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What Is The Definition Of Sex?

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fatdogs12
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Yeah, I contradicted my definition because I hadn't thought of the homosexual context yet...so I modified it.

I don't like the idea of "Objectivist" definitions, because they tend to be incredibly esoteric. When no one else in the English-speaking world uses the word "selfish" the way we do, I tend to think that we're the ones who should change our vocabulary. The same would go for sex. I don't care what Peikoff's definition is, because I'm of the opinion that the definition of a word is subject to the predominant use.

The reason why 'alternative' definitions like Ayn Rand's "selfish" are important is because there simply wasnt a word in the normal English language which corresponded to the concept she was using. When you want to introduce a new concept in philosophy, you have 2 options - you can either a) invent a brand new technical term, or B) adapt a word from ordinary language which has already has a similar meaning. Different philosophers go different ways on this - some will quite happily invent a whole new language for themselves (Heidegger/Husserl are paradigm examples), whereas others will avoid neologisms and speak in what looks on the surface to be ordinary language, but with meanings slightly changed. Ayn Rand belonged in the latter camp - she tended to avoid inventing new words (the only new term she introduced was 'pyscho-epistemology', as far as I know). But of course, this meant that she had to alter the meaning of existing words instead. You can say this is annoying because it means Objectivists end up talking a different language to everyone else, but this is unfortunately a necessary evil in philosophy - if you want a new conceptual framework, youre going to have to bring in a new language in which to talk about it. One of ARs most crucial contributions imo was to point out how the English langauge was missing several vitally important concepts ("selfish" being the most obvious example) and I would say that her reformed vocabulary was generally a positive aspect of Objectivism, rather than a negative.

"Sex" is another example of this - the word 'sex' does already have a definition in the English language, but we can still ask whether this ordinary definition is useful - does it capture the most important distinctions here, or does it serve to obscure them like the ordinary language 'selfish' does? For instance, if someone pointed out that most people used the word 'sex' to mean the act of putting the penis into the vagina, we could ask what was so special about this act which made it warrant its own term. For example, most people will claim that sex is the ultimate form of intimacy. But it seems obvious to me that this mistaken, and is a result of being bewitched by language - there is no objective reason why vaginal intercourse is more intimate, or intense, than anal sex or oral sex. We just happen to have evolved a language which places 'sex' at the top of the hierarchy.

This sort of thing does have practical effects - there are many anecdotal stories about religious girls who only engage in anal/oral sex, because they believe that this lets them retain their virginity. And here we have a clear example of the confusion which can arise from language - the ordinary definition of 'sex' causes people to think that there is something special about vaginal intercourse which makes it qualitively different from all other kinds of intimate acts. The same thing arises in the context of cheating on your partner. Some people might say they could forgive their girlfriend if they gave someone a drunken blowjob, but not if they slept with someone else. Why? "Well, because a blowjob isnt really sex". And this is more linguistic mysticism.

We are free to investigate whether there is indeed anything special about vaginal sex which makes it deserving of being viewed differently from other intimate acts. And if we find that it isnt, we might agree that it makes sense to extend the definition of 'sex' to cover other things (oral/anal, perhaps even foreplay) in order to reduce confusion and help clarify our thinking. We could of course discover that the 'vaginal sex' distinction is important in certain specific contexts, such as that of biology and evolution, and not in others (such as deciding whether a partner has cheated on you).

edit: "self-interest" in ordinary language suffers from the exact same problems that "selfish" does. It doesnt distinguish between the narrow, petty self-obsession displayed by George or Elaine from Seinfeld, and the rational selfishness of someone like Howard Roark. George Costanza displays a very high degree of self-interest in the literal sense of not caring about, or even noticing, those around him, but this is not what Ayn Rand meant by the term. There is also the issue of impact to consider - Ayn Rand was an artist, and seemed to like making pithy statement which were deliberately infammatory (much like Nietzsche). "The Virtue of Selfishness" has more immediate impact than "The Virtue of Rational Self-Interest", even if both mean the same thing, and is probably more likely to provoke someone into investigating further.

