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Arguments for the Morality of Casual Sex

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What is the argument against casual sex?

I have the following basic problems with the objectivist view (as I understand it):

1.I am in total agreement that meaningful sex with someone you love and / or admire is incomparably better than sex with someone you barely know, but that doesn't mean that the latter isn't enjoyable at all. If you're not having sex as some misguided attempt to make yourself feel more valuable or as some substitute for self-esteem, then what is the problem? Assuming you don't make it a main focus of your life, but perhaps an occasional 'treat', isn't this something that makes your life more enjoyable?

2.I am in total agreement that sex can be a deep, 'spiritual', philosophic experience, and that this improves it's quality x fold, but I also see sex as being something that can offer purely physical pleasure, like a massage, or masturbation. For guys (I can't speak for women) sex *can* be purely physical. You can be turned on by and "get off" on women you don't know anything about. Take for proof of this the immense popularity of pornography which is typically completely devoid of any 'feeling', context, or hint into the characters of the women performing. Men are simply wired to want sex, and we are wired with the ability to be aroused by simply seeing women naked. Where is the harm in having adult, consenting sex for the sole purpose of satisfying a physical desire? (Again, assuming you don't make it a major focus of your life or expect it to substitute values, or give you self esteem) Almost all objectivists agree that masturbation is OK - why then isn't this form of sex, which is essentially just multiplayer masturbation? (People get so worked up about sex, but sometimes it's really just two (or more) people rubbing their body parts together… I just have a hard time taking this kind of sex too seriously. I mean, what is there to get so upset about?)

3.Sex as interactive art : So art can give you a sense of living in your ideal world. A movie or book can give you a sense of what it would be like to reach your goals. Well, what about sex with a beautiful woman?? Can you not do a bit of role play in your head and fantasies that she is a heroine and for that moment feel some sense of what it would be like to achieve your goals? (Again assuming you don't make it a major focus of your life bla bla bla bla…). I don't believe this is evasion, any more than you could say it's evasion to believe that Ragnar Danneskjöld is a real person when you read AS.

With all this sex talk I better throw in the pimp smiley :pimp:

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Put "casual sex" into the search bar. There are numerous threads where this topic has been discussed in detail before that you can find this way which probably have some answers to your questions, and if you still have more questions, its useful to keep information on a topic in one place and limit the number of places that have to be checked on a topic in the future.

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Put "casual sex" into the search bar. There are numerous threads where this topic has been discussed in detail before that you can find this way which probably have some answers to your questions, and if you still have more questions, its useful to keep information on a topic in one place and limit the number of places that have to be checked on a topic in the future.

I did that thank you.

Casual sex returns exactly 9 hits - None of which are my questions. Did you even read my post?

If you think my question has already been asked please tell me which of the 9 topics I should read:

I fantasize about other women <-- how to find just one woman attractive, is it possible? is it just the wrong girl etc…

Does how your partner views [sic] sex affect your view of… <-- person asserting that sex has 'inherent value' and upset that his GF doesn't think so

Youth and Sex <-- See title

People who are sexually promiscuous make me mad <-- mad that people don't think of sex like he does/ people telling him not to worry about what other people do

The "how many partners have you had?" question <-- how do you respond to this question / do you answer it, does it tell you anything about someone's past or present

Why are men's clothes so boring? <-- see title

I'm seeing a girl who has a boyfriend<-- guy thinks girl likes him more than her BF

Study finds facial features correlate with good parenting <-- obviously unrelated.

Did I miss something?

And by the way, most of these topics are years old.

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Hmm, as I recall, the "how many partners have you had?" thread quite quickly turned into a discussion on casual sex, so that one is useful to read anyway. The thread isn't so old that I think someone would mind you necroing it. http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?showtopic=17667&st=80 is an even more recent thread, posts around page 4 addresses some of your questions. Or also just last week someone posted in that thread basically asking similar questions. I don't have any issue with answering your question here, but I'm more curious if either of those 2 threads I mentioned are any helpful.

As for point 3, well, you couldn't exactly call that art. That's more imagination than anything. You wouldn't call an acid trip (or any other induced imagination) "interactive art" as it doesn't involve any amount of metaphysical value judgment or even re-creation of reality. If you're just speaking of the experience, it involves another person, so that to me sounds like specifically ignoring the meaning of the actual thing that makes the sex possible.

