Sexual ethics

Sexual ethics or sex ethics (see also sexual morality) is the study of ethics in relation to human sexuality, and sexual behavior. Sexual ethics seeks to understand, evaluate, and critique the conduct of interpersonal relationships and sexual activities from social, cultural, and philosophical perspectives. Sexual ethics involve issues such as gender identification, sexual orientation, consent, sexual relations, and procreation. Sex has historically been an issue of great importance to people in cultures all over the world, and as such is a pertinent topic of discussion and study. As sex is a social practice that varies widely in the ways that it is understood, performed, and discussed, there is much to be said for a critical and comprehensive study of sexual ethics and norms.

Historically, the prevailing notions of what was deemed as sexually ethical have been tied to religious values.[1] More recently, the feminist movement has emphasized personal choice and consent in sexual activities.

Terminology and philosophical context

The terms ethics and morality are often used interchangeably, but sometimes ethics is reserved for interpersonal interactions and morality is used to cover both interpersonal and inherent questions.[2]

However, not all approaches to applied ethics agree that there is an inherent morality:

  • Moral nihilism is the meta-ethical view that nothing is inherently right or wrong, and that all value judgments are either human constructs or meaningless.
  • Moral relativism is the meta-ethical view that moral judgments are subjective. In some cases this is merely descriptive, in other cases this approach is normative – the idea that morality should be judged in the context of each culture's convictions and practices.
  • Moral universalism is the meta-ethical view that moral judgments are objectively true or false, that everyone should behave according to the same set of normative ethics.

In philosophic terminology, hedonism is the idea that the only intrinsic good is pleasure, making selfish pleasures their primary goal. This may be combined with nihilism in a selfish morality, or with utilitarianism to seek maximization of happiness for everyone. Some religions derive a normative sexual ethics from their texts or teachings, and these range from nihilistic utilitarianism to more complex, fixed systems for determining right and wrong.

Many practical questions arise regarding human sexuality, such as whether sexual norms should be enforced by law, given social approval, or changed. Answers to these questions can be considered on a scale from social liberalism to social conservatism. Considerable controversy continues over which system of ethics or morality best promotes human happiness, and which, if any, is inherently right.

Viewpoints and historical development


Rembrandt Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (cropped for central figures)
The Woman Taken in Adultery by Rembrandt depicts Jesus and the woman taken in adultery. Religion affects views on issues in sexual ethics, including adultery.

Many cultures consider ethics to be intertwined with religious faith. Some acts that might be considered ethical or unethical from a religious standpoint include:


Sexual Rights as Human Rights

Present and historical perspectives

From a human rights and international law perspective, consent is a key issue in sexual ethics. Nevertheless, historically, this has not necessarily been the case. Throughout history, a whole range of consensual sexual acts, such as adultery, fornication, interracial or interfaith sex, 'sodomy' (see sodomy laws) have been prohibited; while at the same time various forced sexual encounters such as rape of a slave, prostitute, war enemy, and most notably of a spouse, were not illegal. The criminalization of marital rape is very recent, having occurred during the past few decades, and the act is still legal in many places around the world. In the UK, marital rape was made illegal as recently as 1992.[3] Outside the West, in many countries, consent is still not central and some consensual sexual acts are forbidden. For instance, adultery and homosexual acts remain illegal in many countries; and in five countries and in parts of two others, homosexual acts carry the death penalty.[4] [5]

Almost all modern systems of ethics insist that sexual activity is morally permissible only if all participants consent. 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, prisoners, and people under the influence of drugs like alcohol might be considered in certain situations as lacking an ability to give informed consent. In the United States, Maouloud Baby v. State is a state court case ruling that a person can withdraw sexual consent and that continuing sexual activity in the absence of consent may constitute rape. Also, if infected with a sexually transmitted disease, it is important that one notifies the partner before sexual contact.[6]

Sexual acts which are illegal, and often considered unethical, because of the absence of consent include rape and molestation. Enthusiastic consent, as expressed in the slogan "Yes means yes," rather than marriage, is typically the focus of liberal sexual ethics.[7][8][9] Under that view passivity, not saying "No," is not consent.[10][11] An individual can give consent for one act of sexual activity, however, it does not condone proceeding into other acts of sexual activity without reestablishing consent.

