PM5104: On sexual ethics

Sexual ethics is the division of applied ethics which considers the ethics of human sexuality. On many of these questions there are two major approaches - on the one hand, there are those such as conservative/traditionalist Christians, Jews, Muslims, and followers of other religions, who see God as having a particular plan for human sexuality, and judging sexual acts for their conformance to this plan - on the other hand, there is an approach favoured by secular and religious liberals, which believes that consenting adults should be free to engage in whatever sexual activities make them happy. There are a number of differences of opinion or approach within each view.

Particular issues

Homosexuality

One issue is homosexuality. Here, the conservative approach sees heterosexuality as part of God's plan, and thus believes homosexuality to be morally deficient. By contrast, the liberal approach sees homosexuality as part of the natural variation of human beings (and other animals), and thus believes that society should treat homosexuality and heterosexuality equally. Subordinate issues include:

  • whether homosexuality should be decriminalised? — historically homosexual acts have been criminal in many countries; although in Western countries these laws have been abolished, they still exist in many non-Western countries
  • whether the government should give legal recognition to homosexual relationships equivalent to that given to heterosexual ones? — such as by extending marriage to same-sex couples, or by setting up some parallel system such as civil unions
  • whether homosexual couples or individuals should be allowed to adopt children?
  • whether there should be legal protections against discrimination against gay people, and to what extent should those protections provide exceptions for those with moral objections to homosexuality, including religious groups or individual believers?
  • whether there should be restrictions on speech which disapproves of homosexuality, or do the free speech rights of those with moral objections take precedence?

Pre-marital sex

The conservative view sees marriage as an essential social institution, established by God; sex outside of marriage is immoral - thus pre-marital sex is rejected, and abstinence until marriage is insisted upon. The liberal view sees marriage as an institution which takes many different forms in many different cultures, a human creation, whose relevance or importance is up to each individual to decide for themselves.

Polygamy and open relationships

Different approaches to sexual ethics can also be seen in the issues of polygamy and open/polyamorous relations. In Christianity and Judaism, marriage is seen as a relationship between two people - the ideal is Adam and Eve. Although polygamy was permitted in some historical circumstances, it was never the ideal, and in contemporary circumstances there is no reason for it to be accepted.

The liberal viewpoint believes that all sexual relations are morally permissible between consenting adults; thus, if people have multi-partner relations with the full knowledge and consent of all the parties, there can be no moral objection. This is distinguished from the case of multi-partner relations without knowledge or consent, concerning which liberals tend to share a negative view with conservatives, although liberals will often not feel adultery to be as seriously wrong as conservatives feel it to be.

There are two very different groups involved here, with little in common beyond a rejection of society's standard of monogamy. On the one hand, there are the polygamists, belonging to Islam, fundamentalist Mormonism, and other non-mainstream Christian groups. They believe in exclusively polygyny (one husband, many wives), not polyandry (one wife, many husbands) nor polygynandry (many wives and many husbands); they reject homosexuality, and generally have very conservative views on sexual morality. On the other hand, are the polyamorists, who believe in "free love", with each person able to have as many partners as they wish, without concern for the genders of those involved, and a liberal sexual morality in general. Conservative defenders of monogamy oppose both groups. Some liberals will also oppose polygamy, on the grounds that it is oppressive to women, and many of the groups who practice it engage in forced and underage marriages. Other liberals concentrate more on the rights of adults to have as many simultaneous consenting sexual partners as they wish.

Artificial contraception

Some denominations, the Catholic Church in particular, see artificial contraception as interfering with God's design for the human body, and as disobedient to God's command to "be fruitful and multiply". The Catholic Church also views contraception as something which enables many other forms of sexual sin, by reducing the fear of pregnancy or sexually-transmitted diseases. However, natural methods of contraception are seen as acceptable, such as avoiding sexual intercourse during the fertile part of the woman's menstrual cycle.

Other denominations differ in their views - some Protestant churches also oppose contraception, others accept it for use within marriage only. By contrast, liberal sexual ethics sees contraception as a good thing, preventing the birth of children in undesirable circumstances, preventing the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, and enabling people to enjoy sexual pleasure without negative consequences. There are also some techniques which are called "contraception" (especially "emergency contraception"), but which rather than preventing conception, actually prevent implantation of the fertilized embryo in the womb - which many thus believe to be a form of abortion.

Divorce

Some Christian denominations - most notably the Catholic Church - reject divorce, based on Jesus saying "What God has joined together let no man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6; see also Mark 10:9). However, the Catholic church does permit annulment, which is much more restricted than divorce is.

