A quick revision PowerPoint for Sexual Ethics brought to you by Philosophical Investigations. A resources and revision website for A Level Religious Studies, OCR, AQA and Edexcel. Visit: philosophicalinvestigations.co.uk for more.
To explore a range of Christian and secular
To apply these to homosexuality, contraception
and pre-marital sex
To seek insights from Kant, Natural Law,
utilitarianism and situation ethics
Sex is created by God as means of procreation
(Genesis 1 and 2)
Sexual relations with other tribes forbidden (1
Adultery punished by stoning (Leviticus 20)
In Levitical code, women property of men and
socially inferior. Women were “unclean” due to
blood taboo after childbirth etc.
Jesus says little about sexual relations,
mentioning “sexual immorality” once (Mark 7:21)
as “making us unclean from within”.
Paul sees the body as the Temple of the Holy
Spirit, bought back from slavery (1 Cor 6:12-20).
Context: shrine prostitution in Corinth.
Paul condemns homosexual practices as
abominations (Romans 1: 21-27), deserving death
(he was a Rabbi).
“There is no longer Jew nor Greek, male nor
female, slave nor free: you are all one in Christ
Jesus” (Galatians 3:28)
Jesus allowed unclean women to touch him (Mark
5:30) and wash his feet, (Mark 14:6).
It’s as if the radicalism of Jesus wasn’t fully grasp
by the Rabbi, Paul.
The woman caught in adultery is not condemned
or stoned. Jesus says “go in peace and leave your
life of sin”. (Jn 8)
Augustine (354-440) saw the Fall of Man as the
origin of sexual lust and passion.
Before the Fall, sex was an act of will.
After the Fall, women desired men and men ruled
Sexual shame required modesty.
Sex was for marriage, and should be done out of
duty (to procreate) not pleasure.
The body is the seat of wicked desires and
passions: “sins of the flesh”.
The soul had to overcome these temptations.
We “do not do what we want, but the very thing I
hate is what I do” (Romans 7:15).
The flesh must be “put to death”, says Paul. This
mortification is the origin of self-flagellation (Da
Vinci Code), and is still practised in Spanish and
Italian cities at Lent.
Sex is for procreation, a primary good
“Any act from which of its nature generation
cannot follow” is wrong.
Aquinas condemns masturbation, homosexual
acts, and acts where “the natural style of
intercourse is not observed”.
Adultery “conflicts with right reason”, even
though natural, and breaks the primary precept
of living in society.
Might God have created us with different natural
Is an “unnatural” sex act (like masturbation) wrong
if it harms no-one or (like living together) is done
2357 “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which
presents homosexuality as a grave depravity,
tradition has always declared that homosexual
acts are intrinsically disordered. They are
contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual
act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from
genuine affective and sexual complementarity.
Under no circumstances can they be approved”.
Homosexuality is like a disease.
Breaks the natural relation to sex: procreation, so
But…if an alcoholic gives up drink the benefits are
clear, yet if a homosexual is in a loving
relationship, what bad effects are there?
Given that key aspects of human nature include
culture and history, any moral principle must be
tested, verified, retested, and refined according to
human experience, which may change according
to time and/or place, there can not be one
“answer” that fits for all times and places
“It is an error to think that a conjugal act which is
deliberately made against natural law and so is
intrinsically dishonest, could be made honest and
right by the context of a lawful married life.”
The regulation of conception appears necessary for
many couples who wish to achieve a responsible, open
and reasonable parenthood in today’s circumstances. If
they are to observe and cultivate all the essential values
of marriage, married people need decent and human
means for the regulation of conception. They should be
able to expect the collaboration of all, especially for men
of learning and science, in order that they have at their
disposal means agreeable and worthy of man in the
fulfilling of his responsible parenthood.” Pontifical Birth
Look at the nature of the sexual faculty
Designed for procreation, in marriage context
Focus on the individual “act”
Therefore, each and every sexual act and
expression should be open to the possibility of
procreation; anything that obstructs this is
intrinsically disordered (contra naturam)
Key value is following this “natural function”.
Looks at the individual and the couple in their
whole, real life situation
Stresses the relational aspects, especially love
and “responsible parenthood”
Evaluates single acts within this total context
Key values are personal and interpersonal
Tension Between ParadigmsTension Between Paradigms
“…objective criteria must be used, drawn from the nature of
the human person and human action, … which respect the
total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation
in the context of true love…”
Gaudium et Spes, 1965:51
“it is not permissible, even for the gravest reasons, ... to
make into the object of a positive act of the will something
which is intrinsically disordered, ... even when the intention
is to safeguard or promote individual, family or social
Humanae Vitae 1968:14
Remember the Principle of Conscience inRemember the Principle of Conscience in
Moral LivingMoral Living
◦ Sanctuary of Conscience
◦ Sacred Place: Where we meet God
Safe Place: no outside authority may enter
◦ Primacy of Conscience
◦ Always follow your conscience
◦ Even when “erroneous”
◦ But take care to form and inform it.
Cannot universalise eg adultery – a contradiction in will.
Difficult for heterosexuals to conceive a universal law
legalising homosexual acts contradiction in nature.
Kant argued that “sexual love is a degradation of human
nature” (link with importance of reason and his dislike of
As soon as someone is an object of someone else’s lust,
they are being used as a means to an end. Breaks
second formulation (principle of ends).
In the contract of marriage, sex is fine.
Marriage is a contract of equals (respect, rights, dignity).
Partners surrender rights to each other eg the right to
your own body.
The sole condition on which we are free to make use of our sexual desire depends
upon the right to dispose over the person as a whole.... If I have the right over the
whole person, I have also the right ... to use that person's organa sexualia for the
satisfaction of sexual desire. But how am I to obtain these rights over the whole
person? Only by giving that person the same rights over the whole of myself. This
happens only in marriage. Matrimony is an agreement between two persons by which
they grant each other equal reciprocal rights, each of them undertaking to surrender
the whole of their person to the other with a complete right of disposal over it .... If I
yield myself completely to another and obtain the person of the other in return, I win
myself back.... In this way the two persons become a unity of wills.
Pleasure is the intrinsic good.
Shared pleasure can build happiness in a relationship.
Consensual sex is what most seem to desire to be
fulfilled, so maximises happiness.
Bad consequences eg STDs should be avoided.
But is consent enough to make something “good”? (eg
sex with minors?).
Mill saw sex belonging to “lower pleasures”.
Harm principle eg long term pain of affairs.
Sense of value
Loss of taboos
But as some of the “pains” diminish (eg due to contraception) how
do we measure the emotional pain promiscuity may produce?
Sexual shame comes out of parental influences on the
Being moral may not accord with our real natures at all…
the conscience needs to mature.
Failure to control sexual urges will undermine the
development of a virtuous character and can lead to
Oedipus complex: unconscious repression of desire to
kill father and possess mother formed aged 3-6 years.
Resolved by identifying with same sex parent.
Draw a grid, placing the three issues, pre-marital
sex, homosexual sex, and contraception on one
axis and Kant, utilitarianism and natural law on the
Fill in the boxes, summarising different
approaches to sexual ethics
Taking the recent Church of England Report
Issues in Human Sexuality, describe and explain
the differences in moral reasoning between
Anglicans and Catholics on the issues mentioned
NB There isn’t one RC or Anglican view!