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The Ethics Of Sex

Normative philosophy of sexuality inquires about the value of sexual activity and sexual pleasure and of the various forms they take. Thus the philosophy of sexuality is concerned with the perennial questions of sexual morality and constitutes a large branch of applied ethics. Normative philosophy of sexuality investigates what contribution is made to the good or virtuous life by sexuality, and tries to determine what moral obligations we have to refrain from performing certain sexual acts and what moral permissions we have to engage in others.

The Ethics of Sex

Some philosophers of sexuality carry out conceptual analysis and the study of sexual ethics separately. They believe that it is one thing to define a sexual phenomenon (such as rape or adultery) and quite another thing to evaluate it. Other philosophers of sexuality believe that a robust distinction between defining a sexual phenomenon and arriving at moral evaluations of it cannot be made, that analyses of sexual concepts and moral evaluations of sexual acts influence each other. Whether there actually is a tidy distinction between values and morals, on the one hand, and natural, social, or conceptual facts, on the other hand, is one of those fascinating, endlessly debated issues in philosophy, and is not limited to the philosophy of sexuality.

The ethics of sexual behavior, as a branch of applied ethics, is no more and no less contentious than the ethics of anything else that is usually included within the area of applied ethics. Think, for example, of the notorious debates over euthanasia, capital punishment, abortion, and our treatment of lower animals for food, clothing, entertainment, and in medical research. So it should come as no surprise than even though a discussion of sexual ethics might well result in the removal of some confusions and a clarification of the issues, no final answers to questions about the morality of sexual activity are likely to be forthcoming from the philosophy of sexuality. As far as I can tell by surveying the literature on sexual ethics, there are at least three major topics that have received much discussion by philosophers of sexuality and which provide arenas for continual debate.

The APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct--our ethics code--consists of general principles and standards of conduct, as its title reveals. The general principles set forth the values central to our profession. The ethical standards apply those values to psychologists' day-to-day practice across the broad range of our discipline. When conflicts arise between values, the standards must negotiate among the competing values. Ethical Standard 10.08 is an excellent illustration of how the code accomplishes this essential function.

Third, standard 10.08 illustrates how our ethics and our evidence can be closely related. Over time, data may emerge that speak to the questions above in a manner that recommends an absolute prohibition against post-termination sexual involvements. In the alternative, the evidence may suggest that relaxing the prohibitive aspects of the standard is appropriate. In whichever direction the standard evolves, its evolution should rest upon solid clinical thinking and good research.

Including discussion questions and suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter The Ethics of Sex is the perfect philosophical introduction to the perennially topical issue, and ideal reading for students taking courses within the fields of applied ethics, sociology, law, religion and politics.

Tim Hsiao is Instructor of Philosophy at Grantham University and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Park University and Johnson County Community College. He writes primarily on applied ethics, and his articles have appeared in journals such as Public Affairs Quarterly, Philosophia, and the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. His website is

Copyright 2004 by the President and Board of Trustees of Santa Clara University. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce or post this case on a website, or electronic reserve, please contact

One of the largest barriers to clinicians broaching the topic of sex is the ethical concerns of professionals. There are fundamental misunderstandings of the ethics of treating sexual issues in clinical practice. This program will provide information related to these ethical considerations, including models for arriving at appropriate ethical decisions related to treatment of sexual issues.

"What's interesting about this approach is that it's for women who are otherwise fertile, so they don't need to go to these reproductive medicine clinics to have children," said Jeffrey Kahn, professor of bioethics and public policy and the deputy director for policy and administration at the Johns Hopkins University Institute of Bioethics, on The Daily Circuit Tuesday.

All ACA members are required to abide by the ACA Code of Ethics, and 22 state licensing boards use it as the basis for adjudicating complaints of ethical violations. As a service to members, Counseling Today is publishing a monthly column focused on new or updated aspects of the ACA Code of Ethics (the ethics code is also available online at

Andrew Milroy studied Ethics, Morality, Theology, and Law at the University of Toronto, graduating in 2005 with a Specialist B.A. in Bioethics. He continued his studies in the field of Ethics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Linkoping University where he studied Applied Ethics in the areas of Politics and Society. In 2008, Andrew graduated his Master's program with Distinction.

At the end of the background section, the committee explains why healthcare providers seek ethical guidance when choosing whether or not to provide services for sex selection for nonmedical purposes. The authors cite a survey that reveals that some ART clinics in the United States do offer reproductive technology for sex selection for nonmedical purposes. The survey was distributed to 415 ART clinics in the US by the Berman Institute of Bioethics of Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC. The survey indicated that forty-two percent of clinics that provide PGS services offer it for sex selection for nonmedical reasons. Half of those clinics report providing that service under all circumstances, while forty-one percent only offer it to couples who already have at least one child. The committee states that despite the prevalence of sex selection for nonmedical reasons, healthcare providers and the public continuously express ethical concern for applying reproductive technology in situations where there is no medical benefit to the child. After citing that study, the committee explains that they present arguments both for and against the use of ART for sex selection for nonmedical purposes to assist clinics in their decision of whether or not to provide that service.

Mitch won the 1992 CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) Colorado Professor of the Year Award, and the Excellence in Teaching Award from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (APA Division 2) in 1995. He has published several book chapters and over 50 articles in journals ranging from the Professional Psychology: Research and Practice to the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity. His major research area is professional ethics; he is the coauthor (with Sharon K. Anderson) of a text on ethics in psychotherapy (Ethics for Psychotherapists and Counselors: A Proactive Approach_ from Wiley-Blackwell. His ethics blog, "The Ethical Professor," can be found at -ethical-professor.

In view of the harmful consequences of Catholic teaching on people with a non-heterosexual sexual orientation, the global reach of Catholic-run institutions, and that the topic has already been extensively researched, we recommend as a matter of urgency that the competent authorities in the Catholic Church set up an official consultation process to seek the opinion of Christian theologians and experts in other relevant disciplines with regard to the ethics of same-sex relationships.


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