Edited by Eiuol
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Hmm, as I recall, the "how many partners have you had?" thread quite quickly turned into a discussion on casual sex, so that one is useful to read anyway. The thread isn't so old that I think someone would mind you necroing it. http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?showtopic=17667&st=80 is an even more recent thread, posts around page 4 addresses some of your questions. Or also just last week someone posted in that thread basically asking similar questions. I don't have any issue with answering your question here, but I'm more curious if either of those 2 threads I mentioned are any helpful.

As for point 3, well, you couldn't exactly call that art. That's more imagination than anything. You wouldn't call an acid trip (or any other induced imagination) "interactive art" as it doesn't involve any amount of metaphysical value judgment or even re-creation of reality. If you're just speaking of the experience, it involves another person, so that to me sounds like specifically ignoring the meaning of the actual thing that makes the sex possible.

Thanks for the link. While the discussion is related, I don't think it's the same as what I'm brining up here. Also, given the possibility that someone in the future might be interested in the same issues, I don't think it's a good idea to bury this topic by sidelining an old thread with my non-entierly-consistant topic.

On your response to my 3rd point: Thanks for the reply! I'm of course using the word 'art' here loosely. I don't mean that you are actually creating art, but that you are performing an act that has many of the same benefits as art and could be used to achieve some of the same ends.

What I really find interesting about your response is the line "it involves another person, so that to me sounds like specifically ignoring the meaning of the actual thing that makes the sex possible." I'm not 100% sure I follow the logic - what meaning is it ignoring? And anyway, sex is possible without much meaning. All you need is whatever subconscious meaning you attach to physically attractive women. Whether or not it's good sex or bad sex or rational sex or irrational sex I guess is the debate, but there is no question that it is possible.

Edited by Kelly Bennett
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You only got 9 results turning up? Hmm. I've got two pages of threads when I enter those terms. This is the URL of my search results, in case we're getting different results. http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?app=core&module=search&do=search&andor_type=&sid=6472caa87aa5204a09a09cd568ee50ed&search_term=%22casual+sex%22&search_app=forums&st=0 In the two pages of results I got, there are definitely more relevant ones than the nine results you got, which I agree aren't the greatest for what you were interested in. This thread is a longer one I remember in particular which is made specifically about this topic, not just getting into it in a tangent: http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?showtopic=7645&st=0

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Given your description of point one, seeing sex as basically multiplayer masturbation one can use as a treat for oneself - is there then any moral difference between simply paying escorts rather then going through the motions of actually having to charm a member of the opposite (or same, for that matter) sex?

I intuitively agree that casual sex is not necessarily a bad thing, however im having trouble differentiating it from outright prostitution on a moral level. All though you would think there would be one (I can think of several contexts where the use of escorts would be explicitly moral) - right..?

Having given this issue (casual sex, not escorts) some thought myself since debating it a few months back, I wonder if its possible to have casual sex without it being a contradiction to your pursuit of a decent relationship and the far superior sex that provides (in my experience) in the sence that you get kind of "used to" meeting women in a certain setting with a certain additude, compromising the odds that would otherwise be present in and of itself for you to achieve a normal loving relationship.

If the casual sex in some way prohibits your odds of establishing a proper relationship, the essential would have to be to what degree does it impair you - and if its worth it.

Answering the latter outside of a specific context also seems difficult.

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You only got 9 results turning up? Hmm. I've got two pages of threads when I enter those terms. This is the URL of my search results, in case we're getting different results. http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?app=core&module=search&do=search&andor_type=&sid=6472caa87aa5204a09a09cd568ee50ed&search_term=%22casual+sex%22&search_app=forums&st=0 In the two pages of results I got, there are definitely more relevant ones than the nine results you got, which I agree aren't the greatest for what you were interested in. This thread is a longer one I remember in particular which is made specifically about this topic, not just getting into it in a tangent: http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?showtopic=7645&st=0

Well, thats very strange that I got different results o_º

That link does seem a heck of a lot more relevant than anything that come up when I searched. I'll check it out, thanks!

Given your description of point one, seeing sex as basically multiplayer masturbation one can use as a treat for oneself - is there then any moral difference between simply paying escorts rather then going through the motions of actually having to charm a member of the opposite (or same, for that matter) sex?

