In a February 23rd article titled Is Casual Sex Immoral by the user “Mouthy Infidel”, an argument is made that casual sex is actually moral, and rather it is the sexual stigma against casual sex which is immoral. This post will be a both a rebuttal of the arguments put forward by Mouthy, and furthermore a constructive argument for the opposite case: That casual sex is immoral. To ensure adequate representation of Mouthy’s arguments, and to prevent any straw-manning, I will quote his arguments directly and, moreover, I encourage readers to also read his article in full. In this post, all text in navy-blue is a direct quote from Mouthy’s argument.
I will organize my article in a Scholastic-like dialectic style, beginning by quoting Mouthy’s arguments, then stating my thesis and developing my arguments, and then moving onto a rebuttal of Mouthy’s arguments.
For the purpose of this argument, I will work within the framework of Mouthy’s definitions unless otherwise defined. Mouthy defines the following significant terms in his article:
Definition One: On casual sex: The normalization of casual sex essentially means society moving to accept sex as a casual activity rather than holding it at the sacred, taboo status it was once held to
Definition Two: On morality: I believe that in order for something to be considered “immoral”, it has to cause some level of undue suffering
Argument One: Nonsense Dogma. For decades, churches, parents, and senile health teachers have taught kids about the necessity of abstinence and the danger of indulgence. However, I posit that this is an irrational way of viewing the world and of teaching children which is based on nonsense dogma.
Argument Two: Indulgence. The point of natural selection is to encourage behavior which propagates the passing on of our genes; Therefore, it is no mystery why we would evolve to feel the desire to engage in the single act which passes on our genes. My central point here is that sex is a very natural evolutionary desire, and by prohibiting ourselves from indulging in this desire we create unnecessary tension and frustration which manifests itself in a variety of ways which hurt us and the people around us…In fact, I would say that allowing ourselves release from these desires promotes stronger mental and physical health. Furthermore, I believe the social prohibition of this behavior does nothing but force people to castigate themselves for their very nature. The condemnation of one’s own human nature does nothing but instills within the population an unneeded burden of guilt, and forces them into a position of pointless restriction and frustration which manifests in a plethora of other destructive ways in the long term.
Argument Three: Sociosexual Stigma. The first study…concluded that there is no significant disparities between the psychological well being of people who did and didn’t engage in casual sex. The next study, however, found…that casual sex is negatively correlated with psychological well being. These two studies however, left out an important variable which is absolutely essential to take into account when calculating the affects of casual sex. Namely, they didn’t take into account the level of autonomy and sociosexual restrictiveness of the interactions, which perhaps are more important to the discussion at hand than any other variable. The third study, took a more precise approach in that it controlled for sociosexuality. What this study found is that sociosexually unrestricted subjects (people who are not sexually restricted by guilt/societal pressure and are eager to have sex) saw an increase in psychological well being after casual sexual encounters, while the psychological well being of sociosexually restricted subjects was generally unaffected. Similar to the previously mentioned study, the fourth study controlled for a very similar variable. In this study, researchers isolated would they described as “autonomous” and “non autonomous” casual sexual encounters. Autonomous casual sexual encounters are sexual encounters in which the motive is autonomous and driven by genuine attraction and genuine desire. Non autonomous sexual encounters are sexual encounters which are driven by non autonomous motives such as the subject was drunk or having sex for the purpose of revenge. This study concluded that while people who had non autonomous sexual encounters saw a decrease in well being (likely out of shame, which is a product of the societal stigma of sexuality), people who had autonomous sexual encounters were generally unaffected…All in all, you cannot deny the fact that out of all the major studies, 3 out of the four major studies…conclude that subjects who are not burdened with societal guilt saw no decrease (and according to one study an increase) in psychological well being after engaging in casual sex.
