Tag Archives: sex

Fifty Genders of Facebook

Sexuality confusion

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Facebook now offers its members to select from among 50 genders. These include the old school heterosexual genders as well as the presumably Spinoza inspired pangender. Since I am awesome gendered, I believe that Facebook should offer that as choice 51, but only for me. However, I suspect I will need to endure the pain of being limited to a mere 50 options.

Upon learning of these fifty options, I was slightly surprised because I was not aware that there were fifty options. However, my colleagues who specialize in gender matters assure me that there is an infinite number of genders. If this is the case, that Facebook is still rather limited in its options.

While mocking Facebook can be amusing, the subject of gender identity is an interesting subject and it is a sign of the progress of our society that this can be a matter of legitimate concern. For folks like me who are comfortable existing within an old school gender identity (in my case, awesome straight male), these fifty options might seem to be of little or no importance. Honesty compels me to admit that I initially laughed at the 50 genders of Facebook—in fact, I thought it was something cooked up by the Onion. However, a little reflection on the matter made me realize that it is actually of some importance.

For those who are dedicated to the traditional genders, these options might seem to be signs of the moral decay of the West.  As such folks might see it, having Facebook offer 50 gender options shows that traditional gender roles are being damaged (if not destroyed) by the media and Facebook. Given that some states have legalized same-sex marriage, the idea that Facebook has embraced gender diversity must be terrifying indeed.

However, the world (and Facebook) does not (as Leibniz noted in one of his replies to the problem of evil) exist just for me. Or for you. It exists for everyone and we are not all the same.

As such, to those who do not neatly fit into the two traditional genders, this change could be quite significant. Although this is just Facebook, having these gender identities recognized by the largest social network on earth is a mark of acceptance and is likely to have some influence in other areas.

As I noted above, I comfortably occupy a traditional gender type. I’ve never questioned my sexuality nor felt that I was anything other than a straight male. This might be due to biology or perhaps I merely conformed perfectly to the social norms. Or some other factor—I do not know for sure why I am this way.

Since I teach critical thinking, I am well aware of the cognitive biases and fallacies that can lead a person to believe that what is true of herself is also true of everyone else. As such, I do not assume that everyone else is the same as me. As part of this, I also do not assume that the people who see themselves as belonging to one of the non-traditional genders are doing this simply because they want attention, want to rebel, are mentally unbalanced or some such similar negative reason. I also do not assume that they are just “faking it.” I also recognize that a person might feel just as natural and comfortable being transgender as I do being a straight male. As such, I should have no more problem with that person’s identification than that person has with mine. After all, the universe is not for me alone.

Because of this, I hold that people should be free to hold to their gender identities without being mocked, abused or harmed. While I have obviously not been mocked for being straight, I am quite familiar with being called a fag or accused of being gay or like a woman—after all, those are stock insults in our society that are thrown out for the most absurd reasons, such as not doing perfectly in a video game and not acting like the meatheads. As such, I have some small notion of how such attitudes can hurt people and I favor steps to change what underlies the idea that genders can be used as insults. Expanding the range of gender identities can, perhaps, help with this a little bit. Then again, I am sure that some folks will looking at the list of fifty for new terms to use in their hateful comments.

As a final point, one obvious reason why I think that a broader range of gender identities is fine is that another person’s gender identity is not my business—unless that identity causes legitimate harm to others. And no, being offended or disgusted are not legitimate harms. As such, if having a broader range of choices is meaningful to some people, then that is a good thing. It does no one else any harm and does some good—as such, it seems quite morally acceptable.

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Kant & Sexbots

Robotina [005]

Robotina [005] (Photo credit: PVBroadz)

The Fox sci-fi buddy cop show Almost Human episode on sexbots inspired me to revisit the ethics of sexbots. While the advanced, human-like models of the show are still things of fiction, there is already considerable research and development devoted to creating sexbots. As such, it seems well worth considering the ethical issues involving sexbots real and fictional.