Edited by Hal
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Only my first sentence was a reply to you...the rest was for Starblade. I know no one has accused me of arguing against Objectivism...I just don't want them to start. As far as the word "fuck," it hasn't been used that way for centuries. That's how the word was originally used back in earlier forms of the English language.

long post

You make some very good points. I think, however, that it would be better for a philosopher to invent new words. It's easier to teach someone the meaning of a new word than it is to make them change their definition of an old one. At any rate, there is a third option: using combinations of existing words, such as "rational self interest." This eliminates the need for a new word as well as the need to change an existing one.

As far as sex goes...why is vaginal intercourse considered more intimate? I think the reasons for that are evolutionary and sociological, moreso than philosophical. Vaginal intercourse is required for reproduction. Evolutionistically (see, I just invented a new word :D) speaking, you have less chance of passing on your own genes if your wife sleeps around. If she gives blowjobs to other guys, she's not gonna get pregnant, thereby remaining available for your own genes. And then there's sociology...why it is, I don't know, but it's still a sociological fact. I, for one, would be far more upset if my fiancee had sex with someone else than I would if she gave someone a blowjob. I'd dump her either way, but I'd move on with my life a lot faster if it was just a blowjob.

Why does "sex" mean only vaginal intercourse? I don't know...there has to be some word to distinguish it from other types of sexual activity. And since vaginal intercourse is the climax (no pun intended) of sexual activity, it only seems appropriate that the word "sex" should be reserved for it.

And, yes, I have noticed the thing about religious people. That particular bit of hypocrisy has always irked me...even when I was religious. I find it disgusting how so many Christians hold this "sins that I don't commit are bad and terrible" attitude.

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According to Wikipedia (and to an extent the Oxford Dictionary online), "fuck" was never used as anything but a vulgar way to refer to sex. Not until recently has the term's severity died down and included other meanings ("Fuck off" means "Go away, I really don't like you.").

According to Merriam-Webster Online, sexual intercourse can involve the penetration of the penis in the vagina or... not. There is a specific term for the former, however: coitus.

In my opinion, the word sex is highly context-driven. And I am with Moose's opinion that language is ultimately determined by most-widespread-usage. Right now, at this moment in history, sex in America definitely includes penetration of the vagina or the ass, and has a minimal emotional weight attached to it. I can't speak for past generations because I have not studied them, nor could I say where the term will develop in the future. Maybe Ayn Rand's definition will catch on and twenty years from now nobody would dream of referring to a one-night-stand as "sex."

In my opinion, Ayn Rand's definition is heavily based on unsubstantiated assertions in psychology. I busted out the Ayn Rand Lexicon to get a good idea of what her opinion was:

"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.

Romantic love, in the full sense of the term, is an emotion possible only to the man (or woman) of unbreached self-esteem: it is his response to his own highest values in the person of another -- an integrated response of mind and body, of love and sexual desire. Such a man (or woman) is incapable of experiencing a sexual desire divorced from spiritual values."

The other entries basically say the same thing, lengthened. I interpret her definitions to mean that a person can have sex (Merrium-Webster's), but as a human it is impossible to separate your mind from the action. Fair enough. Her further analysis was that since sex involves the minds of two different people, and since it feels so good, rather, since it feels better than anything in the world, it is one of the highest celebrations of life available to a person.

Well, what if the two minds involved want nothing more than a really great sexual experience? Meaning, they want the physical experience and their minds know that it is all they want? Rand said to Playboy (according to the Lexicon): "When one is certain that one's choice [of a life-long mate appropriate for marriage] is final, then marriage is, of course, a desirable state. But this does not mean that any relationship based on less than total certainty is improper. I think the question of an affair or a marriage depends on the knowledge and the position of the two persons involved and should be left up to them."

So, Rand thought that one-night-stands were immoral, but three-year-stands were ok? Or what about six-month-stands? Or, as I said, what if someone just wanted occasional sex with someone who fit well with them in bed?

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Only my first sentence was a reply to you...the rest was for Starblade. I know no one has accused me of arguing against Objectivism...I just don't want them to start. As far as the word "fuck," it hasn't been used that way for centuries. That's how the word was originally used back in earlier forms of the English language.

Actually, the word stands for "Fornification Under the Consent of the King". At least as far as I know.