Argument 4: Intimacy. One objection you will always hear regarding this point is the objection that casual sex devalues intimacy…The problem with this assertion is that it plays off of a very common stereotype that casual sex is purely superficial and meaningless. However, this generalization is heavily contested by semi recent study…What the study found is that people who prefer casual sex encounters over relationship sex were more likely to seek intimacy and affection from said sexual encounters. The truth is, casual sex is typically not “casual”, as the name implies. As biological anthropologist Helen Fisher describes, there are 3 main systems in the brain associated with love. First, there is sexual desire. Second, there is romantic desire. Third, there is attachment and security. However, contrary to what many think, these three mechanisms are not a linear chain but rather they can occur in any order and often interact with one another. Because of this, casual sex very often leads to other layers of affection and long term relationships. Furthermore, this myth of “casual” sex is further contested by the fact that orgasm releases a flood of chemicals in the brain including oxytocin which are associated with feelings of deep attachment, causing deep intimacy even if you’re not in a long term relationship with the person you’re having sex with. People have sex because they are looking for a quick connection, however this desire for connection because of the deeply intimate nature of sex often evolves into long term connection. To further drive home this point, researchers Owen and Fincham in 2011 conducted a study which concluded that 65% of the women and 45% of the men said they hoped their hook-ups would lead to long-term relationships. In addition, 51% of the women and 42% of the men said that during hook-ups, they’d discussed the possibility of proceeding to greater commitment. Moreover, another study conducted by Justin Garcia found that Fifty percent of women and 52% of men reported that they went into casual sex hoping to trigger a longer relationship, and in fact, 1/3 of them did. In conclusion, this notion of casual sex being superficial and void of intimacy is just a myth. Sex is intimate by it’s very nature, and often leads to long term relationships.
Argument 5: Guilt and Social Stigma. Let’s look at one group of people who notoriously condemn themselves and others on the basis of sexual promiscuity: religious people. One study, titled “sex and secularism”, conducted by psychologists Darrel Ray and Amanda Brown, surveyed people who watched porn, masturbated, etc. Interestingly, this study found that the more religious someone is, the more guilt they feel about such activities. Furthermore, the study found that religious people on average rated their sex lives lower. Finally, the study found that children in more religious households learn about sexuality from porn because they’re too ashamed to talk to their parents. Similarly, another analysis found a positive correlation between religiosity and sexual dysfunctioning/resistance to the positive proven affects of sex therapy. It’s very common that these same people who rail against openness about sex and such naturally detest pornography. Ironically, though these social conservative types prescribe religiosity and condemnation as a solution to sexual degeneracy and pornography, according to a growing body of evidence, religiosity is positively correlated with viewership of porn. It is also true that religious people are less likely to use contraceptives, which results in increased negative sexual risk. To speak about the stigmatization of sex more generally, very noteably it has been found that sexual stigma makes one more likely to commit suicide. In fact, there are a plethora of negative mental health affects associated with sexual stigma. For example, people who’ve experienced sexual stigma are more likely to report mental illness. Unwanted pregnancies are also more common among those who experienced sexual stigma. Sexual stigma in addition also undeniably leads to guilt as shown empirically earlier in this essay by shaming people for natural sexual impulses. The affects of guilt include envy, anger, rage, anxiety, depression, depletion, loneliness, addiction, compulsive behavior, self denigration, and emptiness…As Dr. Noel Clark of Seattle Pacific University wrote in his dissertation: “Sexual shame is a visceral feeling of humiliation and disgust toward one’s own body and identity as a sexual being, and a belief of being abnormal, inferior and unworthy…”
My Argument (Constructive Thesis)
Preliminary Note: Due to Mouthy’s categorizing of his argument as one concerned with “morality”, I am forced to begin my argument entirely philosophically as I have to first provide a framework for defining and interpreting morality. I will attempt to do this as briefly as possible and then bring the established philosophical overview back down and apply it to the topic.
Introduction: As put by Edward Feser: “Traditional natural law theory grounds morality in human nature. In particular, it defines what is good for us in terms of the ends for the sake of which our natural faculties exist…Our sexual faculties have two natural ends, procreative and unitive, and what is good for us in the context of sexuality is therefore defined in terms of these ends.” [In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument, Edward Feser, PhD Philosophy]
My Argument: To paraphrase Aristotle, something is “good” insofar as it is“perfective or completing of a being, where what is perfective or completing of a being depends on that being’s nature” [The Natural Law Tradition in Ethics, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy”]
To illustrate this point, take the example of Professor Edward Feser [PhD Philosophy] about drawing a triangle: A complete or perfect triangle, by its very essence or nature, is a shape which has 3 straight sides and angles which collectively add up to 180 degrees. Nevertheless, not all triangles live up to this (not all triangles are perfect). Feser explains this example and its significance:
“A triangle drawn hastily on the cracked plastic seat of a moving bus might fail to be completely closed or to have perfectly straight sides, and thus its angles will add up to something other than 180 degrees. Indeed, even a triangle drawn slowly and carefully on paper with an art pen and a ruler will contain subtle flaws. Still, the latter will far more closely approximate the essence of triangularity than the former will. It will be a better triangle than the former…This judgment would be completely objective; it would be silly to suggest that we were merely expressing a personal preference for angles that add up to 180 degrees. This example illustrates how an entity can count as an instance of a certain type of thing even if it fails perfectly to instantiate the essence of that type of thing; a badly drawn triangle is not a non-triangle, but rather a defective triangle. It illustrates at the same time how there can be a completely objective, factual standard of goodness and badness, better and worse. To be sure, the standard in question in this example is not a moral standard. But from an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, it illustrates a general notion of goodness of which moral goodness is a special case.”
