Suggestions for teaching ethics of sex?

A reader has sent us the following query:

I’m going to co-teach a class on the ethics of sex, for the first time. We want to cover topics such as the ethics of homosexuality, and what the laws on homosexual sex and marriage should be; the ethics of rape (what constitutes rape, why rape is wrong) and what the laws on rape should be; and the ethics of premarital sex. Would readers post links to syllabi that would be helpful resources of readings on these topics? Would readers post suggestions of specific readings?

Post away!!

19 thoughts on “Suggestions for teaching ethics of sex?

  1. it can be taught by a mother to daughter instead of class subject topics.on the other hand there is no need to teach boys because they learn these things without extra coaching!

  2. Alan Soble ‘The Philosophy of Sex’
    Igor Primoratz ‘Ethics and Sex’
    Martha Nussbaum ‘Sex and Social Justice’
    Nye, R. A. ‘Sexuality: a Reader’ – not just philosophy, also contains sociological and historical studies etc. but may be helpful.

  3. Take a look at the anthology “Sex and Ethics” (edited by Raja Halwani).

    You might also try Prof. Halwani’s recent “Philosophy of Love, Sex, and Marriage: An Introduction”, which I believe has just been made available in a paperback edition.

  4. For the section on rape:
    A Most Detestable Crime: Essays on Rape, ed. Burgess-Jackson, 1999.
    Includes essays by Jean Hampton, Linda LeMoncheck.

    On proposals for rape law reform, ‘Negotiating sex’, Michelle Anderson, Southern California Law Review, Vol. 41, p. 101, 2005

  5. The Stanford encyclopedia has excellent entries on rape and on sex markets, with lots of useful references:

    You probably already know Brake’s marriage article:

    Some stuff on sexual orientations:

    Calhoun, Cheshire (2006) “Lesbian Philosophy”, in Alcoff, Linda Martín, and Kittay, Eva Feder, (Eds.) (2006) Blackwell Guide to Feminist Philosophy, Blackwell.
    Frye, Marilyn (1983) “To See and Be Seen”, in Frye, The Politics of Reality, Crossing Press.
    Halwani, R. et. al. 2008. “What is Gay and Lesbian Philosophy?”, Metaphilosophy 433-471.
    Stein, Edward (1990) “Essentials of Constructionism and the Construction of Essentialism”, in Edward Stein (1990) (Ed.) Forms of Desire, Routledge.
    Stein, Edward (1999) The Mismeasure of Desire, Oxford University Press.

    Some of the above is on a more metaphysical than ethical issue: what is a sexual orientation, does the notion make sense, etc. But the outcome of these debates is obviously relevant to ethical issues about sexual orientations.

    Some other topics you didn’t mention– reproductive rights, objectification, pornography, prostitution. Would you want readings on those too?

  6. If you are interested in personal accounts of sexual violence, as jj suggests, I would recommend Susan Brison’s Aftermath. She has vivid personal accounts, from which she draws philosophical lessons. We read ch 3 “Outliving Oneself” in a personal identity class I took, and I found it very powerful.

    If you are going to include reproductive rights, as Jender suggests, I would recommend Margaret Olivia Little’s (1999) paper, “Abortion, Intimacy, and the Duty to Gestate.” from thical Theory and Moral Practice 2 (3). I have used it in classes and it has been very effective for getting students to think about the experience of gestating.

  7. For an interesting argument on why rape is wrong, see David Sussman “What’s Wrong with Torture”.

  8. Bakka – thanks for the Brison reference; I couldn’t remember her name, and it wasn’t showing up on my Amazon searches. It is an amaszing read.

    Everyone else: I’ve been looking into various bibligraphies; one just churched up this reference:

    Saul, Jennifer M. Feminism: Issues and Arguments. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
    Focuses on ethical and political issues such as discrimination, pornography, and sexual harassment, and offers proposals for possible solutions. Designed for an introductory-level undergraduate course, and thus provides and a good entry point to these debates.

  9. Sounds like a really good course so far. I’d take it if my school offered it. Thanks for the opportunity to revisit Carole Pateman’s work, though I’m only in partial agreement with her. Some of it has a SWEET bite, though.

