1. There are three characteristics in which sex can be ‘better’ in terms of morality



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Better Sex

Sara Ruddick


1. There are three characteristics in which sex can be ‘better’ in terms of morality.

2. One sex act is morally better than another if it allows for the person to benefit from it, where “benefit” is read in terms of experiences, objects or relationships.


One example: X is better sex act than Y iff X is not unjust or does not make the person unjust; so it should leads to (a) giving others their due, giving and taking in fairness and (b) it should not lead one to be disposed against these things.


  • so here we have a VE criterion; either the act itself must be virtuous or it must lead to greater virtue.

3. Sexual Pleasure.


Sexual pleasure is like addictive pleasure – it increases the demand for more of the same.

Sensual pleasure, unlike other pleasures or perhaps simply because it is more powerful, has the ability to alter the ways in which we perceive objects in the world.


4. Complete Sex Acts
a) Completeness depends on the relation of the participants to their own and to each other’s desire.

  • Embodiment: requires allowing oneself to be taken over by desire, so that one’s own body moves in a way that is harmonious with desiring.

    • Required, but not enough – masturbation meets this goal.

  • Embodiment requires acknowledging and moving in a way that responds to the other’s desire. This means that I must, unthinkingly, respond to the other’s movements in a way that acknowledges and participates in their desires.

    • To have to think about it, or for it to be ‘mechanical’ or ‘disjointed’ is to fail in embodiment.

    • Do men always appreciate women’s desires? What do women tend to complain about most? Failure to touch.

  • Embodiment requires that we be active desirers. We must acknowledge and embrace our own desire. Only in this way can we be recognized by others in the situation.

    • Some might actually not embrace their own desire, but “submit” to “demand”

    • Active desiring as an agent is not as encouraged in women as in men

    • Women in pornography seen as active desirers, women are supposed to not really embody active desiring and men don’t seem to seek it out.

2. It is clear here that many sex acts can be pleasurable but not complete.


5. Sexual Perversion – Natural Sex
The most obvious way to characterize natural is through reproduction.
The criterion of naturalness is not the same as the experience of it.

  • from our experience, all sexual desires are natural.

  • From the function, we are told that only some are natural.

So it looks like perversion as a category requires that we separate experience from function.


From this standpoint, natural sex is a social achievement, it is a social organization of sexual desires towards what is functionally natural and away from what is functionally unnatural.
Perhaps it is not reproduction that is the aim of natural sex (otherwise sterile couples would be barred from it) but rather heterosexual genital activity.
Ruddick’s point here is that perversion cannot determine if a sexual act is complete. If perverse acts tend to be incomplete, it will not be because of the notion of completeness, it will be something about perversion. Clearly, unnatural actions (thinking of heterosexual sex) can be complete – for example oral sex.
6. Is Better Sex Really Better?
What is the moral status of this way of describing sex? Are pleasureful, complete, natural sex acts better? One way to think of each category is to think of its consequences.


  • Perversion. You could think of it in terms of the need for population. Do we want to limit, or increase, human population? The same act could be perverse or natural with respect to that aim.

  • Sexual pleasure. Good if you want to create bonds, bad if you want to thwart them (the army).

  • Completeness. Perhaps amenable to cooperation, not to revolt.

Should, though, the moral status of sex be influenced by social factors? This would be a consequentialist or utilitarian view on the morality of these factors.


7. The Moral Benefits of Sexual Pleasure
It appears that sexual pleasure is a recreation. And so it seems as if the pursuit of it cannot be taken seriously. Also, our ability to experience it seems to be influenced by factors outside of our control.
But don’t we need recreation as human beings?
8. The Moral Significance of Perversion
Ruddick’s claim: there is no connection between being natural and being good.

Is it the case that perverted sex is less pleasureful?


Is it less complete (no)?

So then what is the problem with it, morally?


Perhaps it is that perverted sex acts rule make other social benefits impossible. Perhaps, say, homosexuals cannot properly raise children. But then we’d just be in a dilemma: should I pursue the benefits of parenthood or the benefits of pleasureful, complete sex acts?
What about other perversions?
1. Sadism

2. Rape


3. Voyerism
All of these appear to be perverse because it is not possible for them to be complete?
9. The Moral Significance of Completeness
Conductive to our own psychological well-being.
Completeness is a benefit because it confers upon us recognition of our personhood.

It resolves tensions fundamental to moral life.


It is conducive to emotions that, if they become dominant, are conducive to love and care.

They involve a pre-eminently moral virtue – respect for persons.


Complete sex opens us up to vulnerabilities that are linked to psychological well-being. If we are cheated in some way, then the other person is cruel and as a result we are harmed because we will not associate with our desires any longer. We cannot be “whole persons” with the capacity to love.
The primary aim of sexuality is sexual pleasure. However, to organize our sexual behavior towards completeness is merely to take notice of the fact that incomplete sex acts tend to be harmful to ourselves and to others, whereas complete sex acts tend to be beneficial to ourselves and to others.
Complete sex develops in us the dispositions to see the world in terms of persons, not tools.
Can incomplete sexual experiences tend to ruin the possibility of complete sexual experiences?
10. On Sexual Morality: Conclusions
Are minors capable of engaging in complete sex acts?


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