This is essentially a question of finality (or teleology): What purpose was the drawing meant to serve; what essence was the drawing meant to embody (for these are the same thing)? Of course: It is meant to be a triangle. Thus the drawing is (rightly) considered good insofar as it is perfective or completing of the essence of a triangle, which is to have three straight sides, angles adding up to 180 degrees, etc. Now, applying this same logic to humans and other organisms, Feser notes:
“There are certain ends that any organism must realize in order to flourish [to be perfect or complete] as the kind of organism it is, ends concerning activities like development, self-maintenance, reproduction, the rearing of young, and so forth; and these ends entail a standard of goodness. Hence…an oak that develops long and deep roots is to that extent a good oak and one that develops weak roots is to that extent bad and defective…As with our triangle example, it would be silly to pretend that these judgments of goodness and badness are in any way subjective or reflective of human preferences… They simply follow from the objective facts about what counts as a flourishing of the biological kind or nature in question, and in particular from an organism’s realization or failure to realize the ends set for it by its nature.”
Hence: What is good for humans is that which realizes or manifests – that is that which perfects or completes – our ends as determined by our nature, or our essence. Invoking reasoning similar to this, Mouthy argues that refraining from, and in particular the shaming of, casual sex is unnecessary because it is contrary to our natural desire to refrain from it: “My central point here is that sex is a very natural evolutionary desire, and by prohibiting ourselves from indulging in this desire we create unnecessary tension and frustration which manifests itself in a variety of ways which hurt us and the people around us.” Nevertheless, Mouthy’s argument is erroneous: It is not our desires which determine whether something is good or bad, as it is not our desires that need to be perfected and completed, but rather it is our nature. As Feser explains: “We have various ends inherent in our nature, and these determine what is good for us…Of course, there is often a close correlation between what nature intends and what we desire. Nature wants us to eat so that we’ll stay alive, and sure enough we tend to want to eat…At the same time, there are people (such as anorexics and bulimics) who form very strong desires not to eat what they need to eat in order to survive and thrive; and at the other extreme there are people whose desire for food is excessive…Desires are nature’s way of prodding us to do what is good for us, but like everything else in the natural order, they are subject to various imperfections and distortions. Hence, though in general and for the most part our desires match up with nature’s purposes, this is not true in every single case.” Someone possessing a desire to have casual sex in a certain scenario does not prove that casual sex is actually completing or perfecting of the end to which the desire is directed – that is to say their nature – to do so. For example, while someone may have a desire to eat 2 pounds of ice-cream, this is not in itself proof that the action – the means – of eating 2 pounds of ice-cream completes the end to which the desire is directed (our nature), which is in this example the acquisition of sufficient and balanced nutrition to ensure our healthy thriving. Clearly, desires can contradict the actual nature they’re intended for – and it is the perfection of the nature (not the desire) which is determinant of what is good. As Feser notes: “Habituated vice, peer pressure, irrationality, mental illness, and the like can often deform our subjective desires so that they turn us away from what nature intends, and thus from what is good for us.”
Now how, precisely, does this apply to whether or not casual sex is good? As stated in the opening quote to my thesis, “Sexual faculties have two natural ends, procreative and unitive.” As for the procreative end, Feser explains: “That sex considered from a purely biological point of view exists for the sake of procreation is uncontroversial. This is true even though people have sexual relations for various reasons other than procreation, since we are talking about nature’s ends here, not ours. In particular, it is true even though sex is pleasurable and human beings and animals are typically drawn to sex precisely because of this pleasure. For giving pleasure is not the end of sex, not that for the sake of which sex exists in animals. Rather, sexual pleasure has as its own natural end the getting of animals to engage in sexual relations, so that they will procreate. This parallels the situation with eating: Even though eating is pleasurable, the biological point of eating is not to give pleasure, but rather to provide an organism with the nutrients it needs to survive…Whatever else sex is, then, it is essentially procreative. If human beings did not procreate, then while they might form close emotional bonds with one another, maybe even exclusive ones, they would not have sex—that is to say, they would not be man and woman, as opposed to something asexual or androgynous.” To simplify, the argument so-far can be formatted syllogistically:
A. An act is good insofar as it completes or perfects its nature,
B. The nature of the sexual act is primarily procreative, and
C. Therefore: The human sexual act is good insofar as it completes its procreative function (and also the unitive function)
The procreative nature of sex is itself sufficient to prove casual sex is immoral: insofar as casual sex does not align with the procreative function inherent to the nature of sex, it is bad and deficient. Casual sex, which is defined by Mouthy as sex which is performed “as a casual activity”, interferes in the procreative nature of sex in two ways:
1. Casual sex focuses on the mere experience of pleasure, and naturally therefore attempts to frustrate any realization of its procreative nature (i.e birth control, ‘pull-out’, abortion, etc.). Being that casual sex is just that – casual – participants almost always attempt to organize the activity in a way that frustrates the procreative function (for example, by insisting on the use of a condom), and therefore makes the act deficient. This is characteristic of casual sex due to the fact that alignment with its essential procreative nature entails great probability of a serious consequence, which brings immense responsibility, namely the task of bringing new life into the world and of nurturing it, and such a serious consequence is inherently antithetical to the casual enjoyment being sought after by participants in casual sex.
