Raja Halwani’s “On F***ing Around” (Part Three)

In part one, I investigated Halwani’s definitions of “casual sex,” “promiscuity,” and “objectification.”  With objectification, Halwani went through the different senses of objectification by going through Nussbaum’s and Langton’s list.

Recall the Objectification Argument:

  1. Objectification is morally wrong.
  2. Objectification is a necessary feature of casual sex.
  3. If objectification is morally wrong and is a necessary feature of casual sex, then casual sex is necessarily wrong.
  4. If promiscuity is multiple instances of casual sex with different people, promiscuity is also necessarily wrong.
  5. Therefore CS&P are necessarily morally wrong.

and that Halwani tackles premise two.  Those defending premise two would argue thus:

2A.  In engaging in CS&P, people have no-strings attached sex for sexual pleasure.
2B.  By doing so, participants use each other—meaning they treat each each other as objects or tools—for the purpose of gaining pleasure.
2C.  By using each other as objects or tools, they use each other for their selfish or self-interested sexual pleasure without regard for the other.
2D.  Therefore,  CS&P involve objectification because the participants involved use each other’s bodies for the satisfaction of their sexual desires.

Recall some possible strategies that the defender of CS&P could give:

First strategy: Deny premise two.

Second strategy: Even if CS&P do objectify, other factors may override it where NSA is not morally wrong.

In part two, I investigated Halwani’s first attempt at the first strategy to see if casual sex and promiscuity (CS&P) avoid objectification, and what the pessimistic view of sexual desire is.

In this post, I will explain why the first attempt fails, a second attempt at defending CS&P, why the second attempt probably fails, and employing the second strategy.

Not my image

Not my image

Why the first attempt fails:

The pessimistic view of sexual desire is pernicious.  Recall what the pessimistic view of sexual desire was:

Pessimistic view of sexual desires:  the view that sexual desire consists of five components:

(1) Sexual desire targets people’s bodies and body parts.
(2) Satisfying sexual desire means to engage in deception and lies by downplaying our defects and highlighting our assets.
(3) Sexual activity can be so pleasurable and consuming that parties to it lose control over themselves and have no regard for the humanity of the other.
(4) Satisfying sexual desire means that reason is subverted and we do irrational stupid things to have people have sex with us, or during the sexual act.
(5) When we attend the other’s desires, we do so because we find it pleasurable, or we desire to get sexual attention in return.

The problem, if there is a problem, is instrumentality from Nussbaum’s list.  Sexual desire, by its very nature, makes its object a sexual object.  Thus, consent is not enough to make sexual activity nonobjectifying.  If X and Y consent to a NSA sexual act, they consent to an immoral activity twice: X consents to objectify Y and to be objectified by Y.

CS&P therefore faces two problems: (1) sexual desire makes us view our sexual partners as tools; it’s hard to see how partners of CS&P can adopt each other’s sexual goals for their own sake.  (2) even if CS&P could adopt each other’s sexual goals for their own sake, it’s hard to see why they would, or should, because of the very nature of sexual desire, which is that it objectifies the other.  No matter how we slice it, CS&P is not a morally permissible act.  The only way out if where sexual desire can be satisfied without objectification.  For this to happen, the morality of CS&P rests on the motives of the parties involved: why they sexually satisfy each other’s sexual desires.

As far as this goes, those who argue against CS&P make this argument:

  1. The motives of CS&P are selfish or self-interested to obtain sexual pleasure.
  2. Partners in CS&P cannot take each other’s goals for their own sakes.
  3. They thereby treat each other only as a means.
  4. Therefore, CS&P are necessarily objectifying.

Premise two of the Objectification Argument still holds because 2A-2D still holds.  Is there a way out?

Second Attempt at the First Strategy:

Perhaps we can by rejecting premise 2C.  If sexual desire, by nature, is objectifying, this means that we can guard against it.  In other words, if something is X by nature, it does not mean that it can’t be overcome.  Thus, if sexual desire does have selfish or self-interested goals by its very nature, this does not entail that it can’t be overcome.  So there may be a way for the sexual partners to not sexually objectify each other, and themselves.  How is this possible?  To overcome the selfish or self-interested component of sexual desire, we must ask: is it possible for the people involved in casual sex to at least attend to each other’s sexual wants and pleasures for their own sake?  It seems that they can because they do show concern for others even at the grip of sexual desires.  Just because sexual desire is overwhelming does not mean that it blinds us to the sexual needs of our partners.

As an example from Halwani, suppose that Y enjoys receiving oral sex.  X performs oral sex on Y for the sake of Y, not because X enjoys performing oral sex on Y, not because X sexually enjoys Y’s pleasure, and not because X desires Y to reciprocate but because X is genuinely committed to the happiness of others, including Y.  This behavior is because X is kind and X wants to give Y a good time.  All of these reasons suggest that X does not objectify Y, and the partners can treat each other as ends and not as mere means, premise 2C is false.  Therefore, casual sex is not necessarily objectifying.