I intuitively agree that casual sex is not necessarily a bad thing, however im having trouble differentiating it from outright prostitution on a moral level. All though you would think there would be one (I can think of several contexts where the use of escorts would be explicitly moral) - right..?

One possible difference is that the act wouldn't be fun anymore if you couldn't be sure the other person was having fun. It would be like paying someone to hang out with you - it would be super awkward and unsatisfying if you knew they didn't actually want to share your company. As far as the morality of it… Not sure… I'm tempted to say it would be moral, but a bad sign psychologically. And a very bad sign for the prostitute. But I haven't given it enough thought to be sure.

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One possible difference is that the act wouldn't be fun anymore if you couldn't be sure the other person was having fun. It would be like paying someone to hang out with you - it would be super awkward and unsatisfying if you knew they didn't actually want to share your company. As far as the morality of it… Not sure…

- But hanging out with someone is not really comparable to your description of sex as a form of multiplayer masturbation, so its social context would be very different and im not sure it would apply.

Given that casual sex is exclusively about the act of penetration, I doubt it would be akward for you.

Let me make the disclaimer that the definition of casual sex is usually not debated with such a "radical" premise, usually your talking about sleeping with someone you meet in a bar after a lenghty interaction where you find that person to be some sort of a value - just not someone your necessarily going to be in a relationship with.

I'm tempted to say it would be moral, but a bad sign psychologically. And a very bad sign for the prostitute. But I haven't given it enough thought to be sure.

- I dont really see how something can be both moral and a bad psychological sign.. Surely if your doing something that is genuinely in your interest, it would not be a bad psychological sign at all.

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- But hanging out with someone is not really comparable to your description of sex as a form of multiplayer masturbation, so its social context would be very different and im not sure it would apply.

Given that casual sex is exclusively about the act of penetration, I doubt it would be akward for you.

It is not just about the act of penetration - that is simply one part of it. The whole experience is pleasurable, from the first kiss up to and including the part where you cuddle and sleep. It's supposed to be multiplayer - by that I mean, fun for both players. Otherwise it's more like an attack on them that they happen to need the money enough to endure, and that does not sound fun for either party.

- I don't really see how something can be both moral and a bad psychological sign.. Surely if your doing something that is genuinely in your interest, it would not be a bad psychological sign at all.

That's an interesting point. I'll have to think about it for a while before I can respond to it.

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Otherwise it's more like an attack on them that they happen to need the money enough to endure, and that does not sound fun for either party.

- That depends how you percieve it, people endure far worse for far less quite frequently.

But given that your talking about the whole experience of casual sex, not just the actual sex, it can be seperated from escorts so its not really that relevant and we dont need to take it that much further ;).

Its more interesting to what degree casual sex interfere with you getting into meaningfull relationships, as I mention in the second part of my original response.

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- That depends how you percieve it, people endure far worse for far less quite frequently.

But given that your talking about the whole experience of casual sex, not just the actual sex, it can be seperated from escorts so its not really that relevant and we dont need to take it that much further ;).

Its more interesting to what degree casual sex interfere with you getting into meaningfull relationships, as I mention in the second part of my original response.

I agree that this would be a rational reason not to have casual sex, but in my experience the two are not correlated. In fact, if they are, the correlation might be in the other direction.

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Well, thats very strange that I got different results o_º

That link does seem a heck of a lot more relevant than anything that come up when I searched. I'll check it out, thanks!

Curious indeed. And you're quite welcome. I knew for sure there had to be better threads around because I know I've been involved in discussions on this topic many times, it seems to come up at least once every few months. (It would be great if we had a FAQ list with links to the most relevant threads and most useful posts on common topics. This subject would have to go up there along with threads about atheism V. agnosticism and Objectivism V. libertarinism, and abortion and several other subjects.) Every time it gets started anew in some place else, that usually results in some of the same people repeating their same positions all over again, both for and against. So it may save some time pointing you to at least one of the places the basic arguments have already been presented and then focus can be put on answering any remaining questions based off those arguments. There are also some subjects that aren't the same, but somehow numerous times lead to discussing this topic too eventually, so you may want to go check out the last few pages of . . . gosh, it was either the really long thread on abortion or the really long thread on homosexuality I'm pretty sure eventually not long ago had a decent amount that was discussed about casual sex. Those threads you may not want to post more in about this subject, but maybe just look in there for some of the discussion about this and you can post asking about it in more relevant places.