Feminist views

Feminists aim to redefine feminine sexuality in this world. The primary concern of feminists is that a woman should have the right to control her own sexuality. The woman's freedom of choice, regarding her sexuality, takes precedence over family, community, state, and church. Based on historical and cultural context, feminist views on sexuality has widely varied. Sexual representation in the media, the sex industry, and related topics pertaining to sexual consent are all questions which feminist theory attempts to address. The debate resulting from the divergence of feminist attitudes culminated in the late 1970s and the 1980s. The resulting discursive dualism was one which contrasted those feminists who believed that patriarchal structure made consent impossible under certain conditions, whereas sex-positive feminists attempted to redefine and regain control of what it means to be a woman. Questions of sexual ethics remain relevant to feminist theory.[12][13][14][15][16]

Early feminists were accused of being 'wanton' as a consequence of stating that just as for men, women did not necessarily have to have sex with the intention of reproducing. [17] At the beginning of the 20th century, feminist authors were already theorising about a relationship between a man and a woman as equals (although this has a heterosexual bias) and the idea that relationships should be sincere, that the mark of virtue in a relationship was its sincerity rather than its permanence. Setting a standard for reciprocity in relationships fundamentally changed notions of sexuality from one of duty to one of intimacy.[17]

Age of consent

Age of consent is also a key issue in sexual ethics. It is a controversial question of whether or not minors should be allowed to have sex for recreation or engage in sexual activities such as sexting. The debate includes whether or not minors can meaningfully consent to have sex with each other, and whether they can meaningfully consent to have sex with adults. In many places in the world, people are not legally allowed to have sex until they reach a set age.[18] The age of consent averages around the age of 16.[19] Some areas have 'Romeo and Juliet' laws, which place a frame around teenage relationships within a certain age bracket, but do not permit sexual contact between those above or below a certain age.


In all cultures, consensual sexual intercourse is acceptable within marriage. In some cultures sexual intercourse outside marriage is controversial, if not totally unacceptable, or even illegal. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan,[20] Afghanistan,[21][22] Iran,[22] Kuwait,[23] Maldives,[24] Morocco,[25] Oman,[26] Mauritania,[27] United Arab Emirates,[28][29] Sudan,[30] Yemen,[31] any form of sexual activity outside marriage is illegal.

As the philosopher Michel Foucault has noted, such societies often create spaces or heterotopias outside themselves where sex outside marriage can be practiced. According to his theory, this was the reason for the often unusual sexual ethics displayed by persons living in brothels, asylums, onboard 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 without the consent of their spouse, 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 partner is not married while other cultures might view any sexual intercourse outside marriage as unethical, with or without consent.

Furthermore, the institution of marriage brings up the issue of premarital sex wherein 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. Various cultures have different attitudes about the ethics of such behavior, some condemning it while others view it to be normal and acceptable.

Premarital sex

Premarital sex is sexual activity between two people who are not married to each other. Usually, both parties are unmarried. This might be objected to on religious or moral grounds, while individual views within a given society can vary greatly.[32][33] In recent decades, premarital sex has increasingly become a socially and morally acceptable practice among Western cultures.[34]

Extramarital sex

Extramarital sex is sex occurring outside marriage, usually referring to when a married person engages in sexual activity with someone other than their marriage partner. Commonly there are moral as well as religious objections to sexual relationships by a married person outside the marriage, and such activity is often referred to in law or religion as adultery. Others call it infidelity or "cheating".

In contrast, there are some cultures, groups or individual relationships in which extramarital sex is an accepted norm. In today's western cultures some people practice "polyamory", otherwise known as responsible non-monogamy, or "open marriage". The ethical practice of this necessitates honest dialogue and consent of all those involved.

Individuals and societies

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 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 clear-cut 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 against this kind of abuse of power by priests, preachers, teachers, religious counselors, and coaches.

Public health

A billboard in Chad encouraging fidelity, abstinence, and condom use to help prevent AIDS

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 regular periodic testing for sexually transmitted diseases, disclosure of infection with sexually transmitted diseases, responsibility for taking safer sex precautions, ethics of sex without using contraception, leading to an increased level of unplanned pregnancies and unwanted children, 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 nation's citizens.

