Advanced Search

Is kissing a person on the lips other than one's spouse cheating? What about not on the lips? Does location really matter when it comes to kissing? I don't think it does, and even when it comes to major slip ups as much as penetrative sex, I don't think that's cheating either because promises are but a CONDITIONED vow of not doing any of those things. Because promises between a couple are usually not very precise unless lawyers are involved, I think the greater subject of importance is whether the other person FEELS betrayed and whether there are romantic feelings beyond sexual ones. A condition/promise, I think, even in marriage, is, "I love you so long as you fulfill and do such and such...conditions according to MY needs of such and such." So in other words, because you slept with another person, that does not mean you do not love me, but it does mean you do not love me "to the best of your ability" and so "I would like to change that fact." Do philosophers care for human feelings?

In answer to your first question ("Is kissing a person on the lips other than one's spouse cheating?"), the very idea of "cheating" (conceptually) involves breaking a rule or agreement or promise, and so kissing someone other than one's spouse on the lips would be cheating if you had an agreement (explicit or implicit) that one would only kiss one's spouse on the lips, just as you would be cheating if you cried or laughed or sung a particular song with another person if you had promised only to do so with one's partner / spouse. Before moving to your suggestion about promises, a brief note: I am a little curious about the example you give of kissing as there are many cultures (I have no idea how many) when kissing another person (who is not one's spouse) on the lips is not at all unusual or thought to be even remotely sexual (and thus a domain in which sexual fidelity would not be an issue). Actually, in the first two centuries of Christianity in Europe, unmarried men and women would regularly kiss...

Is it equally, less, or more immoral for a husband/boyfriend to cheat on his wife/girlfriend than vice versa? Is ethics solely an exercise in logic or is there room for socio-psycho-evolutionary factors?

You have raised a question that goes to the heart of one of the most serious relationships: what is the moral role of fidelity and respect in terms of sexual relationships? For many of us in 'the west' the 'cheating' would be equally wrong for a male or female. Just as it would be equally wrong for a male or female to cheat in other areas of life to steal money from innocent children it would seem to be equally wrong for either to cheat on each other. But there are different social, cultural expectations that come into play in some places today that reflect an old, patriarchal bias that tends to look more strictly at cases of adultery or infidelity involving females rather than males. I suggest that there is no viable ethical or religious or evolutionary ground for this imbalance or unfairness today. So, while I suspect that any justification that gives greater allowance to the male is a reflection of distorted values, a perversion of a mature religion or simply bad anthropology, it should probably...

When I was a teenager, I started to think about sex all the time, but nobody ever talked to me about it. I may have been talking with someone of the opposite sex, for instance, whose dress deliberately accentuated their sexual features, and yet both of us would go on idiotically talking about something else, which neither of us was probably really thinking about. Why is there such a prohibition about pointing out the elephant in the room? Why is it considered morally suspect to make one's sexual reaction to someone an explicit feature of a conversation?

Probably one of the main reasons we shy away from talking with others about sexual attraction unless we are doing so with a partner in a sexually intimate relationship or conversing with a therapist or discussing medical issues (from STD s to pregnancy to birth control) or advising a friend who has asked for advise, is because we see sexual matters as amazingly / profoundly personal and we would find it positively intolerable being told by all sorts of people whether they find you sexy or not. Imagine that in the course of sitting in a coffee shop for an hour you are set upon by hundreds of people who tell you all about their sexual desires as grandmothers who like to have sex while cooking apple pie, former medical students who were expelled from medical school for public nudity, lawyers who have been accused of sexually harassing interns, politicians who will say anything or do anything to get your vote, two tax collectors who have strange, contagious rashes all over their hands and faces and want...