If the Kantian or the pessimist thinks that the example above is impossible, then she needs to show us why, given that the example above shows that there is a way to overcome the impulse of the pernicious nature of sexual desire.

Why the Second Attempt (Probably) Fails, Employing the Second Strategy:

It is possible for X to perform oral sex on Y for Y’s own sake, even from the motive of wanting to help Y attain sexual satisfaction for Y’s sake.  It’s also possible that X sexually enjoys the act.  From these suppositions, X’s motives are not morally suspect.  Still, X’s performance of oral sex on Y is stemming from sexual desire, which according to the pessimistic view, is inherently objectifying.  Thus, even if X’s performance is stemming from good intentions and Y agrees to the act, the motive is still stemming from pernicious grounds: sexual desire.  Sexual desire, by its very nature, is to objectify a person because to sexually desire another person is to desire that person as a body, as an object.  Once X attends to Y’s sexual needs from sexual desire, X has objectified Y.  However, if X attends to Y’s sexual needs for their own sake, X does so but not from sexual desire.  The way out is to employ the second strategy: even if CS&P do objectify, other factors may override it where NSA is not morally wrong, that one can act out of sexual desire and simultaneously attend to the partner’s sexual needs for the sake of the partner.  Halwani doesn’t delve into this, but there are two questions that need to be answered.  First, is it possible to attend to someone’s sexual needs but not from sexual desire?  Second, can one act out of sexual desire and simultaneously attend to the partner’s sexual needs for the sake of the partner?

In answering the first question, I think it is possible, but it doesn’t seem pleasant if one does it all the time.  Imagine if your partner wanted sex but you weren’t in the mood, or you didn’t feel like it.  Yet, because you love your partner and you want your partner to experience sexual pleasure, you attend to your partner’s sexual needs.  Notice that this is not stemming from your own sexual desires, but it’s to satisfy your partner’s sexual desires.  In other words, you are attending to your partners sexual desires for the sake of your partner.  The issue gets muddled, however.  After all, your partner may be objectifiying you, and so objectification is still happening.  The only way to escape this is to satisfy each other’s sexual needs without doing it for the sake of sexual desire.  But that’s impossible.  If both partners want to satisfy the sexual needs of the partner, but not to succumb to their own sexual desires, then sex would not start.  Moreover, one cannot fulfill a sexual need unless one had a sexual desire.  Imagine trying to fulfill a sexual need but not having the sexual desire.  What would that look like?  I can’t think of a scenario for that to happen.  Thus, in answering the first question, the answer would be “yes,” but it could only happen where it was one-sided: someone is going to objectify the other.

The other issue is whether this can happen during casual sex.  After all, since people engage in casual sex in order to fulfill a sexual desire, it seems extremely unlikely to engage in casual sex but not from sexual desire, but for the sake of the other.  Imagine someone going to a bar in order to find NSA sex, but this person does so not to fulfill sexual desire, but in order to fulfill the other person’s sexual desire.  While this is not impossible, it is very unlikely for someone to have this motivation.

What about the second question: can one act out of sexual desire and simultaneously attend to the partner’s sexual needs for the sake of the partner?  Here, I don’t think there is a problem.  If X has sex with Y, X can do it with two motivations: fulfilling one’s own sexual desire, but also attending to one’s partner’s sexual needs for the sake of the partner.  So how does this action avoid objectification?  It is because even though the other person is fulfilling your needs, you are taking on the other person’s ends as if they were your own. For Kant, avoiding objectification was treating the person as an end and not as a mere means.  It’s unavoidable that we use people, but as long as we treat them as ends, there’s no problem.  One way to avoid treating them as mere means is to take on their own ends as if they were ours.  This is Kant’s fourth example with charity: we have an imperfect duty to help people by taking on their own needs and ends as if they were our own.  I think this can be applied to sexual desire.  Thus, I think the first attempt can work if we spelled it out some more: rejecting premise 2C is the key to this issue, and I think it is possible to have sexual desires but also simultaneously having regard for the other.  Does my solution work?  I think it does.  Imagine if it doesn’t.  If we can’t simulataneously have sexual desire and attend to the other’s sexual desires for the sake of the other, then objectification happens in CS&P, but it also happens to sexual partners in loving relationships and within marriage.  Halwani misses out on this important aspect.  If there is something objectifying with sexual desire, then this is a problem for anyone having sexual desire.  Of course, Kant had a solution: marriage.  But his solution seems rather ad hoc and without justification.  I think rejecting 2C holds, thereby using the second strategy.

In the next post , I will continue with Halwani’s article by analyzing his argument that CS&P may be objectifying, and how to handle the morality of CS&P given that it may objectify others.

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
This entry was posted in Article, Casual Sex, Promiscuity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Raja Halwani’s “On F***ing Around” (Part Three)

  1. Pingback: Raja Halwani’s “On F***ing Around” (Part Four) | Shaun Miller's Ideas

  2. Pingback: Raja Halwani’s “On F***ing Around” (Part Five) | Shaun Miller's Ideas

  3. Pingback: Various Philosophers on Sex | Shaun Miller's Ideas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s