Public decency

Legal and social dress codes are often related to sexuality. In the United States, there are many rules against nudity. An individual cannot be naked even on their own property if the public can see them. These laws are often considered a violation to the constitution regarding freedom of expression. It is said that common sense needs to be used when deciding whether or not nudity is appropriate. However, in Hawaii, Texas, New York, Maine, and Ohio allow all women to go topless at all locations that let men be shirtless. In California it is not illegal to hike in the nude, however it is frowned upon. Also in state parks it is legal to sunbathe in the nude unless a private citizen complains then you are to be removed from the premise by force if the individual doesn't comply. Breastfeeding in public is considered wrong and mothers are encouraged to either cover themselves in a blanket or go to the restroom to breastfeed their newborn. There are no actual laws that prohibit the action of breastfeeding in public except two places in Illinois and Missouri.

Sex work

Various sexual acts are traded for money or other goods across the world. Ethical positions on sex work may depend on the type of sex act traded and the conditions in which it is traded, there are for example additional ethical concerns over the abrogation of autonomy in the situation of trafficked sex workers.

Sex work has been a particularity divisive issue within feminism. Some feminists may regard sex work as an example of societal oppression of the sex workers by the patriarchy. The ethical argument underlying this position is that despite the apparent consent of the sex worker, the choice to engage in sex work is often not an autonomous choice, because of economic, familial or societal pressures. Sex work may also be seen as an objectification of women. An opposing view held by other feminists such as Wendy McElroy is that sex work is a means of empowering women, the argument here being that in sex work women are able to extract psychological and financial power over men which is a justified correction of the power unbalance inherent in a patriarchal society. Some feminists regard to sex work as simply a form of labor which is neither morally good or bad, but subject to the same difficulties of other labor forms.

If sex work is accepted as unethical, there is then the dispute over which parties of the contract are responsible for the ethical or legal breach. Traditionally, in many societies, the legal and ethical burden of guilt has been placed largely on the sex worker rather than consumers. In recent decades, some countries such as Sweden, Norway and Iceland have rewritten their laws to outlaw the buying of sexual services but not its sale (although they still retain laws and use enforcement tactics which sex workers say are deleterious to their safety, such as pressuring to have sex workers evicted from their residences[35]).

Gender identity and sexuality

There are three different approaches to gender identity and sexuality. These three different approaches are the "person-centered", "rights-based", and "deconstructive" which draws on ideas from Queer Theory.[36] Queer Theory is a book that discusses different sexuality categories of 'woman', 'man', 'lesbian', and 'heterosexual' based on the opinions of Judith Butler, Steven Epstein, Steven Seidman, and Michael Warner. The debate between sexuality being predetermined and developed throughout a person's life is further talked about. Despite the opinions of these commenters, we can talk about the two different opinions about sexuality. One opinion is that sexuality is something someone is born with and will not be changed. Someone may choose to suppress their sexuality or behave differently from it due to their family or society. The other opinion is that sexuality is developed based on someone's environment and sexual relationships. See also queer theory.


In ancient Athens, sexual attraction between men was the norm. In the Levant, however, persons who committed homosexual acts were stoned to death at the same period in history that young Alcibiades attempted to seduce Socrates to glean wisdom from him. As presented by Plato in his Symposium, Socrates did not "daily" with young Alcibiades, and instead treated him as his father or brother would when they spent the night sharing a blanket. And in Xenophon's Symposium Socrates strongly speaks against men kissing each other, saying that doing so will make them slavish, i.e., risk something that seems akin to an addiction to homosexual acts.

Although there has been a lot of debate regarding homosexuality, there is evidence that supports the notion that individuals are born with their sexual orientation. There was a study in 1991 that showed the hypothalamus of a gay man differed with that of a straight man.[37] Also there is however a debate that environmental aspects impact the sexuality of individuals.

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 homosexual rape, would still be fairly straightforward cases of unethical behavior.

