Sexual ethics

Sexual ethics

Sexual ethics is a category of ethics that pertain to acts falling within the broad spectrum of human sexual behavior, sexual intercourse in particular. Broadly speaking questions of sexual ethics can be organized into issues related to consent, issues related to the institution of marriage such as marital fidelity and premarital and non-marital sex, issues related to sexuality, questions about how gender and power are expressed through sexual behavior, questions about how individuals relate to society, and questions about how individual behavior impacts public health concerns.

Ethical dilemmas which involve sex can often appear in situations where there is a significant power difference or where there is a pre-existing professional relationship between the participants, or where consent is partial or uncertain.

Sexual ethics can also include the ethics of procreation: "is it ethical to create a child in an overpopulated world?", "Is it ethical to have children if they would be born into poverty?" etc.


Consent is a key issue in sexual ethics. Almost all systems of ethics require at least that all participants consent to a sexual activity. Sexual ethics also considers whether a person is capable of giving consent and the sort of acts they can consent to. In western countries, the legal concept of "informed consent" often sets the public standards on this issue. Children, the mentally handicapped, the mentally ill, animals, and sometimes people under the influence of drugs or alcohol are typically considered in certain situations as lacking an ability to give an informed consent.

Sexual acts which are illegal, and often considered unethical, because of the absence of consent include rape, molestation and bestiality, to name but a few.


seealso|Marriage, "Fornication"

In most cultures, sexual intercourse is acceptable and virtuous within marriage; but in some cultures, sexual intercourse is controversial, if not unacceptable outside of marriage.

As the philosopher Michel Foucault has noted, such societies often create spaces or heterotopias outside of themselves where sex outside of marriage can be practiced. He reasoned that this was the reason for the often unusual sexual ethics displayed by persons living in brothels, asylums, on board ships, or in prisons. Sexual expression was freed of social controls in such places whereas within society, sexuality has been controlled through the institution of marriage which socially sanctions the sex act. Many different types of marriage exist, but in most cultures that practice marriage, extramarital sex without the approval of the partner is often considered to be unethical. There are a number of complex issues that fall under the category of marriage.

When one member of a marital union has sexual intercourse with another person apart from the union without their consent, it may be considered to be infidelity. In some cultures this act may be considered ethical if the spouse consents, or acceptable as long as the woman is not married, while other cultures might view any sexual intercourse outside of marriage as unethical, with or without consent.

Furthermore, the institution of marriage brings up the issue of premarital sex wherein young people who may choose to at some point in their lives marry, engage in sexual activity with partners who they may or may not marry. Different modern day cultures have different attitudes about the ethics of such behavior, some condemning it while others viewing it to be normal and acceptable.



In ancient Athens, sexual attraction between men was the norm with writers as Plato and Aristophanes writing extensive treatises on the benefits of homosexual love. Not a few hundred miles away in the Levant, persons who committed homosexual acts were stoned to death at the same period in history that Socrates dallied with young Alcibiades.

Most modern secular ethicists since the heyday of Utilitarianism, e.g. T.M. Scanlon and Bernard Williams, have constructed systems of ethics whereby homosexuality is a matter of individual choice and where ethical questions have been answered by an appeal to non-interference in activities involving consenting adults. However, Scanlon's system, notably, goes in a slightly different direction from this, and requires that no person who meets certain criteria could rationally reject a principle that either sanctions or condemns a certain act. Under Scanlon's system it is difficult to see how one would construct a principle condemning homosexuality outright, although certain acts, such as rape, would still be fairly straightforward cases of unethical behavior.

The social and legal status of homosexuality is still hotly contested in many parts of the world.


Individuals and societies

Abuse of power

Most societies disapprove of a person in a position of power to engage in sexual activity with a subordinate. This is often considered unethical simply as a breach of trust. When the person takes advantage of a position of power in the workplace, this may constitute sexual harassment, because subordinates may be unable to give proper consent to a sexual advance because of a fear of repercussions.

Child-parent incest is also usually seen as an abuse of a position of trust and power, in addition to the inability of a child to give consent. Incest between adults may not involve this lack of consent, and is therefore less clearcut for most observers. Many professional organizations have rules forbidding sexual relations between members and their clients. Examples in many countries include psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, doctors, and lawyers. In addition, laws exist in many places against this kind of abuse of power by priests, preachers, teachers, religious counselors, and coaches.