2. Casual sex by definition occurs outside of the formal (as it is casual) structure – marriage – which is designed to ensure the procreative end is met with the proper, appropriate seriousness and the proper developmental environment is available for the procreative end, i.e the child. Now, one may argue that a formal structure is not needed to successfully realize the procreative aspect of sex, however a formal structure is actually immensely important. The procreative nature is not exclusive to the mere physical birth of a child – although this is of course immensely significant – but also extends to the proper nurture and development of that new life. Requirements for providing proper nurture and development include, for example, ensuring adequate interaction with both a father and a mother [see Blankenhorn 1995, Fagan 1999, Pearlstein 2011, McLanahan et al. 2014, Rector 2012, Amato 2005, et cetera.]. For example, Rector 2012 explains that “Being raised in a married family reduced a child’s probability of living in poverty by about 82 percent.” and, on a more fundamentally developmental note, Amato 2005 notes “…that children growing up with two continuously married parents are less likely to experience a wide range of cognitive, emotional, and social problems, not only during childhood but also in adulthood.” These circumstances are clearly harmful to the proper development and nurture of a child. In fact, the detrimental developmental effects of this led author Patrick Fagan to remark in 1999: “The effects of marital breakdown on national prosperity and the well-being of individual children are like the action of termites on the beams in a home’s foundation: They are weakening, quietly but seriously, the structural underpinnings of society.” Clearly a formal structure, that is marriage, is a necessity to complete and perfect the procreative nature essential to sex, which encompasses not only the production of new human life but the proper development and nurture of that life as well. Casual sex, being inherently casual and thus not formal, by-definition fails this second criterion and is, thereby, deficient (i.e bad).
The incompleteness of casual sex in the procreative aspect – while alone sufficient to prove the deficiency of casual sex – is not the sole aspect of which casual sex is deficient: Perhaps just as significantly – and just as inherent in causal sex – is the deficiency in the unitive aspect of sex. Now, there are two arguments to be made for the unitive aspect of human sexual relations. The first argument is merely a cross-application of the above-explained reason two of why casual sex is insufficient for the procreative essence, namely the requirement of a formal-bond which produces a unitive relationship. In this way, the unitive end of human sexuality is actually only a means to the procreative end, not an end itself, but nevertheless it still exists as demonstrated above. However, the unitive essence of sexuality actually exists independently of the procreative aspect – not as a replacement of it but as a higher-order addition which compliments the lower, more-primary level procreative essence. That is to say it is not one or the other aspect which ascribes to sex its goodness, but both or neither. Humans possess rational faculties. Feser gives the example of perceiving a tree: Whereas a both a human and a dog may visually perceive the tree, only a human possesses the ability to conceptualize the tree, to not only perceive it but to subsequently reason out that the tree is present, that the tree is an oak tree, and therefore that not merely a tree but an oak tree is present, for example. As one can see from the example, the higher-level rational faculties do not dissolve the lower-level faculties, i.e the addition of conceptualization does not dissolve the perception, but rather the higher-level faculty is an end of its own: in order to perfect itself or complete itself, both must be present insofar as both goods, both natures, are present in the organism in question. As Feser explains: “Goods we share in common with animals similarly participate in our rationality and are radically transformed as a result. Thus, meals [for example] have a social and cultural significance that raises them above mere feeding.” The presence of rational faculties does not absolve meals from needing to provide nourishment – it is still imperative that one derives proper nourishment from their eating – but rather the higher rational faculties alter this and add onto it. How does this apply to the essence of human sexual relations? Feser explains: “Unlike other sexually reproducing animals…we know [conceptualize] that qua male or female each of us is in some unusual way incomplete; and that is why, in human beings, the procreative end of sex is by no means the end of the story. Human beings conceptualize their incompleteness, and idealize what they think will remedy it. It is important to note that this is as true of human sexuality at its most “raw” and “animal” as it is of its more refined manifestations. Dogs don’t worry about the size of breasts and genitalia; nor do they dress each other up in garters and stockings, or in leather and leashes for that matter. The latter are adornments—some