on sexual ethics
Fornication: sex before marriage
• Utilitarianism says that sex between 2 people
who freely agree to it would be acceptable.
• They have been known to have a libertarian
approach so would say consenting adults can do
what they want as it is “the greatest happiness
for the greatest number.”
• This is as long as no harm is done to others or
society in general.
• However, utilitarianism would say that sex
before marriage could cause some problems.
• You might not know the person you are having
sex with very well which could result in the
spread of STIs and being pregnant with
someone you do not want a child with.
• Bentham also suggested that fornification could
harm society by undermining marriage.
• It is also possible that sex outside marriage
could be falsely consented.
e.g. someone underage might not understand
what they are consenting to.
• This is not proper consent and is not the
greatest happiness for the greatest number.
ADULTERY: sex outside
• In this situation the greatest happiness for the
greatest number does NOT work as those being
cheated on would be upset.
• Utilitarianism weighs out the pain and
pleasure…adultery causes short term pleasure but
is not worth the ultimate pain and misery they can
cause, e.g. divorce and the break up of a family.
• Although they say consenting adults can do what
they want this is providing no one else or society is
• Consensual sex can create good, but not in this
• Utilitarianism is tolerant of non traditional sexual
• If marrying and having sex with more than one
person is what you want to do then it is acceptable.
• Mill stresses the importance of human happiness
and freedom.
• But all those involved have to consent because they
want to, not because they are being forced to.
• It can cause public offence.
• Could lead to jealousy and people being upset.
• Bentham would also say that society could be
harmed as it could undermine the importance of
marriage which is committing yourself to one
• Utilitarianism doesn’t specifically mention the
use of contraception which suggests they do
not have a problem with it.
• If both involved are aware and do not have a
problem with contraception being used then it
is acceptable.
• Contraception can bring many benefits to
• Can stop the spread of STIs and help prevent
• Helps stop unwanted pregnancies which can
cause physical and emotional harm.
• It allows people to plan when they want a baby
which in the long term creates the greatest good
for the greatest number. (maybe not the case in
abortions because the baby is being killed.)
• Mill stresses the importance of individual choice
which suggests that if you want to use then you
should be free to, but if you have a problem with
it then it’s your choice not to use it.
• If being a homosexual gives someone the most
pleasure and makes them happier then it is
supported by Mill’s stress of human happiness.
• If the gay relationship is approved by both
involved and no harm is done to society then it is
• Utilitarianism says freedom should be protected
and we should be able to do what we want
within limits.
• Mill also said “free scope should be given to
varieties of character.” Just because people
have different opinions and aren’t acting what is
considered “normal” in society, it does not make
what they are doing wrong.
• Only concern would be from Bentham, who said
harm can be done by causing public offence.
Homosexuality could possible do this (not so
much in society today).
• Also if homosexuality were the norm then
society would be harmed as we wouldn’t be able
to reproduce.