Many other Christian denominations permit divorce, but they believe it is not a good thing, and is far too common and easily obtainable in modern Western society.

Judaism and Islam have always permitted divorce, although they are subject to complicated rules - these rules have been criticised as being biased against women.

A liberal view sees divorce as the best option in many cases - either when a relationship is abusive, or even when a couple have grown apart and no longer feel the same love for each other that they once did. From a liberal viewpoint, if one is unhappy in a marriage, ending the marriage can be an opportunity to find a new relationship in which you may be happier.

Pornography

Another dispute relates to pornography. A conservative moral perspective sees pornography as deviating from the divine plan for human sexuality, as encouraging other forms of sexual immorality, and as resulting in the exploitation of the vulnerable. Many liberals, by contrast, see it as morally neutral or even as a good thing, as something which enables people to explore their sexuality. This is an issue, however, where the labels of "conservative" and "liberal" do not always so easily apply - many (but not all) feminists, who otherwise have quite liberal views on sexual ethics, are opposed to pornography as exploiting and objectifying women.

Prostitution

The conservative viewpoint rejects prostitution. There are many passages in the Bible which condemn it, and associate it with pagan religious practices of temple prostitution. Liberal views vary - some liberals with a feminist approach oppose prostitution as a form of economic and sexual exploitation of women; others support it as entailed by social, economic or bodily/sexual freedom - "it's my body and I can sell it if I want" - whereas a biblical view sees people's bodies as not belonging to themselves, but belonging to God, and thus not theirs to sell. Some liberals are also sympathetic to the ancient pagan practices of temple prostitution, which the Bible strongly condemns.

Masturbation

Conservatives are opposed to masturbation, seeing it as unhealthy for the mind, as producing unwholesome thoughts — Jesus says in Matthew 5:28 that for a man to look upon a woman lustfully is to commit adultery with her in his heart — as producing addiction, and as often associated with the evils of pornography. Liberals by contrast see masturbation as a natural and healthy form of sexual release, and a form of self-education.

Singleness and celibacy

The Bible speaks positively of singleness — Matthew 19:12 (assuming eunuch in this verse is meant figuratively rather than literally), 1 Corinthians 7:7-8. The Catholic Church formalised this call into compulsory celibacy for the clergy, and celibate orders of monks and nuns. Protestants have not accepted the requirement of celibacy, but many still view singleness as something to which certain people are called by God. Liberals tend to view celibacy and extended singleness, as unhealthy, and missing out on an important part of life - although it may be the natural choice for some people with unusually low sexual appetites (asexuality). The Bible however sees singleness as a call, not just for those with little sexual drive, but also for some who have to fight against their sexual inclinations in order to fulfill this call — some think this is the "thorn in the flesh" Paul alludes to in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

Areas of agreement

Despite the deep differences of opinion between conservatives and liberals, there are some areas of common ground in sexual ethics: such as the belief in the immorality of sexual acts which involve non-consenting partners (rape, sexual slavery), or those who are incapable of consent (children or the intellectually disabled).

In Maratreanism

Maratreanism cannot really be described as following either approach. The end results are nearer to the liberal perspective; but the steps to get their nearer to the conservative. Like conservative Jews, Christians or Muslims, Maratreanism sees human sexuality as an essential part of the divine plan, and beliefs that sexual ethics should be judged accordingly. However, for Maratreans, the divine plan is inclusive rather than exclusive - homosexuality plays just an important a role in the divine plan for human sexuality as heterosexuality does.

For Maratreans, the divine plan is to return all souls to their original oneness with another, to reunite all souls as one. This is to be achieved, not by merging all souls together at once, but by a series of successive mergers. These mergers are not forced upon the souls - rather, they are seduced into them. Human sexuality, as a kind of union of bodies, signifies, prophesies, and foretells, the coming union of souls. This union of souls is not (ordinarily) known in this life, but only in the next.

From the nature of this process of union, we can derive our sexual ethic. Since the union of souls is voluntary, not forced upon us, we must therefore condemn as immoral, being contrary to the divine plan, non-voluntary sexual acts such as rape. The process of union does not finish with the union of two souls; the resultant unified soul then goes on to participate in yet further unions. As a sign of this, we support multi-partner relationships, those with more than three partners. They are not compulsory, but only for those who feel called to this way of life. This is not the same thing as adultery or cheating - it is only morally acceptable if done with the full knowledge and consent of all those involved. It is different from the practice of polygamy, which in many versions (Islam, fundamentalist Mormonism, Christian polygamy) is restricted to only one man and multiple wives - we accept any combination - all women, all men, one man and several women, one woman and several men, several men and several women.