perfectly innocent, some not—and reflect an aesthetic attitude toward the object of desire of which non-rational animals are incapable. Animals also do not conceptualize the desires and perceptions of their sexual partners, as human beings do even in the most immoral sexual encounters. Like the sexual organs, then, our sexual psychology is “directed at” or “points to” something beyond itself, and in particular toward what alone can complete us, emotionally as well as physiologically, given our natures. The human soul is directed towards another soul…” To illustrate the other-directedness which is essentially inherent in human sexual relations, Feser borrows from the distinction made by CS Lewis between the different types of sexual desire or love, namely in this circumstance Venus (sexual desire) and Eros (the longing which is associated with being in love with someone – a longing which can be satisfied solely by the person of desire). Eros and Venus do not always go hand-in-hand, as Feser demonstrates: “Venus can and very often does exist without Eros. Eros typically includes Venus, but it not only focuses Venus specifically on the object of romantic longing, but carries that longing to the point where Venus itself, along with everything else, might be sacrificed for the sake of the beloved if necessary. Sexual release is the object of Venus; the beloved is the object of Eros.” The unitive aspect does not exist merely as an aspect of the procreative good, but is actually independent of it (as Eros can manifest outside the domain of sexual relations): just as sexual desire – Venus – is designed to drive man to the procreative good, so too is Eros – or sexual longing – designed to drive man to the unitive good, both of which are intrinsic to human sexual relationships, and both of which are actually goods. Feser further explains Eros: “There is a reason Eros is commonly regarded as an ideal, and is indeed often achieved at least to some extent, even if passion inevitably cools somewhat. Like Venus, Eros is natural to us. It functions to channel the potentially unruly Venus in the monogamous and constructive direction that the stability of the family requires.” Thus, Eros and the unitive aspect are driven towards the stability of the human family unit – a domain which can and often does function outside of, but which nevertheless encroaches on the domain of (as the family unit is inevitably bound to the procreative good) human sexual relations. In summing up the inclusion of Eros in the essence of sex, Feser writes: “Venus and Eros, then, considered in terms of their natural function, might best be thought of not as distinct faculties, but as opposite ends of a continuum. Venus tells us that we are incomplete, moving us toward that procreative action whose natural end—the generation of new human beings — requires the stability of marital union for its success. Eros focuses that desire onto a single person with whom such a union can be made and for whom the Erotic lover happily forsakes all others and is even willing to sacrifice his own happiness. Eros is the perfection of Venus; mere Venus is a deficient form of Eros.” Casual sex, as demonstrated in the above section, is inherently casual, and by virtue of this it necessarily neglects both the seriousness (and long-term union) inherent to Eros, as well as the seriousness and requirement of a formal unitive structure for perfecting or completing the procreative essence of human sexual relations. It can thus be concluded that casual sex is bad by virtue of its deficiency in both the procreative and the unitive essences intrinsic to human sexual relations.
Of the Moral Nature of Sex
What remains to be proven, however, is that casual sex is morally bad. It has been proven that it is bad and deficient, but it has not yet been proven that a deficiency of the sexual act is of a moral nature. There are two reasons human sexual relations is of a moral nature:
1. The moral nature of the sexual act is implied from the very beginning as Mouthy never challenged the assumption, and moreover by arguing that sexual stigma was immoral, Mouthy implicitly conceded that the sexual domain is indeed a matter which has moral implications.
2. Nevertheless, for those who unlike Mouthy have not already accepted the moral nature of the question, I will once again refer back to Feser on this point: “I [have previously] identified three aspects of sex which manifestly give it a special moral significance: It [sex] is the means by which new human beings are made; it is the means by which we are physiologically and psychologically completed qua men and women; and it is that area of human life in which the animal side of our nature most relentlessly fights against the rational side of our nature.”
These three characteristics, while I will not elaborate in detail (as Mouthy already conceded the point), are testimony to the significant importance of an act, an act which can lead to the creation of new human life. It is by virtue of these three reasons that sex is intrinsically a moral issue. Mouthy himself gives especially high significance to the second of these, namely the “intimacy” or physiological and psychological completion which is of the nature of sex.