    Btw Jender, I’ve been meaning to tell you what a nice job you did of mediating all the WTFs the last time I invoked Pateman’s name to blast a visitor to this site. No point in rehashing the incident because it may have been a case of mistaken identity. The visitor whose photo I googled (and the others who were posing in the photo with him) bore a striking resemblance to a guest lecturer who made some vicious, unwarranted and presumptuous comments about what he thought my sexual practices might be, in front of 2 elementary school age children, and a room full of first year students who were little more than children themselves. Maybe that’s common when men who usually teach religion&meta (and are also staunch religious adherents) try to teach J. Jarvis Thompson?

    If you still remember that one, I hope everything worked out ok. I wouldn’t want to undermine any of the good work you’re doing here. Thanks again for smoothing that one over.

    And if I cross paths with your visitor again, and he is not the guest lecturer in question, I’ll drop the anonymity and offer my apology to him in person.

    Good luck with the course. I know you won’t “should on” your students.

  10. “Some other topics you didn’t mention– reproductive rights, objectification, pornography, prostitution. Would you want readings on those too?”

    That would be great!

  11. Oops! I thought that was Jender’s query.
    Well, good luck to you, Original Person. There’s some good stuff here. I’d take this course with you too. I’m just an undergrad, though. I’m not qualified to give advice to profs :-)

  12. Oooh, I want to take this class! Would you be willing to share the syllabus once you’ve developed it, by any chance?

  13. Several years ago I taught a class on the “legal enforcement of morality” (somewhat miss-named, but it got people to sign up for it) where we had sections on sexual morality and pornography, among other things. I assigned MacKinnon’s _Only Words_, R. Dworkin’s “Pornography, Feminism, and Liberty”, Rea Langton’s “Speech acts and unspeakable acts”, T. Nagel’s “Sexual perversion”, Michael Levin’s “Against Homosexual Liberation”, John Corvino’s “Homosexuality and the PIB Argument”, Alan Soble’s “Masturbation: Conceptual and Ethical Matters”, and Sarah Conly’s “Seduction, Rape, and Coercion”. Not all of these are brilliant philosophically, and there was some variation in how well they went over (surely related to my teaching skills, in some cases) but over-all it was a fairly successful part of a course.

  14. It seems to me that one of the central philosophical issues in the area is the nature of sexual desire itself. Your view on this will have an impact on your take on each of the ‘applied ethics’ issues.

    Elizabeth Anscombe, Contraception and Chastity.
    Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, esp ch. 7.
    Roger Scruton, Sexual Desire, esp ch. 4.

    Rockney Jacobsen, Arousal and the Ends of Desire. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 1993.
    Seiriol Morgan, Dark Desires. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 2003.

  15. Some readings on sadomasochism:
    HOPKINS, P. “Rethinking Sadomasochism: Feminism, Interpretation, and Simulation”, Hypatia (9:1) Winter 1994, 116-141.
    VADAS, M. “Reply to Patrick Hopkins”, Hypatia (10: 2), Spring 1995, 159-161
    HOPKINS, P. “Simulation and the Reproduction of Injustice: A Reply”, Hypatia (10: 2), Spring 1995, 162-170
    BARTKY, S. “Feminine Masochism and the Politics of Personal Transformation”, in S. Bartky, Femininity and Domination (NY: Routledge 1990).
    CALIFIA, P. Public Sex (Pittsburgh: Cleis 1993.)
    GRIMSHAW, J. “Ethics, Fantasy and Self-Transformation”, in Soble, The Philosophy of Sex. (Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield 1997)
    STEAR, N. “Sadomasochism as Make-Believe”, Hypatia 24:2, 21-38.

    Some on abortion:
    LITTLE, M.O. (1999) “Abortion, Intimacy, and the Duty to Gestate”, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 2, pp. 295-312.
    BORDO, S. (1993), “Are Mothers Persons?”, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, pp. 71-98.
    BRAKE, E. (2005), “Fatherhood and Child Support: Do Men Have a Right to Choose?”, Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 22, No.1, 55-73.
    JAGGAR, A. (1973) “Abortion and a Woman’s Right to Decide”, Philosophical Forum 5, pp. 347-360. reprinted in Robert Baker and Frederick Elliston, eds., Philosophy and Sex, Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Press, 1975, reprinted in 2/e, 1984.

    You could also do Nussbaum on objectification and Haslanger on objectification and epistemology.

Comments are closed.