You make some very good points. I think, however, that it would be better for a philosopher to invent new words. It's easier to teach someone the meaning of a new word than it is to make them change their definition of an old one. At any rate, there is a third option: using combinations of existing words, such as "rational self interest." This eliminates the need for a new word as well as the need to change an existing one.

As far as sex goes...why is vaginal intercourse considered more intimate? I think the reasons for that are evolutionary and sociological, moreso than philosophical. Vaginal intercourse is required for reproduction. Evolutionistically (see, I just invented a new word :D) speaking, you have less chance of passing on your own genes if your wife sleeps around. If she gives blowjobs to other guys, she's not gonna get pregnant, thereby remaining available for your own genes. And then there's sociology...why it is, I don't know, but it's still a sociological fact. I, for one, would be far more upset if my fiancee had sex with someone else than I would if she gave someone a blowjob. I'd dump her either way, but I'd move on with my life a lot faster if it was just a blowjob.

Why does "sex" mean only vaginal intercourse? I don't know...there has to be some word to distinguish it from other types of sexual activity. And since vaginal intercourse is the climax (no pun intended) of sexual activity, it only seems appropriate that the word "sex" should be reserved for it.

And, yes, I have noticed the thing about religious people. That particular bit of hypocrisy has always irked me...even when I was religious. I find it disgusting how so many Christians hold this "sins that I don't commit are bad and terrible" attitude.

The reason why we don't use sex to refer only to sexual intercourse is because we already have a word for sexual intercourse, whereas we DON'T have a word for non-intercourse forms of sexual behaviour other than sodomy. What are we supposed to say when we brag to our friends that we've had non intercourse sex? That we engaged in sodomy? That may be simply being accurate, according to you, but I'm afraid the term sodomy implies that the form of sexual relations was 'unnatural'. While sexual intercourse, which does in fact specifically mean penile-vaginal sex, may be preferable, what's so wrong with oral sex that it deserves to be considered unnatural, or otherwise does not deserve to be called sex?

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Actually, the word stands for "Fornification Under the Consent of the King".
Actually, Wikipedia says that this is a false etymology, if for no other reason than because "fuck" was recorded in history before this specific acronym was recorded, or before virtually any acronyms were recorded at all.
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Well, what if the two minds involved want nothing more than a really great sexual experience? Meaning, they want the physical experience and their minds know that it is all they want? Rand said to Playboy (according to the Lexicon): "When one is certain that one's choice [of a life-long mate appropriate for marriage] is final, then marriage is, of course, a desirable state. But this does not mean that any relationship based on less than total certainty is improper. I think the question of an affair or a marriage depends on the knowledge and the position of the two persons involved and should be left up to them."

So, Rand thought that one-night-stands were immoral, but three-year-stands were ok? Or what about six-month-stands? Or, as I said, what if someone just wanted occasional sex with someone who fit well with them in bed?

I cant find anything in the quotes youve provided which suggest AR thought one-night stands were immoral. And to be honest, I'd be very surprised if she did think that - unless by 'one night stand' you are exclusively referring to sleeping with a drunk girl youve picked up in a bar purely because you thought she looked hot (or something similar). I interpret these quotes to be saying that a rational person would only have sex with someone they valued on all levels - mentally and physically - as opposed to (eg) sleeping with a girl you think is an idiot but who has nice breasts. Shes not saying that one night stands are necessarily bad, or that monogamy is the Only True way of living - she's making a statement about the basis of attraction (more specifically, she is denying a currently popular model of attraction which holds that there is a fundamental split between purely 'physical' beauty and everything else that makes a person sexually attractive).

If you met a girl who you thought was perfect in every way, but she was leaving the country the following day, of course a one-night stand in this situation wouldnt be immoral (although it might not be the best idea practically speaking, if you believed it would lead to you obsessing over her after she had gone). Similarly if you had a close female friend who you valued yet didnt believe could be the person you wanted to spend your life with, I wouldnt say there was anything immoral about having a relationship where you were essentially friends who slept together sometimes, and I doubt AR would have found this immoral either.

Edited by Hal
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I cant find anything in the quotes youve provided which suggest AR thought one-night stands were immoral.

