Unnatural as a Category in Sexual Ethics Cover Image

Unnatural as a Category in Sexual Ethics
Unnatural as a Category in Sexual Ethics

Author(s): Jan Koumar
Subject(s): Gender Studies, Ethics / Practical Philosophy, Health and medicine and law
Published by: Spoločenskovedný ústav SAV, Slovenská akadémia vied
Keywords: Naturalness; Morality; Sexuality; Sexual Ethics; Unnatural;

Summary/Abstract: The aim of this text is to provide a description as well as a philosophical analysis of the possible meanings of the words “natural” and “unnatural” in sexual ethics. Its particular aim is to clarify the meanings of both words, which are used and misused through moral judgements or moralising, and thus to examine what they may signify when being used as a category for labelling certain sexual behaviour. The text carries the assumption that sexual morality is often looked upon with suspicion, and as a discipline trying to reassert old Victorian morality; but such suspicion is largely based on a misunderstanding of the term ethics, and on mistaking ethics for etiquette and morality for moralism. For this reason, throughout this article all the “unnatural” acts are seen in the light of three distinctive levels of the term ethics: manners (which is socially shared, mainly unreasoned and partly enforced custom), morality (which is an individual layer based on the moral consciousness of an individual) and ethics (which is a philosophical endeavour trying to find a way not only to a good life but to the best one). These three levels are considered here to be three different meanings in the extensive ethical area. Morality is mainly focussed on, and four possible moral views of sexual conduct are taken into account. Firstly, the traditionalistic view; in which sexuality is used only as a tool of procreation. Secondly, the romantic view; in which sexuality is a solely human phenomenon deeply bound with erotic love and so necessarily leading to physicality and mutual embodiment. Thirdly, is the Marxist-feminist view; in which the centre of moral judgement is not sexuality itself, but its connection with male-female or interclass power manipulations from which it should be freed. Fourthly, is the liberal view; the only one in which sexual ethics is not considered different from ethics of any other human activity; it understands sex itself as an ethically neutral activity, and what matters is not whether some conduct is sexual or not but whether it is good or bad. Based on these four approaches to the ethics of sexuality and putting aside all moralising based on the universalization of one particular idea of an individual, four possible meanings of “unnatural” can be considered: Firstly, unnatural can be seen in comparison with animals, whose behaviour is taken as an example of naturalness. Such a view is based on the Rousseauic vision of civilisation as a process destroying the originally noble human; animal and nature represent here the example of original states which we can revert to. Secondly, the usage of body organs in an inappropriate way can be considered unnatural. Here, the appropriateness is usually assessed in accordance with the intended design of these body parts, which firstly assumes we know their purpose and furthermore it calls for the existence of this purpose determiner – ordinarily the Creator. Thirdly the unconventionality of certain acts can also be labelled as unnatural due to low statistical frequency, and fourthly is polarisation; where behaviour is not marked as “unnatural”, but on the contrary, it justifies naturalness as an innate desire-based behaviour. It, thus, assumes that every genetically given or innate desire must be morally right. The validity of these meanings is then analysed. The first one is found to be incorrect because animals actions are taken as examples of naturalness only in certain conditions, while their other actions are rather called “animalistic” and regarded with scorn. The third meaning has nothing to do with morality, since it is based on conformity and thus belongs to manners. The fourth one is not correct because the very existence of an innate urge does not make the behaviour based on it good or bad and thus cannot be used for its justification. Only the second meaning of the word “unnatural” is considered strictly moral, but since it is based on religion it is valid only for its followers and is not generally plausible. Thus, in the conclusion the suggestion is made that the general reason for calling certain acts “unnatural” in sexual ethics is merely a visceral distaste for certain activities. Although it is a good reason for an individual not to participate in them, it is not a plausible reason for calling them immoral.

  • Issue Year: 20/2017
  • Issue No: 3
  • Page Range: 60-69
  • Page Count: 10
  • Language: English