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  • 5 months later...

This is the reason I had to join some forums to ask about this part of her philosophy. Up until now, as I read and listen to Ayn's philosophy, everything has been totally rational and understandable. I've agreed with practically everything (except for a state being necessary for capitalism). Everything follows well and it allows for a man to make his own rational value judgement. With this particular topic of casual sex, I understand her reasoning once she explains her view on sex but I do not understand why she assigns certain values and meanings to sex from which she draws the conclusion that casual sex is not OK. She never explains why she sees it the way she does. It's just sort of asserted to be that way. If it is that way, then you can understand how it could be a detriment to man's life but I do not agree that sex in all instances must be interpreted to mean what Ayn interprets it to mean. Sure, sex with someone you love is better and more enjoyable but that is not reason enough to class sex with someone you do not love as detrimental. I cannot see any reason why casual sex for the pure mutual enjoyment of the experience with someone else you find physically sexually attractive is detrimental to man's life. If masturbation is OK and one does not agree with the following: "that sex is one of the most important aspects of man's life and, therefore, must never be approached lightly or casually. A sexual relationship is proper only on the ground of the highest values one can find in a human being. Sex must not be anything other than a response to values. And that is why I consider promiscuity immoral. Not because sex is evil, but because sex is too good and too important." then I see no rational argument against casual sex. I may make a thread on this explaining why I cannot understand Rand on this point.

Why is sex so important to Ayn Rand. Where does all this importance come from? I've read some explanations but none have been satisfactory. I understand to females physical looks are less of a factor.

Why must sex not be anything but a response to values? How is this rationally derived? Where does this come from? What if I value a woman's body in the matters of sex? If I were to really only have sexual desire for those who illicit the greatest values then why wouldn't I have sexual desire for men with these values? Why wouldn't I have sexual desire for 60-year-old obese women with these values? Does she denounce all physical attractiveness? To me, this is absurd. I've never gotten and never will get a raging boner from listening to a girl describe awesome values. Should I disregard my innate sexual drive to have sex with the most physically attractive females despite their values? Isn't that detrimental? I know it would make me pretty sexually frustrated and unhappy. Why can't I pursue both a meaningful relationship with physically attractive females and also pursue casual sex in the mean time when there are no girls who hold values enough for me to love?

Lastly, the chances of meeting such a girl worthy of love and therefore sex is next to none. In this case, if casual sex is immoral, I'm left to a life of masturbation and celibacy. That, to me, is detrimental to my life. The other option is to lower my standard of love but love is not really a choice. On the same token, sexual desire is not a choice. I just have it for some girls and not for others. Finding and having sex as an expression of self esteem and intimacy with a girl I both love and have sexual desire for is optimal but I don't see why having sex for the pleasure of it with a girl I simply have sexual desire for is detrimental when it serves to bring me pleasure, human physical connection, satisfaction and enjoyment.

I apologize if this is necroposting and for the somewhat in-cohesive rant. I'm trying to unpackage this notion of casual sex being immoral under objectivism.

Edited by Paeter
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Haha, okay, this is a very complicated argument of Rand's, and if you don't understand her and her ex-student Branden's psychological views, it might not be too clear. That being the case, there is an element of Rand's conclusion that promiscuity is self-destructive that is not limited specifically to the confines of philosophy. The goodness or evilness of sex depends on its effects on your successful happiness and living, and so the actual evaluation of any given sex act depends on the physical and psychological particulars. This is why Peikoff settles for just concluding "sex is good."

Not limited to just Francisco's "sex speech" in AS, I might suggest the chapter 6 in VoS, "The Psychology of Pleasure," which deals with some of the ethical aspects of pleasure in human life that bear on rational egoism, and at the same time deals with some of the psychological factors.

I wrote a post here explaining some of the reasoning involved in Rand's condemnation of "mindless pleasure-seeking." Basically, the conclusion is that pleasure isn't any more mindless than anything else, and if you are using it as an escape from your self-evaluation (e.g. James Taggart and Betty Pope in AS), then it is harmful to your mental health, impairing your well-being, and thus immoral. Sexual behavior choices are deeply correlated with self-esteem, which both Rand and Branden view as central to mental well-being and functioning appropriately in life.

