Non-marital sex includes any sexual activity that occurs between people who are not married to one another. Since there are many different activities being lumped together in this definition, we may arrive at different moral decisions for different types of situations. Some examples of non-marital sex include premarital sex, cohabitation, masturbation, adultery, group sex, teen sex, LGBT sex (since most states forbid marriage to these partners), and casual sex (one-night stands or “hooking up”).
One example that I did not list above is a sexual relationship between an adult and a child. This is (usually) also a form of non-marital sex, but most people place it in an even more extreme category and consider it to always be unethical. Even libertarians say that someone must be capable of informed consent, which a child is not. In fact, even when sex between an adult and a child occurs within a marriage, most people would claim that the marriage itself is unethical due to the extreme power imbalance of the situation. The types of sex we’ll be discussing aren’t the things that are so blatantly exploitative, but rather the ethics of sex outside of marriage in situations where (at least supposedly) no one is getting hurt. But then, that’s actually part of the question… whether or not individuals and/ or society actually are being hurt by more liberal sexual morals.
The “traditional” view of sexual morality is that all sex outside of marriage is wrong. This point of view was developed by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, using an appeal to “nature” – the natural purpose of the sexual act, the natural use of the reproductive organs, etc.
Remember, when we talk about a “traditional” view, it still has a context. We still have to remember the time, place, people, and circumstances for whom it was true. The view that our textbook refers to as the traditional view of sexual morality is the perspective that grew up in the Western world. It is a product of Roman colonization, Greek thought, and then eventually Roman Catholic religion.
According to this view, everything there is has a purpose, an essential nature, and a proper good – and these three things are intimately related. Committed love (formally sanctioned as marriage) and procreation (leading to parental love) are therefore intertwined and essential to the dignity of the human being and the purpose of sexual activity
The libertarian view is that sex is an activity like any other. Sexual libertarianism asks, “Why should sex be treated as different from other activities? Why should the standards of morality be different than other activities?”
According to sexual libertarians, there must be informed consent regarding sexual expectations, responsibilities, etc. In order for informed consent to exist, there must be complete honesty about diseases, expectations, etc., and there must be an absence of coercion and exploitation. As long as all parties concerned are truly informed and truly able to consent, anything goes.
When discussing the morality of non-marital sex, there are several issues to consider. These include social concerns, individual concerns, and the naturalness argument.
- Sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS
- Demise of families and even of the family as an institution
- Single parenthood and poverty
- Divorce rate
- Teens influenced by role models and peer pressure
- Personal fulfillment
- How does your sexual behavior fit with your sense of self and goals in life? Is it really just like any other activity?
- Naturalness argument
- “Natural” use of sex organs = sex with the potential for procreation
“Unnatural” use, then, would include masturbation, homosexuality, & the use of contraception
Our view has adapted and changed rapidly over the years, and we are leaning more towards a libertarian viewpoint than we have in the past. Just like any other morals, they tend to adapt and change to meet the norms of society.