Originally posted February 12, 2019
There is no such thing as sexual morality per se. Put less dramatically, there is no morality special to sex: no act is wrong simply because of its sexual nature. Sexual morality consists in moral considerations that are relevant elsewhere as well being applied to sexual activity or relations. This is because the proper concept of sexual activity is morally neutral. Sexual activity is that which fulfills sexual desire. Sexual desire in its primary sense can be defined as desire for physical contact with another person’s body and for the pleasure that such contact brings. Masturbation or desire to view pornography are sexual activity and desire in a secondary sense, substitutes for normal sexual desire in its primary sense. Sex itself is not a moral category, although it places us in relations in which moral considerations apply. It gives us opportunity to do what is otherwise regarded as wrong: to harm, deceive, or manipulate others against their will.
As other philosophers point out, pleasure is normally a byproduct of successfully doing things not aimed at pleasure directly, but this is not the case with sex. Sexual desire aims directly at the pleasure derived from physical contact. Desire for physical contact in other contexts, for example contact sports, is not sexual because it has other motives (winning, exhibiting dominance, etc.), but sexual desire in itself has no other motive. It is not a desire to reproduce or to express love or other emotions, although sexual activity, like other activities, can express various emotions including love.
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