As far as some of the questions you ask at the end, it's important to point out that your desires are never not a response to values. Even your reaction towards the physical appearance of chick is going to be value-based. It is kind of like Rand's esthetics, where she argues someone's reaction to an artwork reflects their view of life, so your reaction to a potential or desired sexual partner reflects your view of life and of your self-esteem. This is what she means when Francisco d'Anconia says "Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life."

We can easily see that sex can't be separated from values, as even you say you've never gotten a raging boner from listening to a girl describe something boring, and that you wouldn't have sex with a 60-year old obese woman. Yet that is itself a value-judgment. Why then do you discriminate between partners? If there were no response to values involved, why not have sex with the 60-year old obese woman? Such a purely materialistic theory could not account for preferences between alternative partners. Of course the sexual capacity and drive is innate within our nature, but the body is not an autonomous machine without a mind directing it according to values. This is what Rand means by saying, "Sex is a physical capacity, but its exercise is determined by man’s mind—by his choice of values, held consciously or subconsciously. To a rational man, sex is an expression of self-esteem—a celebration of himself and of existence. To the man who lacks self-esteem, sex is an attempt to fake it, to acquire its momentary illusion."

This idea of a "celebration" and the effects on (and motivation by) self-esteem is essential, and so she views "mindless" or promiscuous sex as lacking this. For details see that post I mentioned.

Edited by 2046
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Why is sex so important to Ayn Rand. Where does all this importance come from? I've read some explanations but none have been satisfactory.

Clearly I cannot speak for Ayn Rand or Objectivism, but my take on it is that it is related far more to a sense of life thing than a logical argument. Our perceptual apparatus is taking in millions of sights, sounds, and feelings a second, of which we are rationally cognizant of around 40 and able to focus on 1-ish. I would wager that the rest of our experiences probably have an impact on us but in a less reasonable way. For example, a fairly well known tendency that people have is to be far more receptive to a person or idea, if they have encountered it or them before. It's as though your subconscious keeps a running tally of experiences even when you are not specifically conscious of it.

In way you describe it might seem as though it were possible to compartmentalize low value sex and high value sex, but in actual practice, your subconscious mind has already evaluated sex as being something you do with someone you find physically attractive. Your conscious mind can attempt to override it and assign value based on character and virtue, but with about as much success as intentionally changing your favorite color or flavor of ice cream.

Likely, the more casual sex you have, the more difficult it will become to make the act spiritual with your high value partner, since through repetition the subjective evaluation has been enshrined in your automatized emotional responses. Not impossible, but probably impossible to reverse completely or to exit that lifestyle unscathed.

If you want me to expand on anything or clarify I'd be happy to, but my experience with this subject is that the verity is difficult to grasp outside of the actual experiences and attempts at debate are usually ineffective. From relationships that I have seen and experienced, I am pretty certain about the development of a mind/body dichotomy and the subsequent loss of value in the act, but it isn't something that I will attempt to prove.

I don't know if you meant to be ironic or if you actually are that fatalistic about it, but the idea that finding a woman of value is impossible to you is something I find to be exceedingly unlikely. I would suggest that you look harder or more likely, reevaluate what things of value you require in someone else if the standard is impossibly difficult to achieve.

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Rand didn't exactly explicitly right about sex very often, aside from fiction. Viewpoints on sex is more about application than anything, so really, Rand's quotes are only useful for leads on how to think about the topic and important considerations.

There are only two premises I've seen Rand speak of in regards to sex.

One (1) is that it's about mind and body and cannot be understood in a purely materialistic way.

Second (2) is that sex must be a response to values.

Regarding (1), I'd say it's the idea that there has to be some kind of mental consideration, because the best kind of sex - especially because there is evidence of it based upon people saying this is so from experience - requires consideration of something meaningful, people who are meaningful. There is evidence that not all sex is the same and the pleasure of it has a lot to do with what is or is not valuable about another person.

The more important point I think is (2). Sex requires a response to values for there to even be attraction or appeal in the first place, otherwise sex literally could not happen. No arousal, no sex. Whether or not those values are rational or not is one thing, but the important idea is that there needs to be some kind of response to values.