From her Playboy interview. Very good reading.

PLAYBOY: You have denounced the puritan notion that physical love is ugly or evil; yet you have written that "Indiscriminate desire and unselective indulgence are possible only to those who regard sex and themselves as evil." Would you say that discriminate and selective indulgence in sex is moral?

RAND: I would say that a selective and discriminate sex life is not an indulgence. The term indulgence implies that it is an action taken lightly and casually. I say 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.

PLAYBOY: Does this mean, in your view, that sex should involve only married partners?

RAND: Not necessarily. What sex should involve is a very serious relationship. Whether that relationship should or should not become a marriage is a question which depends on the circumstances and the context of the two persons' lives. I consider marriage a very important institution, but it is important when and if two people have found the person with whom they wish to spend the rest of their lives -- a question of which no man or woman can be automatically certain. When one is certain that one's choice is final, then marriage is, of course, a desirable state. But this does not mean that any relationship based on less than total certainty is improper. I think the question of an affair or a marriage depends on the knowledge and the position of the two persons involved and should be left up to them. Either is moral, provided only that both parties take the relationship seriously and that it is based on values.

PLAYBOY: As one who champions the cause of enlightened self-interest, how do you feel about dedicating one's life to hedonistic self-gratification?

RAND: I am profoundly opposed to the philosophy of hedonism. Hedonism is the doctrine which holds that the good is whatever gives you pleasure and, therefore, pleasure is the standard of morality. Objectivism holds that the good must be defined by a rational standard of value, that pleasure is not a first cause, but only a consequence, that only the pleasure which proceeds from a rational value judgment can be regarded as moral, that pleasure, as such, is not a guide to action nor a standard of morality. To say that pleasure should be the standard of morality simply means that whichever values you happen to have chosen, consciously or subconsciously, rationally or irrationally, are right and moral. This means that you are to be guided by chance feelings, emotions and whims, not by your mind. My philosophy is the opposite of hedonism. I hold that one cannot achieve happiness by random, arbitrary or subjective means. One can achieve happiness only on the basis of rational values. By rational values, I do not mean anything that a man may arbitrarily or blindly declare to be rational. It is the province of morality, of the science of ethics, to define for men what is a rational standard and what are the rational values to pursue.

PLAYBOY: You have said that the kind of man who spends his time running after women is a man who "despises himself." Would you elaborate?

RAND: This type of man is reversing cause and effect in regard to sex. Sex is an expression of a man's self-esteem, of his own self-value. But the man who does not value himself tries to reverse this process. He tries to derive his self-esteem from his sexual conquests, which cannot be done. He cannot acquire his own value from the number of women who regard him as valuable. Yet that is the hopeless thing which he attempts.

PLAYBOY: You attack the idea that sex is "impervious to reason." But isn't sex a nonrational biological instinct?

RAND: No. To begin with, man does not possess any instincts. Physically, sex is merely a capacity. But how a man will exercise this capacity and whom he will find attractive depends on his standard of value. It depends on his premises, which he may hold consciously or subconsciously, and which determine his choices. It is in this manner that his philosophy directs his sex life.

PLAYBOY: Isn't the individual equipped with powerful, nonrational biological drives?

RAND: He is not. A man is equipped with a certain kind of physical mechanism and certain needs, but without any knowledge of how to fulfill them. For instance, man needs food. He experiences hunger. But, unless he learns first to identify this hunger, then to know that he needs food and how to obtain it, he will starve. The need, the hunger, will not tell him how to satisfy it. Man is born with certain physical and psychological needs, but he can neither discover them nor satisfy them without the use of his mind. Man has to discover what is right or wrong for him as a rational being. His so-called urges will not tell him what to do.

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And by your definition, phone sex is sex, simply because the phrase contains the word "sex."

Hardly. I did not define the concept based on the word's usage (which would be epistemological folly), I used an example of the word's usage to demonstrate that the definition you proposed does not cover all that the concept "sex" should.

If (forgive me the tasteless example) your girl friend/wife walks up to you and says:

A - I had sex with Joe (using the word as you defined it)

B - I gave Joe a blow job

There is no rational reason why you should respond differently to A or B. In both cases she was physically intimate with another guy - and that is the essential aspect of the thing. That is what the concept should subsume.