Homosexuality

Because the process of union begins, not with all souls merging together as one, but with many individual unions between individual souls, it follows all these unions will have a different nature, in accord with the developed nature of the souls so uniting. Thus there is properly immense diversity in human sexuality - both heterosexual and homosexual - and that diversity is part of the divine plan. As such, Maratreanism is fully accepting of homosexuality as equal in value to heterosexuality, and deserving of equal recognition by society.

This means that Maratreanism believes that:

  • homosexual relations should completely legal — laws against them are worthless and evil laws that must be abolished — these laws are repugnant to the law of heaven, and the law of the cause
  • governments must extend full and equal recognition to homosexual relationships. Maratreanism rejects half-hearted solutions such as civil unions, except as temporary compromises — separate but equal is never equal. Maratreanism also rejects proposals for marriage privatization, since they deprive the state of the opportunity to give approval to these relationships, which it is obligated to do
  • limitations on the right of same-sex couples or non-heterosexual individuals to adopt children are immoral and must be abolished
  • the state must use its law-making power to protect sexual minorities, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, from discrimination

Maratreanism believes that a fair and reasonable balance needs to be struck between the right of sexual minorities to live lives free from discrimination and hate speech, on the one hand, and religious freedom and freedom of speech on the other.

Some people believe that same-sex love is a sin. I myself, believe that believing that same-sex love is a sin is itself a heinous sin.

Marriage vs. Enamouration

For discussion of the Maratrean attitude towards issues of marriage, divorce, polygamy, adultery, open relationships, etc. – see the article on enamouration

Artificial contraception

Unlike some other religious groups, which object to artificial contraception, Maratreanism endorses all effective forms of contraception; including methods such as emergency contraception which are sometimes objected to on anti-abortion grounds.

Pornography

Maratreanism takes a middle of the road position with respect to pornography. It neither joins those voices which will condemn it unconditionally; neither does it join those voices that see it as completely unproblematic. There is nothing in principle wrong with images of people naked, or images of people engaged in sexual activity; however, the contemporary pornography industry is exploitative and expresses a viewpoint about human sexuality with which we cannot agree. There is nothing inheretly wrong with images or video or other depictions of nudity or sexual acts, including when these depictions are sexually arousing to the viewer. At the same time, we need to pay attention to the context and messages of these works, and their means of production and distribution. Commercial pornography is open to ethical criticism on the grounds of the messages it often conveys (about people in general, and women in particular), and its capitalist means of production and distribution. Maratreanism is opposed to capitalism; however, the area of human sexuality is so central to the essence of being that the anti-capitalist position must be especially central in the area.

Prostitution

Maratreanism discourages prostitution in general, although it does not completely prohibit it. However, the same position we apply to pornography we should also apply to prostitution - we are opposed to capitalism, but in such a fundamental area as human sexuality we must make our opposition to it particularly clear. Thus, we must discourage prostitution insofar as it is an application to human sexuality of the capitalist economic system. At the same time we must oppose criminalization of prostitution as being counterproductive.

Masturbation

Maratreanism sees nothing wrong with masturbation in general, although it can be problematic in some specific cases.

Singleness and celibacy

Maratreanism sees the union of souls as an essential part of human destiny. Although there may be times in life when a period of singleness is beneficial, Maratreanism sees a life where romantic-sexual love is permanently lacking as deficient. The most severe form of this deficiency is when romantic-sexual love is willingly rejected in obedience to the misguided that such abstinence is a good thing; it is not. As such, Maratreanism rejects the institutions of celibacy which some religions favour; celibacy is prohibited in the Maratrean religion.

Bestiality

Bestiality refers to sex between humans and animals. Sexual conservatives reject it because it is against God's law or just plain disgusting. Some sexual liberals try to argue it is wrong because the animal can't consent, but that is only sometimes true - sometimes, the animal seems to enjoy it - arguments about informed consent are often analogies with the idea that children or the intellectually disabled cannot consent. However, this analogy doesn't really hold - children are beings who have not yet reached their full potential of adulthood, including of adult sexuality; the intellectually disabled are beings who may never reach that potential; adult animals have fully reached their potential, including the full potential of their sexuality.