See also


  1. ^ "Sexual Ethics".
  2. ^ See usage note on wiktionary:ethics.
  3. ^ "Marital Rape Law in the UK: what is it? | Lawtons Solicitors". Lawtons Solicitors (UK). Retrieved 2019-04-12.
  4. ^ "Where is it illegal to be gay?". BBC News. 10 February 2014 – via
  5. ^ "Maps - Sexual orientation laws | ILGA". Retrieved 2019-04-12.
  6. ^ Stein, Michael D.; Freedberg, Kenneth A.; Sullivan, Lisa M.; Savetsky, Jacqueline; Levenson, Suzette M.; Hingson, Ralph; Samet, Jeffrey H. (1998-02-09). "Sexual Ethics". Archives of Internal Medicine. 158 (3): 253–7. doi:10.1001/archinte.158.3.253. ISSN 0003-9926. PMID 9472205.
  7. ^ Friedman, Jaclyn; Jessica Valenti (2008). Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape. Seal Press. ISBN 978-1-58005-257-3.
  8. ^ Corinna, Heather. "What Is Feminist Sex Education?". Scarleteen. Retrieved October 3, 2010.
  9. ^ Corinna, Heather (2010-05-11). "How Can Sex Ed Prevent Rape?". Scarleteen. Retrieved October 3, 2010.
  10. ^ Stephen J. Schulhofer (May 5, 2000). Unwanted Sex: The Culture of Intimidation and the Failure of Law (trade paperback) (New ed.). Harvard University Press. pp. 1, 2. ISBN 978-0674002036.
  11. ^ A number of American Law Institute members (May 12, 2015). "Sexual Assualt [sic] at the American Law Institute--Controversy Over the Criminalization of Sexual Contact in the Proposed Revision of the Model Penal Code" (quoted memorandum of ALI members). Larry Catá Backer. Retrieved June 28, 2015. Section 213.0(5) defines “sexual contact” expansively, to include any touching of any body part of another person, whether done by the actor or by the person touched. Any kind of contact may qualify; there are no limits on either the body part touched or the manner in which it is touched….
  12. ^ Duggan, Lisa; Hunter, Nan D. (1995). Sex wars: sexual dissent and political culture. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-91036-1.
  13. ^ Hansen, Karen Tranberg; Philipson, Ilene J. (1990). Women, class, and the feminist imagination: a socialist-feminist reader. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 978-0-87722-630-7.
  14. ^ Gerhard, Jane F. (2001). Desiring revolution: second-wave feminism and the rewriting of American sexual thought, 1920 to 1982. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-11204-8.
  15. ^ Leidholdt, Dorchen; Raymond, Janice G (1990). The Sexual liberals and the attack on feminism. New York: Pergamon Press. ISBN 978-0-08-037457-4.
  16. ^ Vance, Carole S. Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality. Thorsons Publishers. ISBN 978-0-04-440593-1.
  17. ^ a b Parsons, Elsie Clews (1916-07). "Feminism and Sex Ethics". The International Journal of Ethics. 26 (4): 462–465. doi:10.1086/intejethi.26.4.2376467. ISSN 1526-422X. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  18. ^ "Age of Consent Laws By Country". Retrieved 2016-09-25.
  19. ^ "Are you old enough?". Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  20. ^ "Human Rights Voices – , August 21, 2008". Archived from the original on January 21, 2013.
  21. ^ "Home". AIDSPortal. Archived from the original on 2008-10-26.
  22. ^ a b "Iran". Archived from the original on 2013-08-01.
  23. ^ "United Nations Human Rights Website – Treaty Bodies Database – Document – Summary Record – Kuwait".
  24. ^ "Culture of Maldives – history, people, clothing, women, beliefs, food, customs, family, social".
  25. ^ Fakim, Nora (9 August 2012). "BBC News – Morocco: Should pre-marital sex be legal?". BBC News.
  26. ^ "Legislation of Interpol member states on sexual offences against children – Oman" (PDF). Interpol. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 May 2016.
  27. ^ "2010 Human Rights Report: Mauritania". 8 April 2011.
  28. ^ Dubai FAQs. "Education in Dubai".
  29. ^ Judd, Terri (10 July 2008). "Briton faces jail for sex on Dubai beach – Middle East – World". The Independent.
  30. ^ "Sudan must rewrite rape laws to protect victims". Reuters. 28 June 2007.
  31. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "Refworld | Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa – Yemen". UNHCR.
  32. ^ Premarital sex Definition. The Free Dictionary.
  33. ^ Sex and Society. New York: Marshall Cavendish Reference. 2010. ISBN 978-0761479079.
  34. ^ "Global Views on Morality: Premarital Sex". 2014-04-15.
  35. ^ "The Human Cost of 'Crushing' the Market: Criminalization of Sex Work in Norway: Executive Summary" (PDF). Amnesty International. 2016.
  36. ^ Jones, Reginald L. (2010). LGBT Issues: Looking beyond categories. Policy and Practice in Health and Social Care. Dunedin Academic. p. 10 – via
  37. ^ Park, Alice (2008-06-17). "What the Gay Brain Looks Like". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2016-11-26.