At this time, sexbots are clearly mere objects—while often made to look like humans, they do not have the qualities that would make them even person-like. As such, ethical concerns involving these sexbots would not involve concerns about wrongs done to such objects—presumably they cannot be wronged. One potentially interesting way to approach the matter of sexbots is to make use of Kant’s discussion of ethics and animals.

In his ethical theory Kant makes it quite clear that animals are means rather than ends. They are mere objects. Rational beings, in contrast, are ends. For Kant, this distinction rests on the fact that rational beings can (as he sees it) chose to follow the moral law. Animals, lacking reason, cannot do this. Since animals are means and not ends, Kant claims that we have no direct duties to animals. They are classified in with the other “objects of our inclinations” that derive value from the value we give them. Sexbots would, obviously, qualify as paradigm “objects of our inclinations.”

Interestingly enough, Kant argues that we should treat animals well. However, he does so while also trying to avoid ascribing animals themselves any moral status. Here is how he does it (or tries to do it).

While Kant is not willing to accept that we have any direct duties to animals, he “smuggles” in duties to them indirectly. As he puts it, our duties towards animals are indirect duties towards humans. To make his case for this, he employs an argument from analogy: if a human doing X would obligate us to that human, then an animal doing X would also create an analogous moral obligation. For example, a human who has long and faithfully served another person should not simply be abandoned or put to death when he has grown old. Likewise, a dog who has served faithfully and well should not be cast aside in his old age.

While this would seem to create an obligation to the dog, Kant uses a little philosophical sleight of hand here. The dog cannot judge (that is, the dog is not rational) so, as Kant sees it, the dog cannot be wronged. So, then, why would it be wrong to shoot the dog?

Kant’s answer seems to be rather consequentialist in character: he argues that if a person acts in inhumane ways towards animals (shooting the dog, for example) then his humanity will likely be damaged. Since, as Kant sees it, humans do have a duty to show humanity to other humans, shooting the dog would be wrong. This would not be because the dog was wronged but because humanity would be wronged by the shooter damaging his humanity through such a cruel act.

Interestingly enough, Kant discusses how people develop cruelty—they often begin with animals and then work up to harming human beings. As I point out to my students, Kant seems to have anticipated the psychological devolution of serial killers.

Kant goes beyond merely enjoining us to not be cruel to animals and encourages us to be kind to them. He even praises Leibniz for being rather gentle with a worm he found. Of course, he encourages this because those who are kind to animals will develop more humane feelings towards humans. So, roughly put, animals are essentially practice for us: how we treat them is training for how we will treat human beings.

In the case of the current sexbots, they obviously lack any meaningful moral status of their own. They do not feel or think—they are mere machines that might happen to be made to look like a human. As such, they lack all the qualities that might give them a moral status of their own.

Oddly enough, sexbots could be taken as being comparable to animals, at least as Kant sees them. After all, animals are mere objects and have no moral status of their own. Likewise for sexbots. Of course, the same is also true of sticks and stones. Yet Kant would never argue that we should treat stones well. Perhaps this would also apply to sexbots. That is, perhaps it makes no sense to talk about good or bad relative to such objects. Thus, a key matter to settle is whether sexbots are more like animals or more like stones—at least in regards to the matter at hand.

If Kant’s argument has merit, then the key concern about how non-rational beings are treated is how such treatment affects the behavior of the person engaging in said behavior. So, for example, if being cruel to a real dog could damage a person’s humanity, then he should (as Kant sees it) not be cruel to the dog.  This should also extend to sexbots. For example, if engaging in certain activities with a sexbot would damage a person’s humanity, then he should not act in that way. If engaging in certain behavior with a sexbot would make a person more inclined to be kind to other rational beings, then the person should engage in that behavior. It is also worth considering that perhaps people should not engage in any behavior with sexbots—that having sex of any kind with a bot would be damaging to the person’s humanity.

