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Sex and the Limits of Toleration in Secular, Democratic Societies

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Presentation on theme: "Sex and the Limits of Toleration in Secular, Democratic Societies"— Presentation transcript:

1 Sex and the Limits of Toleration in Secular, Democratic Societies
Scott Stewart, PHIL 2103

2 Liberalism and the harm principle
John Stuart Mill and the sovereignty of the individual. Public vs. private sphere Three questions: (1) Should we be concerned about the sex lives of our politicians? (2) Should practices which involve genital cutting/mutilation be tolerated? In our own countries? In other countries? (3) Is BDSM morally legitimate? Should it be tolerated?

3 The Sex Lives of Politicians
Francois Mitterand Silvio Berlusconi and Ruby Rubacuori Pierre Elliott and Margaret Trudeau Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky Henry VIII The morality of adultery Fitness for job? Devlin and the Disintegration thesis Feminism and the personal is political slogan

4 Definition “All procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” World Health Organization (WHO)

5 Female Genital Alteration/Mutilation Definition
“All procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” World Health Organization (WHO)

6 Stats According to the WHO, it is practised in 28 countries in western, eastern, and north-eastern Africa, in parts of Asia and the Middle East, and within some immigrant communities in Europe, North America, and Australasia. The WHO estimates that 100–140 million women and girls around the world have experienced the procedure, including 92 million in Africa

7 4 types

8 4 types Type I, removal of the clitoral hood, almost invariably accompanied by removal of the clitoris itself (clitoridectomy); Around 85 percent of women who undergo FGM experience Types I and II, and 15 percent Type III, though Type III is the most common procedure in several countries, including Sudan, Somalia, and Djibouti.

9 4 types Type II, removal of the clitoris and inner labia;

10 4 types Type III (infibulation), removal of all or part of the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, and the fusion of the wound, leaving a small hole for the passage of urine and menstrual blood—the fused wound is opened for intercourse and childbirth.

11 4 types Several miscellaneous acts are categorized as Type IV. These range from a symbolic pricking or piercing of the clitoris or labia, to cauterization of the clitoris, cutting into the vagina to widen it (gishiri cutting), and introducing corrosive substances to tighten it.


13 Wording FGM vs clitoridectomy or genital alteration

14 Relativism and cultural imperilaism
“Official attempt to force compliance with the cultural norms of American middle class life” Richard Shweder (2001) “Our children do not speak our language, do not wear our clothes, do not practice our religion, and our ancient customs are under assault. In years we will be unrecognizable as a distinct cultural entity – all under the guise of globalization. Is this beneficial? To who? This rush to western judgement will have to be slowed down at some point.” Nowa Omoigui (2001)

15 Relativism? Must we accept all of the morality of a culture? Slavery? Rape? Widow Burning, honour killing, female infanticide? Surely cultural practices ought to be placed under critical scrutiny. Disintegration thesis Harm principle

16 Ahmadu’s argument in favour of AG/FGM
“…women who uphold these rituals do so because they want to” (Ahmadu, 2007). Women’s initiation is highly organized and hierarchal: the institution itself is synonymous with women’s power, their political, economic, reproductive, and ritual spheres of influence. Excision … is a symbolic representation of matriarchal power … [by] activating the women’s ‘penis’ within the vagina (the clitoral ‘shaft’ or ‘g-spot’ that are subcutaneous). During vaginal intercourse, women say they dominate the male procreative tool (penis) and substance (semen) for sexual pleasure and reproductive purpose, but in ritual they claim to possess the phallus autonomously (Ahmadu & Shweder, 2009, p. 14).

17 According to the women I interviewed, sexual foreplay is complex and requires more than immediate physical touch: emphasis is on learning erotic songs and sexually suggestive dance movements; cooking, feeding and feigned submission, as powerful aphrodisiacs, and the skills of aural sex (more than oral sex) are said to heighten sexual desire and anticipation. Orgasms experienced during vaginal intercourse, these female elders say, must be taught and trained, requiring both skill and experience on the part of both partners (male initiation ceremonies used to teach men sexual skills on how to ‘hit the spot’ in women – emphasizing body movement and rhythm in intercourse, and importantly, verbal innuendos that titillate a women’s senses. This, from the viewpoint of these women elders, vaginal intercourse is associated with womenhood and adult female sexuality (Ahmadu & Shweder, 2009, p. 16).