Further reading

External links

Alexander Pruss

Alexander Robert Pruss (born January 5, 1973) is a Canadian mathematician, philosopher, Professor of Philosophy and the Co-Director of Graduate Studies in Philosophy at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

His best known book is The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment (2006). He is also the author of the books, Actuality, Possibility and Worlds (2011), and One Body: An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics (2012), and a number of academic papers on religion and theology. He maintains his own philosophy blog and contributes to the Prosblogion philosophy of religion blog.

Bernadette Brooten

Bernadette J. Brooten is an American religious scholar and Kraft-Hiatt Professor of Christian Studies at Brandeis University.Brooten graduated from University of Portland with a B.A., and Harvard University with a Ph.D. in 1982.

She studied theology at the University of Tübingen and at Hebrew University.

She taught at the Claremont Graduate School, the University of Tübingen, Harvard Divinity School, and the University of Oslo with a 1998 Fulbright Fellowship.

She served on the Advisory Committee for the Women's Studies in Religion Program at Harvard Divinity School from 1997 to 2008.

Brooten is the founder and director of the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project at Brandeis. The project aims to create Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sexual ethics rooted in freedom, mutuality, meaningful consent, responsibility, and female (as well as male) pleasure, untainted by slave-holding values. These religions' sacred texts and traditions have all tolerated slavery, which has frequently involved the sexual exploitation of women and girls. Brooten heads a team of scholars, activists, artists, and policy analysts who are disentangling the nexus of slavery, religion, women, and sexuality. They aim to help religious and other people complete the abolition of slavery and move beyond harmful racial and sexual stereotypes.

Her work is located primarily within the New Testament, post-biblical Judaism, early literature and history, women and religion, and feminist sexual ethics (with a particular focus on law and sexuality). Her books have won numerous awards and she has been recognized for her service to the field of Biblical Literature.

She is currently writing a book on early Christian women who were enslaved or who owned enslaved laborers.

Casting couch

The casting couch, casting-couch syndrome, or casting-couch mentality is the exchange of sexual favors by an employer or person in a position of power and authority, from an apprentice employee, or subordinate to a superior in return for entry into an occupation, or for other career advancement within an organization. The term casting couch originated in the motion picture industry, with specific reference to couches in offices that could be used for sexual activity between casting directors or film producers and aspiring actors.

Catholic moral theology

Catholic moral theology is a major category of doctrine in the Catholic Church, equivalent to a religious ethics. Moral theology encompasses Roman Catholic social teaching, Catholic medical ethics, sexual ethics, and various doctrines on individual moral virtue and moral theory. It can be distinguished as dealing with "how one is to act", in contrast to dogmatic theology which proposes "what one is to believe".

Catholic theology of sexuality

Catholic theology of sexuality, like Catholic theology in general, is drawn from natural law, canonical scripture, divine revelation, and sacred tradition, as interpreted authoritatively by the magisterium of the Catholic Church. Sexual morality evaluates sexual behavior according to standards laid out by Catholic moral theology, and often provides general principles by which Catholics are able to evaluate whether specific actions meet these standards. Much of the Church's detailed doctrines derive from the principle that "sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive [between spouses] purposes". At the same time, the Bishops at Vatican II decreed that the essential procreative end of marriage does not make "the other purposes of matrimony of less account."The Catholic Church teaches that human life and human sexuality are inseparable. Because Catholics believe God created human beings in his own image and likeness and that he found everything he created to be "very good," the Catholic Church teaches that human body and sex must likewise be good. The Church considers the expression of love between husband and wife to be an elevated form of human activity, joining husband and wife in complete, mutual self-giving, and opening their relationship to new life. As Pope Paul VI wrote in Humanae vitae, “The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, ‘noble and worthy.’” In cases in which sexual expression is sought outside sacramental marriage, or in which the procreative function of sexual expression within marriage is deliberately frustrated (e.g., the use of artificial contraception), the Catholic Church expresses grave moral concern.