Interestingly enough (or boringly enough), this sort of argument is often employed to argue against people watching pornography. The gist of such arguments is that viewing pornography can condition people (typically men) to behave badly in real life or at least have a negative impact on their character. If pornography can have this effect, then it seems reasonable to be concerned about the potential impact of sexbots on people. After all, pornography casts a person in a passive role viewing other people acting as sexual objects, while a sexbot allows a person to have sex with an actual sexual object.


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More Sex When Drunk

This is a quick follow up to my Sex When Drunk – A Moral Dilemma post.

I’ve just been reading a UK Law Commission report titled “Consent In Sex Offences” (pub: 2000), which I came across while researching the background to the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, Generally, the report is well worth a read, but what has particularly caught my attention is the following section:

There is a possible difficulty where consent is given but then overtaken by incapacity through drink or drugs. For example, at 8 pm P makes it clear that she is looking forward to having intercourse with D that night. By 11 pm she is too drunk to know what she is doing, but D has intercourse with her anyway. Can it be said that she does not (because she cannot) consent to the intercourse at the material time, namely the time of the intercourse? In our view it cannot. Consent is not a state of mind which must invariably exist at the time of the act consented to, but an expression of agreement to that act – the granting of permission for it.

In the ordinary course of events, consent to the doing of an act at some future time remains effective unless it is withdrawn. There is therefore no  conceptual problem with P giving consent well in advance of the act to which she consents, at a time when she has capacity to do so. It would be for the jury to consider in a particular case whether, in all the circumstances, as a matter of fact the consent had been withdrawn.

I’ve got to say I find that position a little… counterintuitive – in particular, the claim that “In the ordinary course of events, consent to the doing of an act at some future time remains effective unless it is withdrawn.”

Really? As a general rule, surely not. It’s got to be contextual. If I meet somebody at a bar, and I’m flirting with them, and they promise me a “good time” back at their apartment later on (where we both accurately understand this to mean a sexual encounter), and then we carry on drinking for a while before staggering back to their place, whereupon they promptly fall fast asleep in a heap on their couch, I cannot assume that their consent remains effective simply because it hasn’t been withdrawn.

Can I?

Sex When Drunk – A Moral Dilemma

Here’s a very quick moral dilemma. I’d be interested to hear what people think about this situation.

Let’s assume that in the absence of previously established consent (as, for example, might exist between a married couple), it’s morally wrong to have sex with somebody if they’ve ingested some X  amount of alcohol (because it undermines their ability to give informed consent). For the purposes of this dilemma, it doesn’t matter what this amount is – just that there is some amount.

Okay, so this is the twist. Suppose somebody says this to you:

I want to want to have sex with you, but I never want sex unless I’m high or drunk. I can’t relax and I don’t enjoy it. But look, I’ll start drinking, and hopefully there will come a point where my inhibitions are sufficiently lowered and I’m relaxed enough so that we can go ahead. But realize I’m not consenting right now to have sex with you later, I’m simply telling you that I’m making the choice to drink in the hope that I will come to want sex later on. If that happens, I’ll let you know, but it might not.

This person then starts drinking, ingests some X + 1 amount of alcohol (i.e., past the point at which under normal circumstances you would consider it wrong to have sex with them), and then tells you they are ready to have sex with you.

We need to get clear about a few things before posing the (obvious) question.

First, this person is not approaching unconsciousness, they are able to reflect reasonably cogently on their desire to have sex with you, but it’s counterfactually true that in the absence of the alcohol, they would not have consented, and also that this would be true of some non-trivial percentage of other people who had drunk this much, even in the absence of the particular psychological dynamic that exists here. (I realize that this stipulation might conflict with the claim that it doesn’t matter for the purposes of this dilemma at what point alcohol undermines the ability to consent. If you think this happens when somebody approaches unconsciousness, then just assume it’s been stipulated that it occurs earlier than that.)

Second, this person would deny that they are psychologically vulnerable. They would be offended if anybody suggested that they were being taken advantage of just because they never want sex while sober. They know their own mind – they want to want to have sex.

Third, you have no particular reason to think they will come to regret any sexual encounter that takes place. They might, but they might not.

