Sexual Ethics
• TASKS: 1. What issues can you think of to
do with sexual ethics? Write as many of
these down as you can
• 2. Now highlight as many of these that are
still MAJOR issues today
• 3. Can you divide sexuality / sexual acts into
those that are legal and illegal?
Sexual Ethics
• Having sex in private
• Having sex with many
people or partners
• Adultery
• Homosexuality
• Prostitution
• Paying for sex
• Most forms of pornography
• Having sex in public
• Indecent exposure (the must be
• Marriage to more than one
person (polygamy)
• Sex under the age of 16 (specific
laws protect under 13s)
• Sex without consent (rape)
• Kerb Crawling
H. L. Hart (1907 – 1992)
• Draws a boundary between public and
private sexual acts – separating the
acceptable and unacceptable
On the other hand, he suggests that no
private sexual act could harm anyone
‘apart from a few neurotic persons
who are literally “made ill” by it’
Do you agree? What might be
Sexual intercourse
between husband
and wife is not
immoral, but if it
takes place in public
it is an affront to
human decency’
• The Biblical emphasis is on man and woman
expressing their sexuality within a marriage
• The ‘one flesh’ principle suggests that a sexual
relationship is assumed to be an integral part of
• In principle, all other sexual relationships are
seen as wrong and undermine the trust and
protection offered by Christian marriage
Christian Churches
• These largely follow the
view that sex should be
confined to marriage
• HOWEVER, many
religious believers say this
is too legalistic – Sex
should be seen in the
‘The sexual act must take place
exclusively within marriage.
context of loving
Outside marriage it always
constitutes a grave sin’
Catechism of the RC Church
• Absolute Vs Relative ?
Think about the pros and cons
Natural Law
• Natural Law suggests that every aspect of
creation is designed to work in particular ways
• To follow these ‘laws of nature’ will lead to
• Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica II) applied
this to sexual ethics, arguing that the natural purpose
of sexual organs was to reproduce – Therefore any
sexual act that goes against their true and natural use
is seen as a perversion and a sin
Divine Command Theory
• This approach to sexual ethics looks to
discover the revealed will of God on ethical
issues – this has absolute authority
• Where is this authority found?
The Scriptures!
Religions of
the Book
• Opponents of this
fundamentalism point to the
examples of Jesus and Paul
alike refusing to accept
laws as the entire word of
• E.g. Jesus challenged
Sabbath laws and the
stoning of an adulterous
Situation Ethics
Asks...What is the most loving thing to do?
This approach has led to
fairly widespread
acceptance by more
liberal Christians and
Jews of non-marital sex
and homosexuality
between fully committed
couples – Provided love
is served!
Situation Ethics and Divorce
• In Honest to God, (1963) Robinson questions the
conservative view that marriage created a
supernatural bond, impossible to break
• The Church of England responded in 1966 in a report
Sex and Morality, which focused on the dangers and
sins of family break up and the need for loving
marriages and secure homes for children
• Divorce is no longer such a big issue, but the same
ideas can be applied to other areas of sexual ethics
2 Opposing Views
Conservative Views
• These tend to be
paternalistic, meaning
those who believe they
have moral insight feel
they have a duty to
interfere with the actions
of others for their own
Libertarian Views
• These suggest that
consenting adults can do
as they please, providing
no harm (as recognised by
everyone as such) is
• J. S. Mills famous work
‘On Liberty’ plays an
important role here