The Church teaches that sexual intercourse has a purpose; and that outside marriage it is contrary to its purpose. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "conjugal love ... aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul", since the marriage bond is to be a sign of the love between God and humanity.Among what are considered sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography, homosexual practices, and artificial contraception. Procurement of abortion, in addition to being considered grave matter, carries, under the conditions envisaged by canon law, the penalty of excommunication, "by the very commission of the offense".

Consent (BDSM)

Consent within BDSM is when a participant gives their permission for certain acts or types of relationships. It bears much in common with the concept of informed consent and is simultaneously a personal, ethical and social issue. It is an issue that attracts much attention within BDSM, resulting in competing models of consent such as Safe, sane and consensual and Risk-aware consensual kink. Observers from outside the BDSM community have also commented on the issue of consent in BDSM, sometimes referring to legal consent which is a separate and largely unrelated matter. However, the presence of explicit consent within BDSM can often have implications for BDSM and the law and, depending on the country the participants are in, may make the differences between being prosecuted or not.

Where an act has been previously consented to, the consent can be terminated at any point, and by any participant, through using a safeword. Within BDSM it is generally considered a high risk activity to engage in BDSM without a safeword. Acts undertaken with a lack of explicit consent may be considered abusive and those who ignore the use of a safeword may be shunned within the BDSM subculture. One study has shown that BDSM negotiations to establish consent consist of four parts covering style of play, body parts, limits and safewords.


An ensenhamen (Old Occitan [enseɲaˈmen]; meaning "instruction" or "teaching") was an Old Occitan didactic (often lyric) poem associated with the troubadours. As a genre of Occitan literature, its limits have been open to debate since it was first defined in the 19th century. The word ensenhamen has many variations in old Occitan: essenhamen, ensegnamen, enseinhamen, and enseignmen.

The ensenhamen had its own subgenres, such as "conduct literature" that told noblewomen the proper way to comport themselves and "mirror of princes" literature that told the nobleman how to be chivalrous. Besides these were types defining and encouraging courtly love and courtly behaviour, from topics as mundane as table manners to issues of sexual ethics.

The earliest attestable ensenhamen was written around 1155 by Garin lo Brun. It is the Ensenhamen de la donsela ("Instruction of the girl"). Around 1170 Arnaut Guilhem de Marsan wrote the Ensenhamen del cavaier ("Instruction of the knight") for a warrior audience. A decade or so later Arnaut de Mareuil wrote a long, classically-informed ensenhamen on cortesia (courtesy). In the 1220s or 1230s the subjet of honour was treated by the Italian troubadour Sordel in his Ensenhamen d'onor and by Uc de Saint Circ in a similarly titled work. Late in the thirteenth century the Catalan Cerverí de Girona wrote an ensenhamen of proverbs in 1,197 quartets for his son. Even later, another Catalan troubadour, Amanieu de Sescars, composed two ensenhamens: the Ensenhamen del scudier ("Instruction of the squire") dictating ideal knightly behaviour and the Ensenhamen de la donsela ("Instruction of the girl") prescribing respectable behaviour for young women. Daude de Pradas wrote an ensenhamen on the four cardinal virtues. Peire Lunel wrote L'essenhamen del guarso in 1326, the latest example of the genre. At de Mons and Raimon Vidal are other known contributors to the genre.

There were also mock ensenhamens designed to satirise the jongleurs. Fadet juglar by Guiraut de Calanso is an example. Bertran de Paris and Guiraut de Cabreira (Cabra joglar) are known to also have written this way.