"Why wouldn't I have sexual desire for 60-year-old obese women with these values?" This question goes to a different level of consideration. One reason is societal norms. Plenty of people emphasize all the time that weight matters, that being too heavy is necessarily BAD. Of course, using obese here, that suggests the woman is making consciously unhealthy decisions. A 60 year old woman may not be attractive either because the likelihood of her holding similar values to someone 20 years old is about zero. I don't think there is good chance she'd like playing video games. That right there has some missing values, and I think it's generally well established that romantic attraction isn't purely about virtues. Still, lack of a response could have to do with irrational premises as well, or unconsidered and unevaluated emotions, as is the case with people who desire very specific stats about height, body type, and weight.

Have you never had an attraction to someone be completely ruined by a profound difference in fundamental beliefs, or never found more attraction towards a person upon discovering some commonality in belief or other similarity? One objection here that promiscuity may actually get around that, since if you barely know anything about a person, you won't lose that initial attraction which is based on physical appearance plus imagination. You can imagine them however you want them to be! However, you entirely miss out on what could enhance attraction, and thus pleasure of the sexual encounter.

Keep in mind that I've never seen Rand specifically say that sex apart from romantic relationships is bad. It may be perfectly fine in some contexts to have sex with a friend who is very important to you, which is still being selective and is still a response to values. It doesn't follow from any premise that I know of that sex can only happen in a morally proper way is with a romantic relationship. But having sex because of a mere urge, with no other consideration, is detrimental to the extent that there is no consideration of what sex is about. Promiscuity refers to sleeping around with next to no consideration of the other person, certainly divorced from values.

It seems this thread may be deserving of a split, depending upon subsequent posts.

Edited by Eiuol
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All of this just leaves me even more confused about Objectivisms stance on sex and casual sex.

I understand the love part.

Could you say I find the taste of fat pleasurable because of my values? Well, yes, I suppose. I value fat because it is a calorically dense nutrient and helps with my survival. But this is biologically programmed into my brain. These values are a result of evolutionary psychology. To me, so are the values of sexual attraction. Youth meaning fertility. Being slender meaning youth and health. And so on.

I'll come back and write more when I re-read these posts and read more about Rand. For now, I'm not sure if I simply disagree with the assertions or if I just don't understand the argument on this subject. I have to think about it more and learn Objectivist philosophy more deeply before I can really come to any conclusions. :huh:

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Since Objectivism is a foundationalist way of thinking, there is no need for shaky assertions. If we can show all of your sexual desires are biologically programmed, and you have limited or no control over them, then I mean yeah, there's not much Rand's opinions should mean for you, except go forth and do as your DNA mandates.

But there are problems with this view, as clearly not all people view sexual appearances in the same light. Some people prefer old over young. Some prefer fat over slender. Sexual desires vary throughout different cultures. Even in Western culture of the not too distant past, a fatty would have been generally seen in high demand, and a slender girl would be generally seen as unhealthy. Many people can list off and define their values in sexual attraction consciously, and standards of beauty differ radically among people. Different qualities and traits represent different things to different people. Again, a theory of pure biological programming in your brain couldn't account for these facts. You can't separate sexual desire from values, because you can't separate any desire or emotion from values. All emotions are a response to values.

Of course there is a science of sex appeal (duh, it's on the Discovery Channel), just as there is a science of emotions, but this is nothing more than finding out what physiological and psychological processes are involved in determining value in sexual attraction, probably some combination of genetic factors and subconscious associations formed starting in the teens. Such a science would have to take value-judgments as a given in its datum. So the ethical question then is informed by the role that values and physical pleasure play in man's nature and proceeds from there. (E.g. "The Psychology of Pleasure" in VoS, "Sex as Metaphysical" in OPAR. I mean, there's no need to wonder on what Objectivism says on sex. Rand's opinion of promiscuous sex isn't really a part of Objectivism, but an application of it based on her psychological views, see Eiuol above.)

Edited by 2046
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Since Objectivism is a foundationalist way of thinking, there is no need for shaky assertions. If we can show all of your sexual desires are biologically programmed, and you have limited or no control over them, then I mean yeah, there's not much Rand's opinions should mean for you, except go forth and do as your DNA mandates.

But there are problems with this view, as clearly not all people view sexual appearances in the same light. Some people prefer old over young. Some prefer fat over slender. Sexual desires vary throughout different cultures. Even in Western culture of the not too distant past, a fatty would have been generally seen in high demand, and a slender girl would be generally seen as unhealthy. Many people can list off and define their values in sexual attraction consciously, and standards of beauty differ radically among people. Different qualities and traits represent different things to different people. Again, a theory of pure biological programming in your brain couldn't account for these facts. You can't separate sexual desire from values, because you can't separate any desire or emotion from values. All emotions are a response to values.