Manipulation and personal gain

Sex is 'valuable' (in the sense that it is a basic human drive - though it is not technologically productive in its own right), and because of this it can be used toward unethical ends. It can also be used as a means of direct economic exchange such as in various forms of sex work and pornography where sex is exchanged directly for currency in various marketplaces. The ethics of such markets existing have been questioned by many, particularly Feminists such as Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer, and Naomi Wolf. Other sex positive feminists such as Wendy McElroy support the commercialization of sex as a means of empowering women. It is also the case that several religions within South Asia and the Middle East have their own viewpoints on pornography, even that type of pornography which would be viewed with triviality within most Western Nations.

Religious sexual ethics

Many cultures consider ethics to be intertwined with religious faith and the problem of being ethical as a matter of following various religious dogma established by some religious authority. Along with all those activities listed above, some acts that might be considered unethical from a religious standpoint:
*various Paraphilias

Public health

In countries where public health is considered a public concern, there is also the issue of how sex impacts the health of individuals. In such circumstances, where there are health impacts resulting from certain sexual activities, there is the question of whether individuals have an ethical responsibility to the public at large for their behavior. Such concerns might involve the disclosure of infection with sexually transmitted diseases, whether promiscuous casual sex, leading to an increased level of unplanned pregnancies and unwanted children, is ethical, and just what amount of personal care an individual needs to take in order to meet his or her requisite contribution to the general health of a nations citizens.

Public Decency

It should be noted that there are laws within many nations, including the UK, concerning what dress codes and forms of wear constitute indecent codes of dress. The following link outlines those forms of behaviour that are either legal or illegal within the UK : []

ee also

*Religion and sexuality
*Philosophy of sex
*Anti-pornography movement
*Covert incest
*Catholic teachings on sexual morality
*Reproductive rights
*Family planning

External references

* [ Chart showing position of some religions on sexuality issues]
* [ Sexual Ethics in Islam and in the Western World]
* [ Sexual Ethics in Psychology]
* [ Buddhism and Sexual Ethics]
* [ Liberated Christians website]
* [ Toward a Taxonomy for Reform Jews to Evaluate Sexual Behavior]
* [ "Why Yes, I Was Staring at Your Breasts"] A retrospective look at women's use of breast cleavage to manipulate men.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • sexual ethics —  Сексуальная этика …   Вестминстерский словарь теологических терминов

  • List of topics on sexual ethics — This is a list of topics on sexual ethics. See ethics, sex, and sexual ethics for an overview. Contents 1 General Topics in Sexual Ethics 1.1 Dating and marriage 1.2 Homosexuality …   Wikipedia

  • List of topics in sexual ethics — This is a list of topics on sexual ethics.See ethics, sex, and sexual ethics for an overview.General Topics in Sexual EthicsMuch of sexual ethics explores the obligatoriness, permissibility, or forbiddenness of the activities that follow.… …   Wikipedia

  • Sexual assault — Classification and external resources Konstantin Makovsky, The Bulgarian martyresses, a painting depicting the atrocities of bashibazouks in Bulgaria during the Russo Turkish War (1877–1878) …   Wikipedia

  • Sexual misconduct — is misconduct of a sexual nature.In legal sense, for a person in a position of authority it includes in particular any sexual activity between him or her and one of his or her subordinates. This commonly includes teachers and their students,… …   Wikipedia

  • Sexual fetishism — Classification and external resources Foot fetishism is one of the most common fetishes ICD 10 F …   Wikipedia

  • Sexual slang — headwords in Wiktionary sexual intercourse sexual partner prostitute promiscuous man …   Wikipedia

  • ETHICS — IN THE BIBLE There is no abstract, comprehensive concept in the Bible which parallels the modern concept of ethics. The term musar designates ethics in later Hebrew, but in the Bible it indicates merely the educational function fulfilled by the… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Sexual intercourse — Intromission redirects here. For other uses, see Intromission (disambiguation). Making love redirects here. For other uses, see Making love (disambiguation) …   Wikipedia

  • Sexual abuse — For the journal titled Sexual Abuse, see Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Bad Touch redirects here. For the song, see The Bad Touch …   Wikipedia