Philosophy of sex

Philosophy of sex is an aspect of applied philosophy involved with the study of sex and love. It includes both ethics of phenomena such as prostitution, rape, sexual harassment, sexual identity, the age of consent, homosexuality, and conceptual analysis of concepts such as "what is sex?" It also includes questions of sexuality and sexual identity and the ontological status of gender. Leading contemporary philosophers of sex include Alan Soble and Judith Butler.

Contemporary philosophy of sex is sometimes informed by Western feminism. Issues raised by feminists regarding gender differences, sexual politics, and the nature of sexual identity are important questions in the philosophy of sex.

  • What is the function of sex?
  • What is romantic love?
  • Is there an essential characteristic that makes an act sexual?
  • Are some sexual acts good and others bad? According to what criteria? Alternatively, can consensual sexual acts be immoral, or are they outside the realm of ethics?
  • What is the relationship between sex and biological reproduction? Can one exist without the other?
  • Are sexual identities rooted in some fundamental ontological difference (such as biology)?
  • Is sexuality a function of gender or biological sex?

History of the philosophy of sex

Throughout much of the history of Western philosophy, questions of sex and sexuality have been considered only within the general subject of ethics. There have, however, been deviations from this pattern out of which emerge a tradition of speaking of sexual issues in their own right.

The Society for the Philosophy of Sex and Love is a professional group within the membership of the American Philosophical Association.

Sexual desire

Moral evaluations of sexual activity are determined by judgments on the nature of the sexual impulse. In this light, philosophies fall into two camps:[1]

A negative understanding of sexuality, such as from Immanuel Kant, believes that sexuality undermines values, and challenges our moral treatment of other persons. Sex, says Kant, "makes of the loved person an Object of appetite".[2] In this understanding, sex is often advised only for the purpose of procreation. Sometimes sexual celibacy is considered to lead to the best, or most moral life.[3]

A positive understanding of sexuality – such as from Russell Vannoy, Irving Singer – sees sexual activity as pleasing the self and the other at the same time.

Putative perversions

Thomas Nagel proposes that only sexual interactions with mutual sexual arousal are natural to human sexuality. Perverted sexual encounters or events would be those in which this reciprocal arousal is absent, and in which a person remains fully a subject of the sexual experience or fully an object.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Alan Soble. Internet encyclopedia of philosophy: Philosophy of Sexuality
  2. ^ Kant, Immanuel. Lectures on Ethics, p. 163
  3. ^ St. Paul's praising, in 1 Corinthians 7, sexual celibacy as the ideal spiritual state.
  4. ^ Nagel's "Sexual Perversion," pp. 15-17.

