Hello! This article is in response to Raja Halwani’s article on “Why sexual desire is objectifying – and hence morally wrong” and how we can challenge that we are objectified through sex.
Halwani wrote an article on the 9th December 2016, attempting to argue that, using Kantian Deontology, that sex is objectifying and therefore morally wrong. This article will be explaining such use of deontology, but also argue for the rejection of such a notion.
What is the problem? Kingdom of Ends And The Creation of Duty
Issue 1: What is the difference between using a shopkeeper and mutual consent for sex?
As we have seen above, Kant argues against the use of other beings as it means we are treating them as a means to an end instead of an end within themselves. However, surely we use people to a means to an end all the time? We use shop keepers to buy their products. We sell things to people in order to get money. These are selfish motives, so are they morally wrong?
Halwani argues that this is different because there is mutual consent. The shopkeeper is willing for you to get products from him and in return you are willing for the shopkeeper to gain your money. You have used your human autonomy and rational decision making to agree to this, and so you are being treated as a means to an end.
However, surely sex is no different? When we want sex with someone else, we are using our rational autonomy to consent to it. So why should we land sexual desire with the moral corruption and not the case of the shopkeeper? Hawani does not refute this in a meaningful and logical way. As a result, we can’t condemn sex on the basis that it undermines our rational autonomy and treats us as a means to an end.
However, this point is wrong because sex is so much more than a physical attraction. If this was the case, we might as well as have sex with robots. But we want so much more than the physical. We want to connect emotionally with others and to feel wanted. We want to feel that we are not alone and that we are protected by someone else. We want to feel valued. All of this is aided by the act of having sex.
On top of this, some people don’t want sex at all unless they have been dating someone for a while. For them, emotional connection is part of having sex itself as, without it, they have no sexual drive.
These ideas completely refute the idea of sex just being about the physical. We need an emotional connection. This emotional connection values the character of the human being and treats them as far more than just an object to have sex with. Therefore, this can’t undermine our autonomy and means we are treated as ends within ourselves. Therefore, sex is not morally wrong.
Issue 3: Sexual Desire doesn’t necessarily lead to bad things.
Halwani makes the argument that in the article sex leads to bad things. He claims he has cheated, deceived others, and not been true to himself. In this aspect, the article is highly commendable as he has allowed an examination of himself in the most vulnerable way possible to demonstrate the pitfalls of sex. However, despite this achievement and the courage to examine his own ethical falls, this is one of the main problems with the article. Through his experiences, he has linked sex with a certain bad outcome. This is not the case.
Kant argued that we are imperfectly rational beings. We have the ability to rationalise from good will, but this may go against our animal desires. It is this tension which creates duty which is what is morally considered. However, there are cases where there is no tension, and our logic agrees with our animal instinct. In this case, there is nothing morally worthy of judgement as we have no duty to follow. Therefore, if it seems logically right to have sex and we want sex, then sex is neither right or wrong; it is just an action with no moral value.
This doesn’t mean sex can’t lead to bad things. It can disagree with what the logically right thing to do is. For example, it can lead us to lie in order to gain sex. However, sex can also be a wonderful thing. It can bring us together with our partners. It can make us feel emotionally better. As a result of this, sex is not necessarily wrong or right, it is the motives and reasons that occur that are of moral value.
Issue 4: What are the consequences of taking this approach to extremes?