What interests me is the idea I've been hearing about a lot that sex should be used only for reproduction. The justification that I've heard for this statement is based on the idea that any other sexual activity that invlolves any kind of contraception is preventing a possible person from coming to life and possibly causing psychological harm for the people that engage in sex and also their future children as they might be carrying guilt (this I have heard from a psychologist, that uses Hellinger's method of phenomenological psychotherapy). Also other arguments that I have heard from other sources are saying that there is no other benefit in engaging in sexual activity apart from possible children and pleasure. As pleasure is considered to have a very short term value it is said that there is no rational reason to have sex when we do not want to reproduce, because the risks and the consequences are larger than the value of pleasure. Humans according to some theories have to sublimate their sexual energy...

Interesting! Philosophers from Plato to Bertrand Russell and to more recent thinkers, have addressed the value and significance of sexuality. Whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions, Roger Scruton has a book Sexual Desire with terrific examples and very interesting arguments. Thomas Nagel has a very short paper on sexual perversion which I think is quite illuminating. I think that probably the most sustained case for linking sex with reproduction comes from a Roman Catholic perspective, which should not be confused with "the Christian point of view" as many Christians think the telos or value or function of sexual union is valuable for its own sake or is an integral part of the good of intimate love. On that point, it is interesting that the story of creation in Genesis that blesses the union of man and woman before the fall notes that the two shall "become one flesh" (as it is usually translated) and there is nothing added like "the two shall become one flesh so that they may have...

Prior to the mass availability of condoms, and reliable birth control it seems to me that the act of sex had a very different meaning than it does now. It seems to me that "lust" had a very logical and sane basis for it to be feared. If you had sex then babies would likely happen as a result and unless both parents were prepared to take care of that baby then that would be a bad thing. Of course there were institutions like prostitution or even sacred prostitution that I imagine involved some kind of blunt surgery to prevent child birth. I don't know really what kind of evils which were really tangible in a way that a baby is tangible, or lack of evils that that institutions provided that may have lead people to condemn prostitution as products of an evil called "lust". Anyways people tend to want a lot of sex and prostitution has a limited availability. So when people say that we live in an age where people are more "enlightened" about sex I can't help but to wander if that is the case? Isn't our so...

Very interesting! I suspect that you are quite correct that the advent of birth control has done much to alter many people's assessment of the meaning of sex. And it may be that (depending on the kind of birth control used) some of the ethical implications of sex has changed. So, insofar as you can divorce sex and pregnancy, the ethics involving child-birth may be put to one side. But if you look at work on the philosophy of love from the medieval era (roughly from Augustine onward) to this day, there remains in place a tradition that sees what is called "lust" as a kind of degenerated passion. Someone who lusts after another may use the word "love," but in lust one largely seeks self-gratification and perhaps even a sort of possession over someone else rather than truly valuing the beloved for her or his own sake. For an excellent overview of the difference between love and lust, you might check out the book Love and Western Tradition by Denise de Rougemont. On the ethics of prostitution, I...

My girlfriend and I have recently moved to a new area, and have encountered an unfortunate problem. In this area, the birth control pill is only available upon prescription by a gynecologist, and gynecologists are required by law to refuse handing out the prescription until after a woman has undergone a standard checkup. Normally, this doesn't seem like such a big deal, but my girlfriend has only been to a gynecologist once and adamantly refuses to do so again, as she is afraid the check-up will be horribly painful. She has, in fact, declared that we should simply stop having sex until we find a way to acquire the pill without her undergoing a gynecological check-up (we only ever use double-protection, condom and pill, to try and minimize the risk of unwanted pregnancies); her only idea is to get her mother (who works in a pharmacy) to send birth control pills per post. If that doesn't work, it looks like I'm in for a dry spell. I am confused as to what I am allowed to do, ethically speaking. I know...

Tough to say. Off hand it seems that trying to convince her to have such a check-up is profoundly to act in her interest in terms of her fundamental health. Also, it certainly seems that desiring to have a healthy sex life is not something that "taints" or should taint the boyfriend - girlfriend relationship. You mention "authority" --which is an interesting term here, but it may not be out of place. I suppose in a close friendship, we do give authority to our friends to offer (even unasked for) advice. But that authority does seem to be limited by an acceptance of one's friend's or partner's independent judgment. You write about accepting "whatever she decides to do with her own body." That does seem right, don't you think? You cannot (with justice) compel her or trick her into having the check-up, and that leaves you with deciding what the future of your relationship will be like (under the conditions you both commit to) or to decide whether you even wish to continue being in such a relationship...