What does Maratreanism say? Maratreanism does not approve of sexual relations between humans and animals; it agrees that they are to be discouraged, but it differs from both the conservative and liberal views as to why. Maratreanism asks - what is the fundamental purpose of sexuality? It is not reproduction; it is not just pleasure; it is not just building emotional bonds; it may do all these things, but these do not explain its true purpose. Its true purpose is to act as a sign which foretells and prophesies the coming union of souls. This union is certainly an emotional bond - but it is much more than an emotional bond. And it is certainly pleasurable - but a pleasure far greater than any physical sexuality. So the emotions and the pleasure can form part of this foretelling. What then about reproduction?

She created the world by dividing herself; it is her will that the world reunite to become one with her once again. And yet, they souls having divided cannot return to oneness once away - she must allow time enough for the world to be, and all the souls that will exist to come into existence - for these souls being not other than her, such is necessary for her existence which is necessary. Therefore, she creates distractions, she lays stumbling blocks in the way of the union of souls, to lead them astray, for a time, that they do not too soon have their union. And this very leading astray is also the cause of the very being of many of them, and thus of her own being. Thus, sex as reproduction is part of this very distraction - in the final days, reproduction shall first cease to be by sex, before ceasing entirely. Another aspect is when sex for pleasure is taken to positions which undermine the ultimate idea of sex as foretelling soul-union - such as pornography or prostitution. Or when sex is used as a means of power or violence, as in sexual assault. But we, belonging to the final end, let us know these distractions for what they are, and be not a part of them; for having sent forth distractions first, she then sends us forth second, her most holy Cause, for their undoing.

Thus we see bestiality as another distraction. We oppose it, not that we think it is necessarily bad for animals - but it is certainly bad for humans. It is limiting them from achieving their full potential of sexuality. We certainly love animals very deeply - great is our love for the sacred animals. But, animal sexuality is a distraction for us; the animals themselves, when they are raised to our level, shall renounce it in favour of the sexuality which we possess.

Animal souls do not directly unite; first they are transformed into human souls; and then in turn animal bodies are transformed into human bodies; finally, these transformed souls do merge as human souls do.

Incest

Maratreanism rejects incest; but for what reasons?

Some proffered reasons for prohibiting incest that don't make much sense: Firstly, passing on bad genes, risk of birth defects, etc. - these are only arguments against inbreeding (incestuous reproduction) not non-reproductive incestuous sex - e.g. homosexual incest, incestuous sex with the sterilized, infertile, post-menopausal, etc., incestuous heterosexual sex with contraception. Furthermore, laws or taboos against incest don't correspond with biological reality - sex between identical twin double cousins (each member of a pair of male identical twins has a child with the corresponding member of a pair is generally treated differently from sex between full siblings), even though from a genetic viewpoint these two cases are indistinguishable.

Secondly, issues of consent/abuse, etc. These concerns deserve more weight, but they can't justify a universal prohibition, only a prohibition in certain circumstances. Certainly where there is a difference in age (parents-children, older-younger siblings), then that may make impossible real consent, even among those who are now all adults. But, that cannot justify the prohibition of incest in every circumstance.

So, is there any reason left to prohibit incest? Maratreanism believes there is, and it concerns the union of souls. According to Maratreanism, sexual union foretells and signifies the union of souls. Maratrea is the sole ultimate parent of all, the ultimate parenthood to which all parenthood is to be compared. Union with the parent is the end of all things, the end of the world. Thus, that there be time enough for the worlds to be, union with the parent must be prohibited. This is the fundamental reason for the prohibition of parent-child incest; were it commonly accepted, it would cause the end of the universe. The child must turn from the parent to seek another - thus, the soul must seek another soul to merge with first, prior to union with Maratrea, which can only come at the end of all things, that the many worlds may have time enough for their existence. Union with Maratrea must wait for ultimate or penultimate merger (Suaretta is already in a real sense Maratrea, although she is not the fulness Maratrea until the fulness of her reunion with Suarenna.)

From the prohibition of parent-child incest flows every other incest prohibition; the sibling is under the authority of the parent; belonging to the parent, incest with the sibling is (by one degree of removal) incest with the parent, and thus prohibited under the same prohibition which prohibits incest with the parent.

It must be noted this prohibition must be ultimately lifted; but, by the time it is so lifted, we should not think there exist parents and children individually to violate it (by then they would already have merged with others), nor that physical sexuality any more exist - once souls are merging, there is no more any need for something to foretell and signify that merger. So, by the time the prohibition of incest is lifted, incest no longer would occur. So we can conclude that when it occurs it is prohibited, and when it is permitted it does not occur.

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