You can then create a myriad of sub-concepts and derived concepts, differentiating my means (oral, anal), gender of the participants (homo, hetero), willigness of the participants (rape), number of participants (orgy) and whatever else.

mrocktor

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Ayn Rand says that sex without shared values can be irrational depending on your reasons, if your reason is to feel like a big man by being a stud, that is a false gratification. If my reason is I'm horny, so are you, want to? I can have sex if I'm in love, what about like? How much like? Where is the line?

There was a part in the Fountainhead that talked about Roarks sex life where it wasn't anything but physical gratification, where he had sex with girls he had no feelings for, just for the sex, a physical pleasure (like eating better tasting food). She cut it out because she felt it would be confusing to some readers.

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  • 2 weeks later...
There was a part in the Fountainhead that talked about Roarks sex life where it wasn't anything but physical gratification, where he had sex with girls he had no feelings for, just for the sex, a physical pleasure (like eating better tasting food). She cut it out because she felt it would be confusing to some readers.

No. Roark did not sleep with anyone before Dominique. You may be thinking of Hank Rearden who had sex with strange women before Lillian but not after, except for Dagny.

Or, as applicable to Roark, you're probably thinking about the story VESTA DUNNING in The Early Ayn Rand. But I can't say for sure whether there is a line that says so of Roark. But I know that in her journals Ayn Rand does write about Roark's promiscuity, in the initial stages; sex, as a way to relieve some animal hunger. But she changes this years later. It works better dramatically, also, if Roark is a virgin, if they both are, so that the "rape" scene is effective enough.

Jose Gainza.

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Yes, she changed her mind about it and I agree that the story works better in the way used, but Do you think that she would even think of that if it couldn't be moral? Pay attention to what Fransisco says in A.S., about how promiscuos men do what they do to feel big about themselves (putting it plainly). But anything is moral IF for moral reaasons. Also I wouldn't have sex with someone I hate, but someone I meet for a night and I like for both body and a brief glimpse into their mind is fairplay I think.

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Sex is the vaginal penetration of the penis. I don't see how this is a difficult question. Other stuff is "foreplay." Everything else (celebration of values, etc.) falls into the realm of psychology.

Don't you mean penile penetration of the vagina?

I sincerely hope that no one's vagina is capable of penetrating a penis. Ouch!

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Define by essentials! What is the essence of sex? Transfer of genetic information from one member of a species to another leading to the creation of a new member combining genetic information from both parents.

Anything else called "sex" is either foreplay or a perversion.

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Define by essentials! What is the essence of sex? Transfer of genetic information from one member of a species to another leading to the creation of a new member combining genetic information from both parents.

Anything else called "sex" is either foreplay or a perversion.

Sex with a condom is foreplay?

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Sex with a condom is foreplay?
The other choice is perversion. Pope Paul VI was very clear on this point in Humanae Vitae. See for example the decree of His Holeyness section 14 "Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means."
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The other choice is perversion. Pope Paul VI was very clear on this point in Humanae Vitae. See for example the decree of His Holeyness section 14 "Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means."

Yeah, but he's only talking about heterosexual married people. So people like my husband & me who use (horror of horrors) birth control are the true sinners. To the rest of you: Have at it with your condoms, pills, patches, etc with impunity! The homosexuals also seem to be in the clear since (in most states) they're not married and, even if they are, they aren't necessarily trying to avoid procreation per se.

Anyone buy that? :P

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Yeah, but he's only talking about heterosexual married people.
True enough: I don't know enough about Catlick theology to know where there is a ruling declaring that extramarital sex is also illegal, though I am betting that there must be some such declaration issued over the past 2000 years. Though I could lose that bet...
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Contradictions in christianity?!

what? :P

--------------------------

How about this: sex- actions by more than one individuals where each gets physical pleasure, not necessaraly phycological. Meaning that each is recieving pleasure in some place that has specified pleasure receptors. This should lead to only vaginal and anal sex. (the male gspot is located there, and in women outer stimulation of the former can come from the latter). 69ing would qualify too, anyone care to add?

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