I am a 39 year old married woman. I recently attended an adult party (a.k.a. pleasure party) hosted by one of my friends. I did not ask my husband's permission to attend, thinking it wasn't a big deal. I did not purchase any "toys" but nonetheless, my husband is furious at me for attending. He says I "violated" our relationship and socially embarrassed him by going. He has called me a liar, hypocrite (because I don't allow our children to swear, watch porn, etc. but I went to this party) and a whore. I don't understand what is happening. He says I must "admit my guilt" or live a lonely, sex-less life. He also doesn't think he will ever be able to have sex with me again. I want to stay with him but I don't know what I did wrong. Is it morally and ethically wrong to attend a party like this without my husband's consent?

Good heavens! Unless you both had an explicit understanding that neither would attend an adult party, it is hard to see this as a violation, and even if one did have such an agreement it is hard to see how such a "violation" warrants calling someone a whore and threaten to cut off all sexual intimacy! I am sure this matter is more a topic for a marriage therapist than a professional philosopher, but I shall hesitantly suggest three things: it might be good to shift the questioning from matters of guilt / innocence / confession... to asking what is the most loving thing to do right now....both for your husband and for you. He seems to be treating the event on a par with sustained adultery or, short of adultry, a case of grave, personal betrayal and deception. But rather than getting focussed on whether the event was innocent (from his point of view, for it does sound innocent from your point of view), maybe the focus can be on what would the most loving thing be to do now. Second, the charge of being...

Can sexuality be fluid? Does it have to be black and white?

Minor reservation about Professor Smith's observations: Peter may be absolutely right, though I suggest that amidst all the cheerfully multicolored possibilities, I think that there are some clear cut goods and ills or, to use your terms, black and white issues. Perhaps this is similar to many other areas of life in which we (rightfully) expect decency (no improper coercion or harmful manipulation, deception, and so on). But because of the important role of sexuality in intimacy when it is possible to bring others (and oneself) joy or profound harm, I suggest that sexual relations may come with a higher degree of respect and consideration than we expect under other circumstances. The point is difficult to state with clarity or force, but I wager that while many of us can live with a colleague who is occasionally manipulative and misleading about his true aims and not fully trust worthy, but this becomes a great deal more serious if this involves one's lover.

While reading through some questions in the religious section, I came across Peter Smith saying [http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/2250/], "What is it with the obsession of (much) contemporary organized religions with matters of sexuality? It really is pretty bizarre. And for sure, if some of the energy wasted on pruriently fussing about who gets to do what with whom and where were spent campaigning on issues of social justice, say, then the world would be a better place. But I digress ...". Can any philosophers, including Peter Smith, tell me if my reasoning is valid regarding this (or come up with their own reasoning as to why an organized religion would have such rules): There are several reasons why organized religions could be "obsessed" about matters of sexuality, about "who gets to do what with whom and where" etc. 1. Disease: STD's are horrible, and the AIDs crisis in Africa is a good example as to why an organized religion might stress sexual relations with only one partner to whom you are...

I agree that dismissiveness of such rules (without carefully considering their grounds and implications) does seem unthoughtful, though I am 100% certain that Peter Smith has indeed been careful to reflect on such matters and shares your concern about the spread of AID s, STD s... Be that as it may, you asked whether your reasoning is valid, and I will respond to that question. I suggest that religions like Judaism, Chritianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism (the list could go on and on...) give attention to sexuality because each of these traditions has a vision (and practices built on that vision) of human fulfilment, and it is not implausable to think that sexuality has a vital role in human fulfilment. These world religions and others may differ in terms of their view of sexual desire, the mind-body relationship, family, sexual orientation and practice, and so on, but I do not think it bizarre (and here, I suppose, I do differ from Peter) that world religions should take seriously the important...