18 WHO and harm AG/FGM significantly increases the risks of:
recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections; cysts; infertility; an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths; the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3 above) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks (WHO, 2010).

19 Sexual pleasure Clitoral vs. vaginal orgasms
Freud and sexual development in women But, some say that Westerners focus too much on individual pleasure. E.g., Yael Tamil (1996, 21) says: “Nuns take an oath of celibacy, but we do no usually condemn the church for preventing its clergy from practicing an active sex life. Moreover, most of us do not think that Mother Teresa is leading a worse life than … [a porn star] who claims to have experienced an extensive number of orgasms. It is true that nuns are offered spiritual life in exchange for earthly goods, but in societies where clitoridectomy is performed, the fulfilling life of motherhood and child bearing are offered in exchnge.”

20 Celibacy vs AG/FGM There is a great deal of difference between fasting and starvation; just so, there is also a great difference between a vow of celibacy and FGM. Celibacy involves the choice not to exercise a capability to which nuns, insofar as they are orthodox Roman Catholics, ascribe considerable human value…. FGM, by contrast, involves forgoing altogether the very possibility of sexual functioning – and, as I said, well before one is of an age to make such a choice (Nussbaum, 1999, 127).

21 Nussbaum: 3 further claims
(1) it is morally wrong to criticize the practices of another culture unless one’s own culture has eradicated all evils of a comparable kind…. (2) it is morally wrong to criticize the practices of another culture unless one's own culture has eradicated all evils of a comparable kind… IS it? Why? “the fact that a needy human being happens to live in Togo rather than Idaho does not make her less my fellow, less deserving of my moral commitment. And to fail to recognize the plight of a fellow human being because we are busy moving our own culture to greater moral heights seems the very height of moral obtuseness and parochialism” (Nussbaum, 1995, p.122).

22 Nussbaum (3) Female genital mutilation is morally on a par with practices of dieting and body shaping in American culture… (Nussbaum, 1995, p.121.). Dieting, cosmetic surgery, Labiaplasty

23 Labiaplasty

24 Labioplasty & clitoral hood reduction

25 We do need to urge women (and men) against some of these practices, or at least informing them of their risks. But, ultimately, if they know these risks and can refuse to consent, then they should be able to do them. Not possible in many places for women and girls to refuse AG/FGM.

26 Male circumcision The WHO has estimated that 664,500,000 males aged 15 and over are circumcised (30% global prevalence), with almost 70% of these being Muslim. Circumcision is most prevalent in the Muslim world, parts of Southeast Asia, Africa, the United States, the Philippines, Israel, and South Korea. It is relatively rare in Europe, Latin America, parts of Southern Africa, and most of Asia and Oceania.

27 the WHO (2007) estimates that approximately 75% of all American males and 30% of Canadian males (i.e., from newborns to seniors) are circumcised, these statistics are beginning to change quite drastically. In Canada, rates of circumcision for newborns have dropped from about 50% in 1998 to about 20% in 2000, and to about 13.9 percent for the year 2003 (Canadian Children Rights Council, 2011). In the United States, the drop in rates has been more recent. Up until 2006, more than 50% of newborn males were still being circumcised, but that fell to 32% in 2009 (Circumcision Reference Library, 2010).

28 Disanalogy Harm in male circumcision?
Health benefits in male circumcision? (penile cancer, reduction in infection, lowered risk of contracting HIV/AIDS In 2007, the WHO endorsed male circumcision

29 Disanalogy “The male equivalent of the clitoridectomy [Type 1 FGM] would be the amputation of most of the penis. The male equivalent of infibulation [Type 3 FGM] would be ‘removal of the entire penis, its roots of soft tissue, and part of the scrotal skin.” (Nussbaum (1999, p. 119),

30 Foot reduction

31 BDSM: The Broad Context
Current Popularity: 14% of US men; 11 % US women – have engaged in some BDSM activity; rates of BDSM fantasy much higher. Mainstream ‘infiltration’: Pop stars; TV shows; Films; advertising

32 Pop Stars

33 Vampire obsession

34 Advertising

35 The Law: Consent is NOT a Defence
UK: 1993 Spanner case --leaked videos led to conviction of a # of gay men despite no complaints and all admitting it was consensual. Canada: [A] victim cannot consent to the infliction of bodily harm upon himself or herself, as defined by s. 267(2) of the Code, unless the accused is acting in the course of a generally approved social purpose when afflicting the harm. Specifically, … consent may be a defense to certain activities such as rough sporting activities, medical treatment, social interventions, and “daredevil activities” performed by stuntmen, “in creation of socially liable cultural product.” Acts of sexual violence, however, were conspicuously not included among these exceptions. US: People v Samuels (California, 1967).