Of course there is a science of sex appeal (duh, it's on the Discovery Channel), just as there is a science of emotions, but this is nothing more than finding out what physiological and psychological processes are involved in determining value in sexual attraction, probably some combination of genetic factors and subconscious associations formed starting in the teens. Such a science would have to take value-judgments as a given in its datum. So the ethical question then is informed by the role that values and physical pleasure play in man's nature and proceeds from there. (E.g. "The Psychology of Pleasure" in VoS, "Sex as Metaphysical" in OPAR. I mean, there's no need to wonder on what Objectivism says on sex. Rand's opinion of promiscuous sex isn't really a part of Objectivism, but an application of it based on her psychological views, see Eiuol above.)

Thanks. I agree mostly but I find that people who have radically different sexual desires are outliers. Variation is quite limited. There is an 'aggregate expression' of sexual attractiveness and definitely of facial beauty which can be mathematically determined. It might simply be that the outliers are wired differently. As far as I can gauge, what you find sexually attractive is not a choice just as what you find tasty is not a choice. Some people don't like chocolate but most do. Some people don't like certain foods that most people like but they are only outliers who also don't have a choice. I think that loving someone can indeed make them more sexually attractive but it is only an amplifier for what was already there as raw sexual attraction. I suspect that it can be tweaked a little bit but not significantly.

As far as Objectivism goes, so far this is the biggest thing I have a problem with. Ayn Rand's views on sex are no doubt very different from mine. She was a woman too and women have different evolutionary psychologies regarding sex. For a female, a man's looks had less importance for survival and replication. Since a man's value for a woman would be mostly based on the survival part and thus a man's personal qualities literally produce feelings of sexual attraction in females like looks do in males.

But thank you for pointing out that this is not a big part of Objectivism.

Edited by Paeter
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Hey Paeter,

I'm not going to comment on this thread too extensively because I have done so in other threads, but I just want to mention that if you are going to rely heavily on the "science" of evolutionary psych you may want to re-evaluate your argument. Much of it is garbage. I am making a career in evolutionary biology (among other things) and actually consider myself a sociobiologist, but a lot of the research that has been done in evolutionary psych is just sloppy crap and doesn't hold up in light of alternative explanations. For example, your claim that variation in sexual desire is limited is empirically false, as any anthropologist (or really any well-traveled, observant person) can verify. Again, I don't plan on rehashing a lot of my previous points. But if you do feel like getting into the science I don't mind. I am a giant nerd after all.

Two final points - firstly, I do not believe that the sexual desires of a rational, well-adjusted man and a rational, well-adjusted woman picked at random will be substantially more different than two men or two women picked at random (unless you want to go super-broad and say, for instance, that both of the men are likely to be attracted to women, but I don't see that as your argument as everyone knows the majority is attracted to the opposite sex). And secondly, you seem to be treating sexual desire as something causeless or unexplainable, or driven by purely physical forces. I would check that premise. The mind is the first and foremost sexual organ.

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Sexual attraction is a response to value?

I agree.

Is there rational value in youth? A slender build? Facial symmetry?

Absolutely. These suggest fertility and energy, a life-affirming approach to eating habits and exercise, and freedom from disease and genetic mishap, respectively. (Just as being "plump" once signified having money enough to eat well.)

So, is it "reasonable" for a man to be sexually attracted to a young, slender, pretty woman? (I use man and woman for convenience; I'd prefer to keep homosexuality as a separate discussion.) It is, insofar as a person values energy, exercise, health, etc., which all appear to be sensible values.

Scenario: a man meets a woman who is young, slender, and pretty, and consequently finds her sexually attractive. His initial attraction may suggest that there are values to be gained from an association with this woman, the physical act of sex being just one. After all, if her slenderness is as a result of a specific nutritional and exercise regimen, then it may be possible to infer a certain level of commitment to reason, and an integrity to act upon what she holds to be true, etc. Her hygiene does not exist in a vacuum; it is only made possible by her taking action, and those actions speak of her character. And beyond broad categories of dress, build, age, etc., there are a myriad of more-subtle physical details that may communicate themselves on a subconscious level: how a person's eyes move when they speak; how their body posture indicates attentiveness when they listen; whether their smile "reaches the eyes," and is genuine; so on, and so on, and so on. All of these data say something about a person, and all of it, in sum, may result in a greater or lesser attraction.