Further reading

  • Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologiae. Cambridge, Eng.: Blackfriars, 1964-76.
  • Augustine, St. (Aurelius). On Marriage and Concupiscence, in The Works of Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, vol. 12, ed. Marcus Dods. Edinburgh, Scot.: T. & T. Clark, 1874.
  • Baker, Robert, Kathleen Wininger, and Frederick Elliston, eds. Philosophy and Sex, 3rd edition. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1998.
  • Baumrin, Bernard. "Sexual Immorality Delineated," in Robert Baker and Frederick Elliston, eds., Philosophy and Sex, 2nd edition. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1984, pp. 300–11.
  • Bloom, Allan. Love and Friendship. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.
  • Buckley Jr., William F., Camille Paglia, Betty Friedan, Arianna Huffington, Michael Kinsley, et al., "Has the Women's Movement Been Disastrous?: A Firing Line Debate," in Sterling Harwood, ed., Business as Ethical and Business as Usual (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1996).
  • Butler, Judith (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-90043-3.
  • Butler, Judith (1993). Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-90365-3.
  • Christensen, F. M., "A Defense of Pornography," in Sterling Harwood, ed., Business as Ethical and Business as Usual (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1996).
  • Christina, Greta. "Are We Having Sex Now or What?" in Alan Soble, ed., The Philosophy of Sex, 3rd edition. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997, pp. 3–8.
  • Finnis, John. "Law, Morality, and 'Sexual Orientation'," Notre Dame Law Review 69:5 (1994), pp. 1049–76.
  • Finnis, John and Martha Nussbaum. "Is Homosexual Conduct Wrong? A Philosophical Exchange," in Alan Soble, ed., The Philosophy of Sex, 3rd edition. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997, pp. 89–94.
  • Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Vols. 1-3. New York: Vintage, 1990. (Original French publications of the three volumes in 1978, 1984, and 1984, respectively)
  • Gray, Robert. "Sex and Sexual Perversion," in Alan Soble, ed., The Philosophy of Sex, 3rd edition. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997, pp. 57–66.
  • Grisez, Germain. The Way of the Lord Jesus. Quincy, Ill.: Franciscan Press, 1993.
  • Gudorf, Christine. Body, Sex, and Pleasure: Reconstructing Christian Sexual Ethics. Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press, 1994.
  • Hampton, Jean. "Defining Wrong and Defining Rape," in Keith Burgess-Jackson, ed., A Most Detestable Crime: New Philosophical Essays on Rape. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 118–56.
  • Held, Virginia. "Coercion and Coercive Offers," in J. Roland Pennock and John W. Chapman, eds., Coercion: Nomos VIX. Chicago, Ill.: Aldine, 1972, pp. 49–62.
  • Jung, Patricia, and Ralph Smith. Heterosexism: An Ethical Challenge. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1993.
  • Kant, Immanuel. Lectures on Ethics. Translated by Louis Infield. New York: Harper and Row, 1963.
  • Kant, Immanuel. The Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Mary Gregor. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, Book XX, Encore, 1972–1973, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998).
  • C. S. Lewis The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960.
  • MacKinnon, Catherine A., "The Money of Playboy Magazine," in Sterling Harwood, ed., Business as Ethical and Business as Usual (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1996).
  • Mappes, Thomas. "Sexual Morality and the Concept of Using Another Person," in Thomas Mappes and Jane Zembaty, eds., Social Ethics, 4th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992, pp. 203–26.
  • Mayo, David. "An Obligation to Warn of HIV Infection?" in Alan Soble, ed., Sex, Love and Friendship. Amsterdam. Hol.: Editions Rodopi, 1997, pp. 447–53.
  • McEvoy, Adrianne Leigh, Ed. Sex, Love, and Friendship. Studies of the Society for the Philosophy of Sex and Love: 1993-2003. Amsterdam/New York, NY, Rodopi, 2011.
  • Muehlenhard, Charlene, and Jennifer Schrag. "Nonviolent Sexual Coercion," in A. Parrot and L. Bechhofer, eds, Acquaintance Rape. The Hidden Crime. New York: John Wiley, 1991, pp. 115–28.
  • Murphy, Jeffrie. "Some Ruminations on Women, Violence, and the Criminal Law," in Jules Coleman and Allen Buchanan, eds., In Harm's Way: Essays in Honor of Joel Feinberg. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 209–30.
  • Nagel, Thomas. "Sexual Perversion," in Alan Soble, ed., The Philosophy of Sex, 3rd edition. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997, pp. 9–20.
  • Nielson-Jones, Oliver. "Sex, Escaping The Rat Race" In G.Bennett and A.Robinson, eds., Sexual Philosophy, 2006, pp. 7–29
  • O'Neill, Onora. "Between Consenting Adults," Philosophy and Public Affairs 14:3 (1985), pp. 252–77.
  • Mario Perniola. The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic, Continuum, New York-London (2004), ISBN 0-8264-6245-6.
  • Plato. Symposium. Translated by Michael Joyce, in E. Hamilton and H. Cairns, eds., The Collected Dialogues of Plato. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961, pp. 526–74.
  • Posner, Richard. Sex and Reason. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1992.
  • Primoratz, Igor. Ethics and Sex. London ; New York : Routledge, 1999.
  • Sanders, Stephanie, and June Reinisch. "Would You Say You 'Had Sex' If . . . ?" Journal of the American Medical Association 281:3 (January 20, 1999), pp. 275–77.
  • Scheer, Robert, "Bigger Breasts: The Great Implant Lie," in Sterling Harwood, ed., Business as Ethical and Business as Usual (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1996).
  • Roger Scruton. Sexual Desire: A Moral Philosophy of the Erotic. New York: Free Press, 1986.
  • Singer, Irving. The Nature of Love, vol. 2: Courtly and Romantic. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1984.
  • Soble, Alan. "Antioch's 'Sexual Offense Policy': A Philosophical Exploration," Journal of Social Philosophy 28:1 (1997), pp. 22–36.
  • Soble, Alan. The Philosophy of Sex and Love: An Introduction. St. Paul, Minn.: Paragon House, 1998. Second revised, expanded edition, 2008.
  • Soble, Alan. Sexual Investigations. New York: New York University Press,1996.
  • Soble, Alan, ed. Eros, Agape and Philia. New York: Paragon House, 1989. Corrected reprint, 1999.
  • Soble, Alan, ed. The Philosophy of Sex, 4th edition. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002; revised 5th edition, 2008 (excellent bibliography covering the whole area phil sex).
  • Soble, Alan, ed. Sex, Love, and Friendship. Amsterdam, Hol.: Editions Rodopi, 1996.
  • Solomon, Robert, and Kathleen Higgins, eds. The Philosophy of (Erotic) Love. Lawrence. Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 1991.
  • Stewart, Robert M., ed. Philosophical Perspectives on Sex and Love. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Vannoy, Russell. Sex Without Love: A Philosophical Exploration. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1980.
  • Verene, Donald, ed. Sexual Love and Western Morality, 2nd edition. Boston, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett, 1995.
  • Wertheimer, Alan. "Consent and Sexual Relations," Legal Theory 2:2 (1996), pp. 89–112.
  • Pope John Paul II. Love and Responsibility. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1981.