So the question is:

In this situation, would it be wrong to go ahead with the sexual encounter, and if so, why?

It’s just as well we have sex

As you might expect, anyone – i.e. me – who has a blog called (Metamagician – we’ll worry about that bit later – and) the Hellfire Club is likely to take something of a pro-sex line, to argue for the deproblematisation of the erotic, etc., etc.

I’ve gotta, say, though, that I hadn’t thought of this (wait a minute) argument in favour of sex. I’ve just started reading Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality . It looks very interesting, and I expect to have a bit to say about it over the next few days. I’ll probably find some things to disagree with, but I do like its opening paragraph, after a brief preface. Rosenberg starts by saying the following – it’s a great punchline:

Everyone seems to know what life’s persistent questions are. Almost all of us have been interested in answering them at one time or another, starting back sometime in our childhood when the lights were turned out and we found ourselves staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. As time goes on, thinking about sex increasingly pushes these thoughts out of adolescent minds. This is fortunate. Otherwise there would be an even greater oversupply of philosophy and divinity students than there is of English majors. But the questions keep coming back, all too often right after sex.

Discuss. Bear in mind that I have PhDs in both English and philosophy, so I’m not out to snark at majors in either discipline.

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On Consensual Sex

On my own blog, I’ve been complaining about this absurd practice of jailing people for engaging in consensual sex (see here, here and here).

A central ethical issue in these cases is whether or not youth and an asymmetrical power relationship eliminates the possibility of informed consent. Now obviously the whole issue of consent is complex. Here’s a small thing I’ve written about it (for a book that isn’t out yet).


Dido and Aeneas, first year students of philosophy and husbandry, have become inseparable during Fresher’s week at Carthage University. However, somewhat conservative – old fashioned even – in their attitudes towards love, they have not yet consummated their dalliance in a sexual union. This situation, however, is under threat after they spend an evening quaffing wine under the cypress trees at their halls of residence.

Aeneas: Your golden locks are more resplendent than the most resplendent of sunsets, my darling. Thou art more lovely and more…

Dido: Yeah, what are you after, Aeneas?

Aeneas: Well, I think it might be time to express our love in a more physical manner – a union of body and soul.

Dido: You want sex?

Aeneas: Pretty much, yes.

Dido: I’m tempted, but it’ll probably end badly. For all I know you might run off to Italy afterwards…

Aeneas: Never, my love. I am yours until Aphrodite herself rips out my heart.

Dido: I doubt that, Aeneas, but anyway there’s another issue here. We’ve been drinking. We can’t be sure that we really want to have sex. We might be taking advantage of each other…

Aeneas: Come on Dido, that’s setting the bar for consent way too high. People often regret sexual encounters: the fact that tomorrow we might wish we hadn’t had sex, doesn’t mean we that we don’t want to have it now.

Dido: The great philosopher Immanuel Kant says that it is wrong to treat people simply as a means to an end. If we’re not concerned about our feelings going into the future, then we’re treating each other purely as tools for the gratification of our sexual desires. The point is that drink undermines our ability to make a judgement about how we really feel about a sexual encounter.

Aeneas: But all kinds of things undermine our ability to make that judgement. Maybe we’re lonely, or we haven’t had sex for a long time, or we feel unloved, or we’re desperate for a meaningful relationship. Neither of us is incoherent or unconscious. If people don’t have sex simply because they can’t be sure they won’t regret it in the morning, then not many people are going to be having sex…

Dido: Look we haven’t brought any Trojans with us anyway! Now be quiet, and eat another date…

So is Dido right to suggest that people shouldn’t have sex when they’ve been drinking – even if it is only a small amount – since they can’t be sure that their consent is genuine rather than alcohol-fuelled?

Rick Warren & Same Sex Marriage

Obama recently stirred up some controversy with his selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at the presidential inauguration. The controversy is the result of the fact that Warren is quite clear in his opposition to abortion and same sex marriage. Obviously, Obama’s choice has some left leaning people somewhat upset.

