- PoS2: second edition, Alan Soble (ed.), 1981.
- PoS3: third edition, Alan Soble (ed.), 1997.
- PoS4: fourth edition, Alan Soble (ed.), 2003.
- PoS5: fifth edition, Alan Soble and Nicholas Power (eds), 2008.
- PoS6: sixth edition, Nicholas Power, Raja Halwani, and Alan Soble (eds), 2013.
- PoS7: seventh edition, Alan Soble, Raja Halwani, Jacob Held, and Sarah Hoffman (eds), 2017.
- PPSL: Philosophical Perspectives on Sex & Love, Robert M. Stewart (ed.), New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
- PSL: Philosophy: Sex and Love, James M. Petrik and Arthur Zucker (eds), Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2016.
- PSLR: Philosophy of Sex and Love: A Reader, Robert Trevas, Arthur Zucker, and Donald M. Borchert (eds), Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997.
Although the intentional view need not insist on the conceptual requirement of another person, its most common instantiation is the idea that sexual desire is interpersonal-that the agent’s sexual desire always seeks fulfillment with another person. Being a normal human being means having interpersonal attitudes, and sexual desire is no exception; it must have a proper direction and involve the “marshalling and directing of animal urges toward an interpersonal aim, and an interpersonal fulfillment” (Scruton 1986: 289). On one version, sexual desire involves multiple levels of awareness: X desires Y, desires that Y desire X, desires to be aroused by Y’s desire of X, and so on (Nagel 1969). Giles 2008: ch. 3). g., towards love), atop a descriptive one as an interpersonal attitude, whereas the trick is to articulate a normatively neutral interpersonal view. Other such views burden sexual desire with too much inter-personality (Russon 2017).
This is a feature-based account in that at point t in time, I desire someone in virtue of, say, the pleasure that his voice brings me, but at point t+1 I desire him in virtue of the sexual pleasure his body brings me. This allows the feature-based view to avoid being confined to the false binary of my desire for someone being either sexual or not, a problem that the object-based approach might face.
Sexual optimism claims that although sexual desire can be morally dangerous, it need not be and is usually not. They agree that its focus is on the body but do not see this as a problem. Sex intimately and pleasurably brings two (or more) people together. It is a force for good, establishing trust and strengthening human bonds. Unlike appetites,
By the above criteria, a definition of “sexual activity” is hard to find. One crucial reason might be that what we commonly think is a sexual act does not depend on one criterion: behavior, intentions, contact with body parts, etc., play a role depending on the context. Another reason might be that there are many concepts closely related to each other that nonetheless commonly mean different things. “To have sex” or “to engage in sex” almost always refer to sexual activity with at least one more person, whereas “engaging in a sexual activity)” and “having a sexual experience” do not have this reference, and they are not common expressions. Thus, defining these concepts is tricky if we want the definitions to agree with common linguistic usage, or if we rely on such usage to formulate these definitions. More worrisome, if we need to define these concepts for help with practical, moral, and legal issues, the rift between them and common language should give us pause.
“Sexual activity” is ultimately defined in terms of “sexual pleasure” via that of “sexual desire”. But which bodily pleasures? One answer is pleasure-as-sensation: those “experienced in the sexual parts of the body, i.e., the genitals and other parts that differentiate the sexes” (Primoratz 1999: 46). More generally, and accounting for sexual pleasures not located in the genitals, sexual pleasure
Returning to sexual orientation, its popular conception relies on dubious assumptions (Corvino 2006a; Dembroff 2017). (1) It assumes three basic orientations: homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual. (2) It includes the gender or sex of the person who has the orientation as an essential element of the orientation; X’s being gay means that X has the same sex/gender as the target of the orientation. (3) It is ambiguous between sex and gender: is a straight man attracted to the gender or the sex of women? (The same question arises regarding the person with the orientation.) (4) It assumes a binary of gender/sex for both parties, excluding people who exist outside the binary. (5) It is ambiguous between sexual and emotional attraction: if a man is emotionally attracted to other men, does that mean that he is gay or something else? (6) It is silent on what counts as the basic components of the orientation: is it behavior, desires, or fantasies? Finally, (7) it assumes the cross-temporal and cross-cultural existence of the three sexual orientations: there were gay men and gay women in 15 th century Russia just as there were in 21 st century North America, albeit with adjustment for cultural variances.
Perhaps fantasies are a better guide if we have a good way of distinguishing between fantasies that indicate the person’s sexual orientation and those that don’t (after all, David’s desire for Tom is a fantasy of sorts; Storms 1980). This might push us to ideal conditions again, to distinguish between someone’s real and “fake” fantasies. Or we might rely on initial sexual impulses: what sexually catches the eye of someone, without much thought: David does desire Tom’s oral skills, but what captures David’s sexual eye are women, not men.
2. Normative Issues
(2) Clear cases of sexual obligations exist in relationships (though the obligations are likely imperfect) because sexual activity is an expected and crucial aspect of (especially monogamous) relationships. Note that ordinarily threatening harm to someone unless they have sex is morally wrong, but threats to end a relationship unless the other party has sex (“Have sex with me or I will break up with you”) are not obviously wrong, further indicating that sexual obligations exist (Anderson 2013; Soble 2017a; Wertheimer 2003: ch. 12).
Both these variations might raise doubts, however, because they layer a normative view of sexual desire, dictating its aim (e
The Kantian view is that sexual desire objectifies by its nature and makes it impossible for the sexual partners to satisfy the Categorical Imperative. Equally problematic on this view is X objectifying him or herself-more accurately, allowing him or herself to be objectified by Y. Indeed, self-objectification is what makes the view particularly Kantian (Soble 2017b: 313). It also marks another difference with feminists’ understanding of objectification.