36 ‘Mainstream’ Ethics Utilitarianism – count up utility
Kantian Deontology: avoid treating others solely as a means to an end BUT ... Two counterarguments: Pathology Patriarchy

37 Pathology Roger Lee (“S&M: An Ethical Analysis,”1995)
S/M is the pathological behaviour of people suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder generally caused by childhood abuse. Sadists – have to teach people of the real painful state of existence Masochists – responsible for their abuse & must suffer pain as a result.

38 Pathology: Current DSM Criteria
A type of paraphilia that requires that for at least six months a person has had “sexual fantasies, urges or behaviors which involve inflicting (or having inflicted on oneself) psychological or physical suffering to enhance or achieve sexual excitement” (including being beaten, humiliated, bound or tortured).” Plus, these fantasies, urges, or behaviors must also cause “marked distress or interpersonal difficulty” (DSM IV TR).

39 ‘Mainstream’ Ethics Reconsidered
Utilitarianism: BDSM pleasures aren’t real. BDSM must be cured before we can acquire a real utilitarian calculation Kantian Deontology: Autonomy not real re BDSM. BDSM must be cured in order to people to stop acting compulsively and heterononymously.

40 Pathology Reconsidered
Changing classifications; e.g., homosexuality and the DSM. (Ian Hacking on interactive kinds and the ability of groups to resist their labels/classifications and force ‘experts’ into new classifications.) Many deny that BDSM causes them “marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.”

41 Pathology Reconsidered
Current working group on sexual paraphilias for DSM V would de-pathologize BDSM by removing it completely. Their argument: BDSM is (or can be) truly consensual; people really do receive pleasure from BDSM activities; people’s distress about their BDSM activities most likely to be caused by stigmatization, which is exacerbated by current psychological classification

42 Patriarchy and BDSM Substantive vs. Proceduralist accounts of autonomy. My own approach to sadomasochism initially ... was the liberal, “sexual preference” approach.... My present approach perceives sexual sadomasochism as enacting ... roles of dominance and subordinance that characterize ... the norms of a patriarchal, misogynist society that is also riddled with homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of oppression. On this understanding, sadomasochistic desires have roots not simply in individual psychologies but in society at large; they are not mysterious givens but social constructions. The direction of my ethical concern has shifted, accordingly, more to the process of their construction than to that of enactment. (Claudia Card, Lesbian Choices, 1995).

43 BDSM and autonomy “While strong substantial accounts may allow for submissive women to autonomously choose their roles in some instances, the threshold to do so is too high and rigid to be useful or applicable for many women. In response to this limitation, the proceduralist approach to autonomy, as advocated by Diana Meyers, appears to offer a much more suitable theory of autonomy that is focused on the desires of the individual while still balancing societal influences and norms and allowing the female submissive to express her sexual self as she sees fit.”

44 Autonomy Caution: We must be careful to avoid telling women (and others) what they must choose. Dworkin: autonomy acts as a moral ideal, a political ideal, and a social ideal. Don’t confuse them. Though there is no “unchosen chooser, no uninfluenced influencer,” we can still seek autonomy that is primarily proceduralist as a moral and political ideal.

45 Autonomy Autonomy is conceived of as a second-order capacity of persons to reflect critically upon their first-order preferences, desires, wishes, and so forth and the capacity to accept or attempt to change these in light of higher-order preferences and values. By exercising such a capacity, a person defines their nature, gives meaning and coherence to their lives, and takes responsibility for the kind of person they are (Dworkin, The Theory and Practice of Autonomy, 1988, 20).

46 Autonomy Meyer’s account focuses on a type of competency that arises from critical reflection. This allows one to discover an authentic self composed of “a self-chosen identity rooted in the individual’s most abiding feelings … yet subject to [a] critical perspective” Meyers, 1989, p, 61).

47 Autonomy Meyers’ view: the social world influences us but doesn’t determine us. As a result, this conception of autonomy would allow us to conceive of a women autonomously consenting to be a submissive in a Master/slave relationship so long as she is “able to meet a specific standard whereby [her] decision is not influenced in any way by social norms that can devalue [her] worth” (Zaslow, 2012, p. 7).

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