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.
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 part three, I investigated various attempts on whether CS&P lead to objectification. In the end, Halwani argues that CS&P may lead to objectification, but I offered some criticism of that view.
In this post, I’ll investigate Halwani’s argument on why CS&P likely objectify people, and possible ways to defend CS&P.
Why CS&P and Likely Objectifying:
Recall the second strategy from part three:
Second strategy: Even if CS&P do objectify, other factors may override it where NSA is not morally wrong.
Even if the second strategy holds, this only says that it does at time t1 with partner Y in this situation. What about another partner, Z, at time t2 in another situation? We cannot know how frequently the partners avoid objectification or not (this is an empirical issue), but in all likelihood, they do objectify each other more often than not. Why is that? Halwani gives three reasons:
First, humans tend to be selfish and self-interested. When we take on other people’s ends as our own, this depends on our moods, emotions, and how we feel.
Second, because we want to satisfy our sexual desires, attending to one’s partner’s sexual goals for their own sake takes us away from satisfying our own goals. If X is in the grip of sexual desire, paying attention to Y’s sexual desires takes X away from that sexual grip, which means that X cannot fully pay attention to her own sexual desire, which means no pleasure for X.
My response to this is that if this is true, then this does not just apply to CS&P but also to all forms of sexual relationships, including loving relationships and married people. It may be true that loving or married people pay more attention to their partner’s sexual needs, but not all the time. There are moments where one is in the grip of sexual desire and does not fully attend to the other’s sexual needs. It may not be as frequent as CS&P, but it does happen. Does paying attention to your own sexual needs mean that you’d be ignoring your partner’s sexual needs? It can, but not all the time. As mentioned above, I think one can still be within the grip of sexual pleasure and attend to your partners sexual needs. This may be true for all types of relationships, but it may be more likely for CS&P. Of course, this is an empirical question, but in all likelihood, people are within the grip of sexual desire and they ignore the sexual needs of the other. Thus, if this problem is accurate, then this applies to everyone, not just CS&P. This is a problem because that would entail that everyone objectifies their sexual partner during sex no matter what type of relationship the people have. Since this is proving too much, something must be wrong.
Third, the very point of CS&P is to attain sexual pleasure. Because people engaged in CS&P lack future commitments to each other, they most likely would not act selflessly toward their partner. Indeed, there’s a likelier chance that they would use each other to satisfy their own sexual desires, including a way to deceive each other, to give themselves up for sexual abandon, and to take risks. If X pays attention to Y’s sexual needs, then X cannot pay attention to her own sexual needs, which defeats the purpose of engaging in CS&P. Thus, CS&P are likely objectifying activities. Moreover, if getting out of the sexual grip is difficult, the chances of getting out of it decreases with more casual sex with different people. Thus, it seems that promiscuity is likely to engage in objectification more frequently.
My response to this third point is that Halwani is only focusing on one kind of casual sex: the one-night stand. However, there are many different types of casual sexual encounters: the “friends with benefits,” the “fuck buddy,” the “booty call.” With those different types, there is a future expectation to meet again for sex. And with these future expectations, the partners will know each other’s bodies and will know what turns each other on. Because of these different types of casual sex, it may lessen the selfishness more so. However, promiscuity may have the problem of objectifying more often because one is having multiple one-night stands with different people. Without that future expectation, one may be more inclined to pay attention to one’s own sexual pleasures and ignore the partner’s sexual needs.
To note, Halwani is not arguing that casual sex or promiscuity are morally wrong simpliciter. Rather, these activities are wrong because they objectify the other person. This leaves the door open as to whether CS&P can be morally permissible if we can avoid objectification.
Recall the argument on why CS&P involves objectification:
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.
The way, it seems, is to avoid premise 2C. Avoiding 2C is something we cannot just wholesale reject. 2C may be true when the people involved are indeed being selfish or self-interested. But notice that the truth value of 2C depends on the beliefs of the people involved, and not the act itself. Thus, CS&P are not inherently objectifying, but only if the people involved in it objectify. Moreover, since this applies to all relationships that have a sexual nature, we can say that the truth value of premise 2C depends on the beliefs or intentions of the people involved. Therefore, the people who engage in sex objectify the other only when 2C holds, regardless if the relationship is casual sex, promiscuity, a loving couple, a gang bang, or a married couple. Moreover, I think that people who hold onto 2C are confusing the antecedent and consequence. Rather, it is possible that if people use each other for their selfish or self-interested sexual pleasure without regard for the other, then by using each other as objects or tool. This does not make the objectification disappear, but it does suggest that the objectification is within the intentions of the person, not within the sexual act itself. This is something that Halwani is missing.
So now what? Those who defend CS&P have two options:
Option 1: Relax Kant’s Stringent Requirements of Objectification. This strategy suggests that as long as the people involved respect the wishes, desires, and boundaries of each other, and as long as they attend to each other’s sexual pleasure, regardless if it’s selfish or not, then the sex is not objectifying. We pay the grocer by treating the grocer as a means to our own ends, but we wouldn’t say something is wrong in that regard. Why not apply the same thing with sex? Sex is another desire activity on par with other desires and activities. If consent is sufficient for these other activities, then it also applies to sexual activities. This option has been my view as my comments above have attested. Yet, there’s a problem…
Problem with option 1. If we hold onto this view, then we abandon the pessimistic view of sexual desire, which is what we’ve assumed this whole time. It could be that the pessimistic view is false, but we need to show that first. By simply saying that option one is true, we’re taking the easy way out by not addressing this assumption.
While I see what Halwani is doing, I’m wondering where the burden lies: the pessimist, or the one who’s denying the pessimistic view. Of course, one could hold onto an optimistic view of sexual desire. My take is that sexual desire is not inherently pessimistic as Kant would have it, nor is it optimistic as Irving Singer (another philosopher) would have it. Rather, sexual desire rests on the intentions of the subject. Does the nature, the essence, of sexual desire mean that we want to use people to satisfy our desires? It can, but not necessarily. Does the nature, the essence, of sexual desire meant that our sexual desires are ways to express a unity with the other person? It can, but not necessarily. Again, it depends on the intentions of the people involved, not on the act. Sexual desire, and perhaps all desires, are contextual where there is no nature to suggest that the only way to satisfy this desire is to use people, not to form a unity with this person. Sexual desire will depend on the predilections of the people and the situation. It can even change within the same people. Sometimes, a married loving couple just wants good sex without getting caught up in the loving attitude. Sometimes, uncommitted people want sex in order to display an emotional unity with the other person. Not necessarily love, but some sort of connection.
So I see what Halwani is getting at, but I would say that the burden lies on the pessimist to show why the pessimistic view is true. Nevertheless, let’s stay with Halwani’s strategy and assume that the pessimistic view of sexual desire is true. If so, then we must assume that CS&P likely objectify. If one is defend CS&P, what is another option?
In the next and final post, I’ll look at the second option of defending CS&P given that they likely objectify and my own problems with the article.