External links

Alan Soble

Alan Gerald Soble (; born 1947) is an American philosopher and author of several books on the philosophy of sex. He taught at the University of New Orleans from 1986 to 2006. He is currently Adjunct Professor of philosophy at Drexel University in Philadelphia.


Ambedkarism is a body of ideas inspired by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. His philosophy has been used in India as a basis for political campaigning. His philosophy was using socio-politics as a tool to achieve the end result that is social justice and social equality. Someone who practices Ambedkarism is an Ambedkarite.

Being and Nothingness

Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (French: L'Être et le néant : Essai d'ontologie phénoménologique), sometimes published with the subtitle A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, is a 1943 book by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. In it, Sartre develops a dense philosophical account in support of his existentialism, dealing with topics as varied as consciousness, perception, social philosophy, self-deception, the existence of "nothingness", Freudian psychoanalysis, and the question of free will.While a prisoner of war in 1940 and 1941, Sartre read Martin Heidegger's Being and Time, which uses the method of Husserlian phenomenology as a lens for examining ontology. Sartre attributed the course of his own philosophical inquiries to his exposure to this work. Though influenced by Heidegger, Sartre was profoundly skeptical of any measure by which humanity could achieve a kind of personal state of fulfillment comparable to the hypothetical Heideggerian "re-encounter with Being". In Sartre's account, man is a creature haunted by a vision of "completion" (what Sartre calls the ens causa sui, meaning literally "a being that causes itself"), which many religions and philosophers identify as God. Born into the material reality of one's body, in a material universe, one finds oneself inserted into being. In accordance with Husserl's notion that consciousness can only exist as consciousness of something, Sartre develops the idea that there can be no form of self that is "hidden" inside consciousness. On these grounds, Sartre goes on to offer a philosophical critique of Sigmund Freud's theories, based on the claim that consciousness is essentially self-conscious.

Being and Nothingness is regarded as both the most important non-fiction expression of Sartre's existentialism and his most influential philosophical work, original despite its debt to Heidegger. Many have praised the book's central notion that "existence precedes essence", its introduction of the concept of bad faith, and its exploration of "nothingness", as well as its novel contributions to the philosophy of sex. However, the book has been criticized for its abstruseness and for its treatment of Freud. Because of the subjectivism and psychologism associated with Sartre's view of consciousness, Being and Nothingness had come to be seen as outdated by the time of Sartre's death in 1980.

C. D. C. Reeve

C. D. C. Reeve (born September 10, 1948) is a philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He works primarily in Ancient Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle. He is also interested in philosophy generally, and has published work in the philosophy of sex and love, and on film. He has also translated many Ancient Greek texts, mostly by Plato and Aristotle.

Consensus theory

Consensus theory is a social theory that holds a particular political or economic system is a fair system, and that social change should take place within the social institutions provided by it. Consensus theory contrasts sharply with conflict theory, which holds that social change is only achieved through conflict.

Under consensus theory the absence of conflict is seen as the equilibrium state of society and that there is a general or widespread agreement among all members of a particular society about norms, values, rules and regulations. Consensus theory is concerned with the maintenance or continuation of social order in society.