Having established the moral implications of the sexual domain, we end with the following syllogistic argument:
A. An act of human sexuality is not morally good, or is immoral, whenever it either A. frustrates the completion of the essentially procreative nature of the act or B. is deficient in the unitive nature of human sexual relations
B: Casual sex, by virtue of being casual, is not intended for procreation (which is inherently serious), but rather for mere pleasure; it thus frustrates the procreative nature both by 1. The use of contraceptives and similar methods of frustrating procreation, as well as 2. Neglecting the formal-unitive structure which is necessary for the procreative essence. In addition to this, the neglection of the formal-unitive structure is in itself a deficiency in the unitive nature of the act.
Therefore, C: Casual sex is immoral
I will now move on to replies specific to Mouthy’s argument.
Rebuttal to Mouthy
Reply to Definition 2: Mouthy’s definition of morality is not actually a definition of morality, but commits the logical fallacy of tautology (needless repetition of an idea, statement, or word Merriam Webster): Mouthy defines “undue suffering” as the qualifier for making something immoral. However, what is meant by undue? The word undue modifies the word suffering, so that it now means something along the lines of suffering not justly deserved by the the person suffering. This is tautological, as what is justly deserved by (or what is due to) someone is implicitly a matter of ethics and morality. Mouthy is defining something as immoral whenever it brings about suffering that is not morally deserved. But in order to determine if something is morally deserved, morality must first be defined – but to define morality, we first need to know what is morally deserved. It becomes an infinite circle, hence the definition is tautological and fallacious. See the constructive thesis above where an actual framework of morality is given.
Reply to Argument 1: Mouthy begins by attacking belief in “abstinence and the danger of indulgence” as “irrational“. By calling belief in abstinence irrational, Mouthy is claiming that abstinence is unreasonable, that is to say that Mouthy cannot understand the reasoning behind abstinence beyond the fact that it is “nonsense dogma“. Yet this is Mouthy’s very error: By admitting he does not understand the reason behind abstinence, Mouthy by admission has made a fallacious error, known as the Fallacy of Chesterton’s Fence: One should not reform something (such as abstinence) until they first understand the reason why that something is there. Per the fallacy’s namesake, G.K Chesterton: “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.” For example, the fence could exist to keep a herd of dangerous animals away from a nearby neighborhood. If an unaware reformer, not seeing any reason for the fence, removed it, the dangerous animals would be incidentally released and set free to attack the neighborhood. However, if the reformer understands the reason why the fence is there – to keep the dangerous animals out – he may then have cause to remove it, because then he could judge whether or not the fence is still needed to keep the dangerous animals away, for example if the animals had migrated elsewhere the reformer would then have cause to remove the fence. The reformer can only know whether or not something should be reformed when he also understands the reason why it is there in the first place. Hence, Mouthy can only argue whether or not abstinence should be reformed when he also understands the reason why it is there in the first place, which by-admission he does not.
Reply to Argument 2: Mouthy claims that sex is a natural desire, and by virtue of this it should be indulged in. This is false. Desires are not something to be fulfilled in themselves; desires are not ends or goods but rather merely means of directing us towards a certain good or purpose – and we are trying to perfect or complete the purpose, not the mere desire. As referenced earlier, Feser explains the distinction between desires and their purpose: “There is often a close correlation between what nature intends and what we desire. Nature wants us to eat so that we’ll stay alive, and sure enough we tend to want to eat…At the same time, there are people (such as anorexics and bulimics) who form very strong desires not to eat what they need to eat in order to survive and thrive; and at the other extreme there are people whose desire for food is excessive…Desires are nature’s way of prodding us to do what is good for us, but like everything else in the natural order, they are subject to various imperfections and distortions. Hence, though in general and for the most part our desires match up with nature’s purposes, this is not true in every single case. Habituated vice, peer pressure, irrationality, mental illness, and the like can often deform our subjective desires so that they turn us away from what nature intends, and thus from what is good for us.” The presence of a desire is by no means evidence that indulgence in the desire is good, rather what is good is determined by the teleology of what perfects or completes our nature, essence, or purpose: in the case of sexual relations, this is the procreative and unitive nature detailed earlier. Mere desire does not suffice to prove morality.