Feminist views on BDSM

Feminist views on BDSM vary widely from acceptance to rejection. BDSM refers to bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and Sado-Masochism. In order to evaluate its perception, two polarizing frameworks are compared. Some feminists, such as Gayle Rubin and Patrick Califia, perceive BDSM as a valid form of expression of female sexuality, while other feminists, such as Andrea Dworkin and Susan Griffin, have stated that they regard BDSM as a form of woman-hating violence. Some lesbian feminists practice BDSM and regard it as part of their sexual identity.The historical relationship between feminists and BDSM practitioners has been controversial. The two most extreme positions reflect those who believe that feminism and BDSM are mutually exclusive beliefs, and those who believe that BDSM practices are a fundamental expression of sexual freedom. Much of the controversy is left over from the feminist sex wars (acrimonious debates over sex issues) and the battle between the anti-pornography feminists and the pro-pornography feminists.

Judith Plaskow

Judith Plaskow (born March 14, 1947 in Brooklyn) is Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College. Her scholarly interests focus on contemporary religious thought with a specialization in feminist theology. Plaskow has lectured widely on feminist theology in the United States and Europe. She co-founded The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion and co-edited it for its first ten years. She is past President of the American Academy of Religion.

She received a B.A. from Clark University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University.

She came out as a lesbian in the 1980s.In 1981 she helped found the Jewish feminist group B'not Esh (Daughters of Fire).Plaskow has written two books, Sex, Sin and Grace: Women's Experience and the Theologies of Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich (1980) and Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective (1991), as well as a collection of essays entitled The Coming of Lilith: Essays on Feminism, Judaism, and Sexual Ethics (2005). Her book Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective (1991) is the first book of Jewish feminist theology ever written.She has co-edited three books: Women and Religion (1973), Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion (1979), and Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (1989). She has also published numerous articles in edited volumes and journals. She also wrote chapter 14 of Transforming the Faiths of our Fathers: Women who Changed American Religion (2004), edited by Ann Braude.

Kecia Ali

Kecia Ali (born 1972) is an American scholar of Islam who focuses on the study of Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh) and Women in Early and Modern Islam. She is currently a Professor of Religion at Boston University. She previously held a position at Brandeis University's Feminist Sexual Ethics Project, and was a research associate and postdoctoral fellow at Brandeis University (2001–2003) and Harvard Divinity School.

Margaret Farley

Margaret A. Farley (born April 15, 1935) is an American religious sister and a member of the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy. She was Gilbert L. Stark Professor Emerita of Christian Ethics at Yale University Divinity School, where she taught Christian ethics from 1971 to 2007.

Farley is the first woman appointed to serve full-time on the Yale School board, along with Henri Nouwen as its first Catholic faculty members. She is a past president of Catholic Theological Society of America.Farley's controversial book, Just Love (2006), brought criticism and censure from the Holy See, specifically the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for moral views which oppose the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, but her book and views has received both support and endorsement from the groups Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Catholic Theological Society of America.

Nordic sexual morality debate

The Nordic sexual morality debate (Danish: sædelighedsfejden, Swedish: sedlighetsdebatten, Norwegian: sedelighetsdebatten) was the name for a cultural movement and public debate in Scandinavia in the 1880s, where sexuality and sexual morals were discussed in newspapers, magazines, books and theatrical plays.

The topic was criticism of the contemporary sexual double standards, in which it was socially acceptable for men to have premarital sexual experience, while women were expected to be virgins, and the contemporary view on prostitution, which was sanctioned as a "necessary evil" because of this double standard, an issue that had been raised by Svenska Federationen in 1878.

The debate was divided in two sides: the moderate one, where Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson was the most known representative, wished to solve this double standard by demanding that men also be virgins on their wedding night, as women were. The radical one, where Edvard Brandes and Georg Brandes were the most known representatives, demanded that women be free to enjoy a sexual life prior to marriage, as men were.

Getting Married (collection) by August Strindberg and the legal court case that surrounded it was one of the perhaps most known incidents during the debate. It also caused a debate within the literary world whether literature should touch these questions at all. Other well-known works in the debate are Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House (Et Dukkehjem), the novel Money (Pengar) by Viktoria Benedictsson, and the novel Pyrhussegrar by Stella Kleve.

Outline of sexual ethics

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to sexual ethics:

Sexual ethics – branch of philosophy that explores the moral obligations, and permissibility, or impermissibility of sexual activities. Also deals with issues arising from all aspects of sexuality and human sexual behaviour relating to the community and personal standards regarding the conduct of interpersonal relationships, including issues of consent, sexual relations before marriage and/or while married, including the issues of marital fidelity and premarital and non-marital sex, sexual orientation, and more.