Consensus theory serves as a sociological argument for the furtherance and preservation of the status quo. It is antagonistic to conflict theory, which serves as a sociological argument for modifying the status quo or for its total reversal. In consensus theory, the rules are seen as integrative, and whoever doesn't respect them is a deviant person. Under conflict theory, the rules are seen as coercive, and who transgresses them is considered an agent of change.


Contractualism is a term in philosophy which refers either to a family of political theories in the social contract tradition (when used in this sense, the term is synonymous with contractarianism), or to the ethical theory developed in recent years by T. M. Scanlon, especially in his book What We Owe to Each Other (published 1998).Social contract theorists from the history of political thought include Hugo Grotius (1625), Thomas Hobbes (1651), Samuel Pufendorf (1673), John Locke (1689), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762), and Immanuel Kant (1797); more recently, John Rawls (1971), David Gauthier (1986) and Philip Pettit (1997).


In philosophy and sociology, culturalism (new humanism or Znaniecki's humanism) is the central importance of culture as an organizing force in human affairs. It was originally coined by the Polish-American philosopher and sociologist Florian Znaniecki in his book Cultural Reality (1919) in English and later translated into Polish as kulturalizm. Znaniecki had introduced a similar concept in earlier Polish language publications which he described as humanism (humanizm).

Inbreeding depression

Inbreeding depression is the reduced biological fitness in a given population as a result of inbreeding, or breeding of related individuals. Population biological fitness refers to an organism's ability to survive and perpetuate its genetic material. Inbreeding depression is often the result of a population bottleneck. In general, the higher the genetic variation or gene pool within a breeding population, the less likely it is to suffer from inbreeding depression.

Inbreeding depression seems to be present in most groups of organisms, but varies across mating systems. Hermaphroditic species often exhibit lower degrees of inbreeding depression than outcrossing species, as repeated generations of selfing is thought to purge deleterious alleles from populations. For example, the outcrossing nematode (roundworm) Caenorhabditis remanei has been demonstrated to suffer severely from inbreeding depression, unlike its hermaphroditic relative C. elegans, which experiences outbreeding depression.

List of philosophies

Philosophical schools of thought and philosophical movements.

Outline of human sexuality

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to human sexuality:

Human sexuality is the capacity to have erotic experiences and responses. Human sexuality can also refer to the way one person is sexually attracted to another person of the opposite sex (heterosexuality), the same sex (homosexuality), or having both tendencies (bisexuality). The lack of sexual attraction is referred to as asexuality. Human sexuality impacts cultural, political, legal and philosophical aspects of life, as well as being widely connected to issues of morality, ethics, theology, spirituality, or religion. It is not, however, directly tied to gender.


Reproduction (or procreation or breeding) is the biological process by which new individual organisms – "offspring" – are produced from their "parents". Reproduction is a fundamental feature of all known life; each individual organism exists as the result of reproduction. There are two forms of reproduction: asexual and sexual.

In asexual reproduction, an organism can reproduce without the involvement of another organism. Asexual reproduction is not limited to single-celled organisms. The cloning of an organism is a form of asexual reproduction. By asexual reproduction, an organism creates a genetically similar or identical copy of itself. The evolution of sexual reproduction is a major puzzle for biologists. The two-fold cost of sexual reproduction is that only 50% of organisms reproduce and organisms only pass on 50% of their genes.Sexual reproduction typically requires the sexual interaction of two specialized organisms, called gametes, which contain half the number of chromosomes of normal cells and are created by meiosis, with typically a male fertilizing a female of the same species to create a fertilized zygote. This produces offspring organisms whose genetic characteristics are derived from those of the two parental organisms.


Sexology is the scientific study of human sexuality, including human sexual interests, behaviors, and functions. The term sexology does not generally refer to the non-scientific study of sexuality, such as political science or social criticism.Sexologists apply tools from several academic fields, such as biology, medicine, psychology, epidemiology, sociology, and criminology. Topics of study include sexual development (puberty), sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual relationships, sexual activities, paraphilias, atypical sexual interests. It also includes the study of sexuality across the lifespan, including child sexuality, puberty, adolescent sexuality, and sexuality among the elderly. Sexology also spans sexuality among the mentally and/or physically disabled. The sexological study of sexual dysfunctions and disorders, including erectile dysfunction, anorgasmia, and pedophilia, are also mainstays.