Second, Mouthy claims that releasing ourselves from our desires promotes “stronger mental and physical health“. Mouthy however fails to provide any actual warrant or evidence for this claim. There is good reason for this: the evidence runs contrary to his claim. Over-indulge yourself in alcohol for just one night and see what happens. It is only common-sense that indulgence leads to negative consequences whereas self-control leads to positive benefits. This is empirically supported, as according to Duckworth 2011: “The consistently beneficial effects of self-control have two important implications. First, there may be no such thing as “too much” self-control, a possibility that has been suggested but not tested directly in a large, representative sample. Second, policies, interventions, and cultural practices aimed at bolstering self-control may improve the welfare of the general population rather than just a subset of severely impaired individuals.” And, moreover, self-control or indulgence in one situation is not isolated exclusively to that situation, but actually determines and builds a pattern for future interactions. Per Muraven 2011, “Results suggest that by practicing small acts of self-control, overall self-control capacity can be increased. Put another way, it is possible to strengthen the self-control muscle through exercise, leading to better outcomes.” Reckless indulgence in casual sex would predictably lead to an increased attitude of reckless indulgence in other areas in the future, whereas self-control and impulse regulation would lead to better control in other areas in the future. Indulgence, or “allowing ourselves to release these desires” does not promote stronger mental health, but weaker mental health.
Third, Mouthy argues that the “unneeded burden of guilt” from sexual stigma forces people into “a position of pointless restriction which manifests itself in a plethora of other destructive ways in the long term.” This statement is erroneous in multiple ways. First, guilt only arises from active participation in casual sex: The guilt quite simply poses no issue if casual sex is avoided, and thus this is only one more reason to avoid casual sex. Second, the restriction is not pointless as Mouthy claims, but rather is there for all the reasons outlined in the constructive thesis of this post. Yet again by claiming the restriction is pointless, Mouthy proves by admission he is at fault of the Fallacy of Chesterton’s Fence as he does not understand the reason why the restriction is there, and is thus in no position to advocate for reforming it. Third, the empirical evidence on self-control disproves the false claim that restricting impulses will cause any destructive consequences in the long-term, but rather the restriction will result in positive benefits in the long-term.
Reply to Argument 3: To summarize Mouthy’s argument: “subjects who are not burdened with societal guilt saw no decrease… in psychological well being after engaging in casual sex.” Regardless of whether or not this claim is true, this argument has no impact as it proves absolutely nothing of the morality of casual sex. Murderers who are not burdened with guilt also see no decrease in psychological wellbeing after murdering someone, this does not mean it is moral for them to murder someone. The same applies to casual sex.
Moreover, casual sex is immoral regardless of the psychological wellbeing of the participants; forcing a child to be raised by a single-parent because it was born outside of a formal-unitive structure (marriage) and thereby, among many other negatives, increasing its chance of growing up in poverty by 82% (Rector 2012) outweighs in every possible manner any effect on the “psychological wellbeing” of the people having casual sex. The procreative essence of sex renders any mere exclusive two-actor approach insufficient.
Reply to Argument 4: Mouthy’s first warrant for this claim is a study which, according to Mouthy, proves “people who prefer casual sex encounters over relationship sex were more likely to seek intimacy and affection from said sexual encounters.” There are two main issues with this.
First, that people who engage in casual sex are more likely to seek intimacy and affection from sexual encounters could just as easily prove that casual sex is not able to fulfill ones desire for intimacy. People don’t seek what they have, they seek what they don’t have. That people who engage in casual sex put more effort into trying to find intimacy and spend more time seeking for it is only evidence that casual sex is not fulfilling their desires for intimacy, which is why they must continue to seek for it: Someone who is in love with someone does not then go seeking for someone to be in love with, but only the person who has no love goes and seeks it. The same goes for intimacy.
Second, regardless of the above, the study measured levels of intimacy by the extent to which one engaged in “cuddling, spending the night, eye gazing, and foreplay.” This is a horrible standard for judging true intimacy, true Eros, and an actual feeling of love versus lust: “foreplay” does not imply “intimacy.” Rather, what the study really shows is that those who engage in casual sex are more likely to try and imitate “intimacy” in merely superficial ways, because the unitive essence of sex and the accompanying long-term relationship which they desire is not being fulfilled, and thus they are left to try and superficially simulate it via “eye gazing”. Again, one does not seek what they have, they seek that which they do not have but desperately want to have. Such is the case with casual sex.