Pudicitia ("modesty" or "sexual virtue") was a central concept in ancient Roman sexual ethics. The word is derived from the more general pudor, the sense of shame that regulated an individual's behavior as socially acceptable. Pudicitia was most often a defining characteristic of women, but men who failed to conform to masculine sexual norms were said to exhibit feminizing impudicitia, sexual shamelessness. The virtue was personified by the Roman goddess Pudicitia, whose Greek equivalent was Aidos.

Religious views on pornography

Religious views on pornography are based on broader religious views on modesty, human dignity, sexuality and other virtues which may reflect negatively on pornography. Different religious groups view pornography and sexuality differently.

People who identify themselves as very religious and consume porn are more likely to consider themselves as addicted to porn (an addiction that is not recognized in the psychiatric handbook DSM-V) than a non-religious reference group according to a 2013 study, but no connection between level of religious devotion and amount of porn consumed was shown in that study.

Sexual Morality and the Law

Sexual Morality and the Law is the transcription of a 1978 radio conversation in Paris between philosopher Michel Foucault, playwright/actor/lawyer Jean Danet, and novelist/gay activist Guy Hocquenghem, debating the idea of abolishing age of consent laws in France.

In 1977, the issue was brought to public attention in France by a petition against age of consent laws addressed to the Parliament, defending the decriminalization of all consented sexual relations between adults and minors below the age of fifteen (the age of consent in France). Foucault stated that the petition was signed by several philosophers including himself, Jacques Derrida, Louis Althusser, pediatrician and psychoanalyst Françoise Dolto, and also by people he described as belonging to a wide range of political positions.The dialogue was broadcast on April 4, 1978 by radio France Culture. It was originally published in French as La loi de la pudeur [literally, "The law of decency"] and reprinted in English as The Danger of Child Sexuality. The text was later included under the title Sexual Morality and the Law in Foucault’s book Politics, Philosophy, Culture – Interviews and other writings, 1977–1984.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is usually undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another. It is often perpetrated using force or by taking advantage of another. When force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The offender is referred to as a sexual abuser or (often pejoratively) molester. The term also covers any behavior by an adult or older adolescent towards a child to stimulate any of the involved sexually. The use of a child, or other individuals younger than the age of consent, for sexual stimulation is referred to as child sexual abuse or statutory rape.

Sexual misconduct

Sexual misconduct is an umbrella term for any misconduct of a sexual nature that is of lesser offense than felony sexual assault (such as rape and molestation), particularly where the situation is normally non-sexual and therefore unusual for sexual behavior, or where there is some aspect of personal power or authority that makes sexual behavior inappropriate. A common theme, and the reason for the term misconduct, is that these violations occur during work or in a situation of a power imbalance. It is a legal concept to frame offenses which are non-criminal but nevertheless violating of another person's personal boundary in the area of sexuality and intimate personal relationships.

Sexual misconduct is often perpetrated against an individual without their consent or where the power dynamics of the relationship are being challenged in an effort to redefine the nature or form of consent necessary in a given circumstance. The alleged misconduct can be of various degrees, such as exposure of genitals, assault, aggressive come-ons, pleading, or even inattentiveness to nonverbal cues of discomfort. The "definition of sexual misconduct is far from clear" and it is a "lay term, sometimes used in institutional policies or by professional bodies", to deal with cases marked by power imbalance, coercion, and predatory behaviour."

Sexual objectification

Sexual objectification is the act of treating a person as a mere object of sexual desire. Objectification more broadly means treating a person as a commodity or an object without regard to their personality or dignity. Objectification is most commonly examined at the level of a society, but can also refer to the behavior of individuals and is a type of dehumanization.

Although both males and females can be the subjects of sexual objectification, the objectification of women is an important idea in many feminist theories and psychological theories derived from them. Many feminists regard sexual objectification as playing an important role in gender inequality. Psychologists associate objectification with a host of physical and mental health risks in women.

Physiology and biology
Health and
Identity and diversity
and society
By country
Sex industry
Religion and
Sexual ethics
Human sexuality
Child sexuality
Sexual abuse
Age of consent (reform)
Sexual relationship
Sexual dynamics
See also
Applied ethics
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