Warren has had considerable influence in the dispute over same sex marriage and i thought it would be reasonable to sort out some of this.

Warren recently had the following to say about same sex marriage: “The issue to me, I’m not opposed to that as much as I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.”

As Warren seems to see it, same sex marriage runs contrary to the 5,000 year old definition of marriage and this presumably makes it bad. He further adds that it is on par with incest, pedophilia, and polygamy in regards to being a threat to the standard definition of marriage.

While Warren seems to be a well read fellow, the history of marriage does not seem to be his strong point. After all, the modern notion of marriage is just that: the modern notion of marriage. An examination of the historical reality of marriage shows that the concept of marriage has been redefined throughout the centuries. For example, modern marriage in the West (and other areas) treats men and women as equal. This is in contrast with the more traditional view in which women were regarded as markedly inferior and as being subservient to men. The shift towards marital equality seems to be a good thing, although it clearly changed the traditional definition of “marriage.” Also, men marrying very young women (girls, actually) has long been accepted and even today very young people can get married legally. In the United States (and other places), traditional marriage was between people of the same race. I will assume that Warren rejects that aspect of traditional marriage and does not consider mixed-race marriages a threat to the traditional definition of marriage.

Of course, it could be replied that Warren is focused only on one aspect of traditional marriage-that it has been between one man and one woman. All the other details, one might content, are irrelevant. Of course, questions arise as to why that one aspect is what matters and why it should be accepted as the correct definition of “marriage”.

Obviously enough, the mere fact that the definition is an old one is hardly adequate proof that it is correct. To accept this definition as correct based on its age would be to fall victim to a fallacy: an appeal to tradition. After all, people can be wrong for a very long time. As such, Warren’s appeal to tradition has no logical weight. It does, of course, have emotive appeal and that is no doubt why people use it.

Warren does more than just appeal to tradition. He notes that he has a general opposition to re-defining marriage. To be specific, he is opposed to incestuous marriage, the marriage of adults and children and polygamy. As he sees it, same sex marriage is on par with these other three. Of course, there is the question of whether this is true or not.

Obviously, Warren is not trying to make an argument by analogy: he is not arguing that same sex marriage is analogous to these other situations. While there could incestuous same sex marriages, same sex marriage would not automatically have the key qualities of an incestuous marriage. I make this point because I have heard people make confused arguments about same sex marriage and incest,etc. What they do is argue that same sex marriage is like incest. When I have asked them about how they are alike, they seem confused and then often say something like “well, they are both bad so they are alike. This is why same sex marriage is bad.” This begs the question.

What Warren seems to be doing is claiming that these four types of marriage are all bad and something that he opposes. His view that marriage is between one man and one woman does rule out marriage between an adult and a child as well as polygamy. It does not, however, rule out incest. Presumably an expanded definition of marriage would be that it is between one man and one woman who are not related.

Given this definition, same sex marriage would be on par with polygamy, etc. because it would involve marriage between two men or two women. Of course, it would be on par with the others in that it does not fit the definition. Whether it is morally on par with incest or pedophilia is something that would need to be argued.

While asserting that same sex marriage to polygamy, incest and pedophilia are on par does nothing to show that this claim is true, it does have significant emotional appeal. After all, most people react negatively to polygamy, incest and pedophilia and hence same sex marriage can be tainted by being associated with these. While this is rhetorically effective, it has no logical merit. What would be needed is an argument showing that same sex-marriage is actually on par with the other three.

If same sex marriage is morally on par with a marriage between a pedophile and a child, then it should not be allowed. However, I have yet to see a convincing argument in support of this.

I’ve never seen the need to defend traditional marriage simply because it is alleged to be traditional. Many of the changes to traditional marriage have been morally laudable. For example, treating women as equal partners and outlawing forced marriages both seem like very good things. As another example, allowing “interracial” marriages also seems good. Perhaps allowing same sex marriage would be another good change rather than a bad change. I am open to arguments either way: but I need good arguments and not just fallacies.