Mouthy next moves onto arguing that there are three mechanisms of sexual affection and long-term relationships, making reference to “biological anthropologist Helen Fisher” for this. These three mechanisms are ‘sexual desire‘, ‘romantic desire‘, and ‘attachment‘. Mouthy holds that these mechanisms do not necessarily progress exclusively linearly, but may also develop one from another in any pattern, in any manner, and in any order whatsoever; “they can occur in any order and often interact with one another“. Up to this point in Mouthy’s argument, one question remains unanswered: So what? What do these three mechanisms imply for the morality of casual sex? Mouthy provides an answer to this question: “Because of this, casual sex very often leads to other layers of affection and long term relationships.” The overall point Mouthy is trying to prove is that casual sex is moral. In this specific argument, Mouthy supports this with two premises, one explicitly stated and one necessarily implied. Mouthy argues that casual sex is moral because it can lead to “affection and long term relationships.” The implied assumption for this argument that Mouthy makes is that affection and long-term relationships are a qualifying standard which determines the morality of a sexual act. On this point Mouthy is correct: affection and long-term relationships, that is to say the unitive aspect, is a standard for gauging the morality of a sexual act. And it is precisely for this reason, implicitly accepted and conceded by Mouthy, that casual sex is not moral.
Firstly, in terms of securing the unitive essence of sex, or in securing affection and a long-term relationship, marriage is indisputably superior to casual sex. This, by Mouthy’s implicit qualifier, makes marriage morally superior to casual sex. When an individual has the option to do a morally superior option, but neglects this option and instead chooses a morally inferior option, this is obviously immoral; so too is it immoral when an individual has the option to wait until marriage, but instead chooses to engage in casual sex.
Secondly, a good end does not justify bad means. According to Merriam-Webster, just is defined as acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good. Bad means are, by virtue of being bad, never in conformity with what is morally good, or right. And thus a good end can never justify (“to prove or show to be just, right, or reasonable“) a bad means, as bad means are inherently not just. Casual sex is, by-virtue of its being casual, not serious or long-term, and even if casual sex did or was intended to by an engaging party lead to something long-term and unitive (marriage), it is still bad (deficient in the unitive aspect) and can never therefore be justified, even if it results in a good end (unitive, long-term relationship) – a good end which Mouthy himself implicitly concedes is good and a qualifier for morality.
This brings me to the next part of Mouthy’s fourth argument, which is nothing more than an extension of the above-mentioned, as Mouthy simply references statistics that casual sex can lead to long-term unitive relationships. Regardless of the validity of his statistics, a good end does not justify bad means, hence casual sex is still immoral regardless of what it leads to.
Reply to Argument 5: Mouthy’s fifth argument centers on an extension of the social stigma argument he briefly mentioned in his second argument. In essence, Mouthy argues that the social stigma surrounding casual sex results in guilt and shame, and consequently things like ‘suicide‘ for people who hold such views. This argument however is ridiculous. Feeling guilt from an action does not make the action moral: If a murderer feels guilt and shame after murdering someone, does this mean we should do-away with “homicidal-stigma?” That proposal is no more irrational than Mouthy’s argument. Mouthy’s error becomes more clear when his argument is formatted syllogistically:
A: Sexual sins make religious people feel guilt and shame
B: Guilt and shame leads to suicide and low self-esteem
C: Therefore, casual is not immoral
This argument is not logical because the conclusion (C) does not follow from the premises (A & B). The only way this argument could possibly be coherent and rational is if it included the premise that ‘guilt and shame make an action moral’, however this is quite obviously not true. To illustrate how the murder-analogy follows the same logic, compare and contrast the two syllogisms:
A: Murder makes religious [and other] people feel guilt and shame
B: Guilt and shame leads to suicide and low self-esteem
C: Therefore, murder is not immoral
Both arguments follow identical logic, and so Mouthy must either A. Concede his argument is irrational or B. Argue that murder is not immoral.
Furthermore, there is one additional specific claim left to address in Mouthy’s fifth argument, which is the claim that “religiosity is positively correlated with viewership of porn.” The evidence provided for this is a study which states that “This study moves the conversation forward by examining how a variety of state-level religious factors predict Google searches for the term porn.” There are multiple issues with this.
First, this study is about the amount of times ‘porn‘ is searched, and not about casual sex. Even if it was about casual sex, the frequency of something among ‘religious’ persons does not prove if something is moral or not.
Second, this study examines the data purely at the state-level. That is, the study essentially found that states with higher overall percentages of ‘religious’ persons also tend to have higher rates of searches for ‘porn‘. This could easily be caused by any number of other factors that are also present in the same states – there is a reason the authors assert correlation and do not assert causation.
I will ultimately leave it at that, as the study is ultimately irrelevant to the topic of whether or not casual sex is immoral.
Suggested Further Reading:
In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument, Edward Feser
The Metaphysics of Romantic Love, Edward Feser
The Structure and The Content of the Good, David S. Oderberg [In particular see part 2.1, Pleasure and the avoidance of pain]
And, of course, Mouthy’s full argument: Is Casual Sex Immoral?