Sexual Desire (book)

Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation, published as Sexual Desire: A Moral Philosophy of the Erotic in the United States, is a 1986 book about the philosophy of sex by the philosopher Roger Scruton, in which the author discusses sexual desire and erotic love, arguing against the idea that the former expresses the animal part of human nature while the latter is an expression of its rational side. The book was first published in the United Kingdom by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and in the United States by Free Press.

Scruton draws upon both analytic philosophy and phenomenology, a philosophical movement founded by Edmund Husserl. Borrowing the term from phenomenology, he argues that sexual desire is characterised by "intentionality", the quality "of pointing to, and delineating, an object of thought". He makes the case that common experiences related to sex, such as obscenity, modesty and shame, falling in love, and jealousy, involve intentionality. He defends traditional sexual morality, but rather than basing his arguments on religion, he writes from a secular perspective, following an approach suggested by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics. He upholds the traditional condemnation of lust (which he defines as sexual desire "from which the goal of erotic love has been excluded") and perversion (which he defines as "a diverting of the sexual impulse from its interpersonal goal"). In his view, sexual perversion involves failure to recognise "the personal existence of the other", and this justifies its moral condemnation. He argues that homosexuality is a perversion, as is a form of masturbation. He argues that science cannot provide substitute for the concepts which order everyday experience and that it may potentially harm people's understanding of human sexual desire. He criticises Sigmund Freud, arguing that psychoanalytic theory unacceptably depends on metaphor and that its scientific status is questionable. He also criticises feminism and the work of the biologist Alfred Kinsey, describing it as reductive and as involving misrepresentation of sexual arousal and desire.

The book received positive reactions from some reviewers and unfavourable reactions from others. It has been called a classic work, and has been praised for providing insightful or appealing accounts of topics such as jealousy, sado-masochism, sexual arousal, love and sexual desire, for its criticism of Freud, and for its originality. A noted example of a work by a philosopher who argues that sex is morally acceptable only if it involves love and intimacy, it has been considered one of the most important works in the philosophy of sex and has influenced subsequent discussions of sexual ethics. However, many of Scruton's conclusions were controversial. Sexual Desire has been criticised for Scruton's claim that sexual desire essentially aims at an individual person, his defense of conservative moral views, his arguments against feminism, his treatment of sexual behaviours such as homosexuality and masturbation and theories such as psychoanalysis and sociobiology, his use of the concept of intentionality, his interpretation of the British political tradition, and his understanding of science. Some reviewers wrote that the book contains errors of fact, would be difficult for people who are not philosophers to read, and presented arguments that were unlikely to convince readers not already in agreement with Scruton.

Sexual Dissidence

Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (1991; second edition 2018) is a book about the philosophy of sex by the social theorist Jonathan Dollimore. The book received both positive and mixed reviews. Dollimore was complimented for his discussions of the theologian Augustine of Hippo and the writers Oscar Wilde and André Gide, but was criticized for his repetitive style of writing.

Sexuality and Its Discontents

Sexuality and Its Discontents: Meanings, Myths, and Modern Sexualities is a 1985 book about the politics and philosophy of sex by the sociologist Jeffrey Weeks. The book received positive reviews, crediting Weeks with explaining the theories of sexologists and usefully discussing controversial sexual issues. However, Weeks was criticized for his treatment of feminism and sado-masochism.

Social philosophy

Social philosophy is the study of questions about social behavior and interpretations of society and social institutions in terms of ethical values rather than empirical relations. Social philosophers place new emphasis on understanding the social contexts for political, legal, moral, and cultural questions, and to the development of novel theoretical frameworks, from social ontology to care ethics to cosmopolitan theories of democracy, human rights, gender equity and global justice.

Society for the Philosophy of Sex and Love

The Society for the Philosophy of Sex and Love is a philosophical society whose purpose is to promote the study of human sexuality, love, and related topics. The organization sponsors conferences and workshops, and publishes an annual newsletter.

Xu Xing (philosopher)

Xu Xing (Chinese: 許行; Wade–Giles: Hsü Hsing) (c. 372 BC - c. 289 BC) was a Chinese philosopher and one of the most notable advocates of Agriculturalism, a political philosophy that advocated peasant utopian communalism and egalitarianism. With a group of followers he settled in the state of Teng in about 315 BC. A disciple of his visited the Confucian philosopher Mencius, and a short report of their conversation discussing Xu Xing's philosophy survives.

Social theories
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