However. We also know that "appearances can be deceiving," which here means that our attempts to infer character from appearance, both consciously and subconsciously, are fraught with difficulty and the potential for misstep. As a basic example, a slender woman's build may indicate her commitment to nutrition and exercise... or... it may be a quirk of her metabolic nature. Or, she might be engaged in a particular diet based on some strange mystical belief. In short, we know that her body type says something about her, but what...? Typically, we can only draw so many conclusions, and those only so strongly, based on physical appearance (though with practice and thought a person may increase in his skill), and to "truly" know a person, we must get to know him/her better through conversation -- not just once, but often over time.

We recognize that our attraction signifies "things of value" that may be available for trade with a person. Is orgasm, itself, of value? I'd say that it is, in context. Masturbating in a burning building is a bad idea. But masturbation after a day's work, taking joy in one's own ability to relax, experience pleasure, etc.? Is a pleasant thing to do from time to time. Sex with another is much like masturbation -- or can be, at any rate -- but it is also intrinsically different. Apart from awareness of the other persons' experience of the activity, and the pleasures that one may take in providing pleasure to another, it is simply different to provide oneself pleasure versus having it provided by another. As one small example of this difference, another person is capable of surprising you -- touching you where you did not expect to be touched -- which results in a different, more intense, and often more pleasurable physical sensation. These differences together can amount to a significant difference overall in the pleasure taken between sex and masturbation, so that to crave sex with another is not necessarily the same as craving masturbation (which can be, itself, more than craving the simple release/pleasure of orgasm).

As always, context is crucial. Sex in a burning building is as bad of an idea as masturbation, or worse in that two would die.

Casual sex.

So we have our man attracted to our young, slender, pretty woman. He recognizes that an association with her may result in all sorts of trades for things he values; his attraction, itself, signifies that there's good reason for optimism on this score. What kinds of things may be traded? Conversation, for instance? Sure -- her appearance is a good initial indication that she may be intelligent, and have worthwhile things to say, and provoke deeper and more exacting thought; this is one among the greatest things that men can trade with one another.

What of sex? Yes. That's another value that can possibly be traded for: she is a potential source of great physical pleasure, which, so long as one's smoke detector is working, is a good thing to experience.

If this man's attraction leads to conversation -- and coming to understand that this woman is as her appearance would suggest her to be; that is, she is attractive through-and-through -- it might lead to all sorts of possibilities in terms of relationships, including friendship or even a lifelong partnership. At what point in that journey is sex "permissible"? When would they be justified in trading physical pleasures to one another? I'd say, as soon as each is satisfied that the trade is worthwhile. This might be on the wedding night. It might be shortly after meeting. Depending on their ability to assess the other's character, depending on their satisfaction that certain risks of having sex (e.g. pregnancy, disease) have been minimized, depending on their personal convictions that there is nothing inherently wrong with taking pleasure, etc. At some point, there is no longer a reason to deny this exchange of pleasure.

What might make the sex "casual"? As one example, they might be on different career paths. Perhaps there is value for them in sharing physical pleasure, and other beneficial aspects of companionship, together for a night (or a month, or what-have-you), but to commit to a permanent partnership would be to sacrifice a greater value. Perhaps even spending the time to get to know the other to the point whether one could say they'd be "marriage material" is too expensive, in a given context. Is there any reason here to withhold the trade of physical pleasure which both sides deem is for their individual benefit? There is not. "Casual" sex is not valueless sex, just as sex between evil people in a 20 years marriage is not a beautiful thing.

As to "promiscuity," how many times may such a scenario occur? How many times may a person "reasonably" have sex with a truly (inside as well as out) attractive partner, despite a longer engagement being undesirable? More to the point, outside the particulars of an individual's life-as-it's-actually-lived, would there be any sense in trying to assign a number to such a thing?

To summarize: Sex that is indiscriminate (without regard to the nature of the other participant), or sex predicated on evil values, is not a rationally desirable thing, just as sex in a burning building is a bad idea. But sex as a response to rational values is a good thing. There is nothing inherent to "casual" sex that necessitates it being anything other than that.

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