, very little to do with rearing and education). I seriously have no idea when you think this “primary function” of marriage started.

    And that’s the other thing: social mores change over time. If we were all in ancient Rome, us women would have been married off at age twelve and died probably by the time we were twenty. Much the same in medieval Europe. In Japan in the 8th century we would have been concubines to the emperor and had multiple affairs even while we were considered “good” wives.

    Your thoughts on marriage stem from a very narrow and idealized view of what marriage should be.

  103. emily1
    emily1 May 3, 2006 at 5:57 pm |

    Fitz:

    i am confused about your position. i don’t understand exactly what you’re getting at. are you asking us to elaborate on which kinds of relationships and sexual behavior should be legal and/or given the status now accorded to heterosexual marriage?

  104. Loosely Twisted
    Loosely Twisted May 3, 2006 at 6:01 pm |

    Well, assuming that there’s no morality involved just demonstrates the problem of arguing morality or using the language of morality — whose morality are we going to use? The default in politics seems to be evangelical Christians, which necessarily excludes those who don’t share that moral point of view. The advantage of the liberal sexual ethic is that it acknowledges the differences in personal morality that people bring to their sexual relations and it also acknowledges that, absent harm, sexual relations are not a matter for state regulation

    You could also talk about how inclusive Liberal ethics vs. Traditional ethics.

    If you attempt to solve a problem of which ethics is superior to the other, the one that includes “all” would be the superior ethics.

    The political realm which includes everyone in the US should not be exclusive of every other person. Exclusion is always inferior to anything all inclusive. Considering libral sexual ethics include the views of those of the Traditionalist, granting them all their requirements. It follows reason and logic to make sure that all groups involved are represented. Thin definitions all fit with in a larger view.

    I find it hard to argue about the subject. Are we a democracy or not? Do concervatives even see their distruction to the constitution?

    Check this out, you want to know what democracy truely is? Watch This
    It’s a 9 min mini film, but it’s something your government doesn’t want you to remember.

    The more you restrict the less it is a democracy, whether that be sex, politics, laws, jobs, schools. The laws need to protect, but they should not assume to invade any individual’ life.

    I don’t want the governement in my bedroom. *shiver*

    Just my 2cents

  105. Lynn Gazis-Sax
    Lynn Gazis-Sax May 3, 2006 at 7:10 pm |

    Oh, good Lord. Androgyny? Androgyny?

    I think any sexual ethic that includes getting the vapors about androgyny has jumped the shark as far as qualifying as a liberal sexual ethic.

  106. Annie
    Annie May 3, 2006 at 7:57 pm |

    I think any sexual ethic that includes getting the vapors about androgyny has jumped the shark as far as qualifying as a liberal sexual ethic.

    and on a feminist blog, no less.

    I’ve got to ask – Fitz, what’re you doing here, exactly? Why do you self-identify as “liberal”, that is? The arguments you’re making are classic conservative arguments. Common social ethic, historical Golden Age, will of the majority trumping the (deviant) minority, the family as the primary social unit rather than the individual, weight of tradition, One Right Way To Live … all fair enough, from a conservative perspective, but why are you arguing that liberals themselves should be making these arguments? Why, basically, are you claiming that liberals should defend the conservative thesis, instead of defending it outright yourself?

  107. Tony
    Tony May 4, 2006 at 7:32 am |

    And while you’re at it, Fitz, why don’t you explain to those of us that do not share your faith what ethical issues arise from private, non-commercial consensual sexual contact between adults.

    Besides producing children that have to be killed to protect your lifestyle, the acquisition of one or more sexually transmitted diseases and bonding with someone who is a miserable excuse for a human being, I guess nothing,

    What’s your problem with commercial sex anyway. Most of the most “enlightened” European countries support it.

  108. spacebaby
    spacebaby May 4, 2006 at 8:07 am |

    Besides producing children that have to be killed to protect your lifestyle,

    it is not an accepted fact that a fetus is a person. this thread is not about abortion. abortion is a separate issue from whether whether adults should be free of harassment for their consensual sexual behavior. there is such a thing as contraception, which breaks the link between sex and child-bearing.

    the acquisition of one or more sexually transmitted diseases and bonding with someone who is a miserable excuse for a human being, I guess nothing

    wow, so you’ve been privy to the sexual experiences of everyone here? otherwise, i don’t know how you can claim to have such specific knowledge about our experiences including what we and our partners felt.

    condoms prevent STDs, btw. adults can rationally make the choice to use them. do you have a problem with them making that choice for themselves? do you think your judgement or some other person’s judgment should be substituted for theirs?

  109. spacebaby
    spacebaby May 4, 2006 at 8:09 am |

    What’s your problem with commercial sex anyway. Most of the most “enlightened” European countries support it.

    prostitution in practice often has parallels to slavery. that’s why.

  110. emily1
    emily1 May 4, 2006 at 8:09 am |

    oops. comments by spacebaby were made by me.

  111. zuzu
    zuzu May 4, 2006 at 8:23 am | *

    I love how the religious nuts seem to think that marriage is a cure for dealing with miserable human beings.

    Tony, this isn’t about abortion. So don’t bring it up again.

  112. Nomie
    Nomie May 4, 2006 at 11:07 am |

    Tony, I think the issue of commercial sex isn’t being discussed here because that would be commerce, and hence could be regulated by the state in some fashion – and thus, I suppose, be subject to at least a set of business ethics, if not moral ones. We’re generally saying that private sex, being non-commercial and, well, private, isn’t the state’s business at all, and thus nobody should be trying to enforce morals upon it since it’s not hurting anybody else.

    That’s my understanding of the situation, though.

Comments are closed.

The commenting period has expired for this post. If you wish to re-open the discussion, please do so in the latest Open Thread.