Notes on sexual ethics

-Something is very odd about rejecting nature as a standard in sexual ethics. No one disputes that the desire is simply natural- unlike, say, the desire to collect stamps, quilt, or see fireworks on the fourth of July. But if the desire is natural, it’s odd that we would say the exercise of the desire need not be.  Prima facie, this like saying that the engine is mechanical, but shouldn’t work mechanically.

-Aristotle argued that the “vegetative soul” (or, in contemporary terms “vegetative life”) was poorly named. It should be called the reproductive soul or reproductive life.

-Priests stand in for a congregation and offer gifts for them. Sexual activity has a sort of priestly function: we act for the sake of the species.

-The axiom at the bottom of sexual ethics: the whole is greater than the part. Man considered as species is the whole; man considered as an individual, even with his peculiar individual desires, is the part. Note right away that, when you consider your individuality, you are not considering what is “more you”.

-We tend to speak and think of sexual activity that is reproductive and not reproductive as tough they were two species of one genus. Say we all agree that it is true to say that “sodomy is a kind of sexual activity”. Fine. But is this like saying “granny smith is a kind of apple” or like saying “a limp is a kind of walk”? The first is included in a genus, and shares a common nature with other species; the second is a defect of a nature, and so is properly opposed to the nature itself. Our answer to this question (which is usually tacit) will effect everything we think about the right and wrong in sexual matters.

-When we understand sex through statistics, we draw from a database about as old as one lifetime. This is something like trying to determine whether an acre of land is flat or hilly by examining the topography of one square foot of it.

-In condemning pornography, the Catechism gives a wonderful and insightful definition, but concludes with a striking condemnation: it immerses all those who participate in it into a fantasy world. Now if there is one area in which the times we live really are the worst times in all history- a claim often made and usually false- it is probably with respect to porn consumption. If the Catechism is right, we should expect our age to be more immersed in fantasy than any other. This would certainly be true of realities pertaining to sex (which are quite numerous and important) but given how central sexuality is to our personality, this fantasy consciousness would inevitably spill over into our view of reality generally. Thus, no age would find reality- the opposite of fantasy- as distasteful as we find it. . For the same reason, no age would find speculative reasoning- which seeks to uncover the structure of reality simply to know it- as distasteful as we find it. If we must reason about things, we modern men say,  let it be the sort of reasoning that we can subsume under our fantasy desires (like science, for example).  Even if we don’t watch porn, this is still the culture we live in. Physicalism may not be a masturbatory fantasy, but the two are made of each other.


  1. dover0beach said,

    August 1, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    Reblogged this on The Ordeal of Consciousness and commented:
    Chastek makes some fine points.

    h/t: The OFloinn

  2. Socrates said,

    March 25, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Dear Mr. Chastek:

    On your last point, maybe process is reversed: we live in a fantasy, and then, in expanding it to all aspects of our lives, we extend it to sexuality. The age of the Internet just has allowed the expansion to reach such a large scale. Thus, war has always been a part of fallen man’s world, and just became more massive and deadlier due to new military technology, so too sexual fantasy has always been a part of fallen man’s world, and just became more massive and deadlier due to new communication technology.

    Or maybe, the hellish process goes both ways: pornography and fantasy hold each other up, just as Gothic cathedral walls support each other.

    In different individuals, it is possible that the influence can go either way: a person might be a daydreamer, and that moves into his sexual life, or a person might be a sex addict, and that moves into the rest of his life. Or, again, both forces could reenforce each other: a person is a daydreamer, and that moves into his sexual life, and then the “imaginary brides” reenforce the daydreaming (a vicious downturning spiral), or vise versa.

    If each holds the other up, then the question is, which came first: the fantasy in general, or the specific sexual fantasy? Some (I’m being nice with the word “some”) Modern philosophers do have the tendency to force a worldview onto the world (although, by no means does this not happen in ancient and non-Western philosophy. For an example, look at Buddhist philosophy), so the fantasies in general might have come first. The desire to force our will onto the world has reached its consummation!

    Christi pax.

%d bloggers like this: