About “sex-negativity”, sexual morality vs. ethics

It’s easier to ask a question about how someone personally feels about themselves having sex, but trying to ask about how someone feels about sex in general is a lot more difficult.

The 2011 AAW census had a question asking this, but it was flawed. Aside from actually asking about 3 different things at once, that question was biased. “Satisficing” is the pressure to pick the most “desirable” answer to please the researchers. How it was worded also erased the fact that there are people who identify as sex-negative and/or antisexual and don’t mean what they mean, reinforcing the assumption that whoever identifies with either of those labels must be an asexual elitist or conform to “puritanical” ideas about sexuality, which speaks over the people who actually identify with those labels.

The AVEN 2014 Census attempted to resolve this issue by asking whether one identifies as sex-positive, negative, or neither/both/unsure* and to ask if one agrees or disagrees with the following statements “I have absolutely no problem with sex between consenting adults”, and “Our society has too much sex in it, and it would be better if it were diminished”.

As shown in the discussion section of this analysis, the emphasis on self-identification with the sex-positive/negative question was because of the ambiguity of each label, so there was an attempt to infer what the respondent meant.

I’ve wanted to ask about morality vs. ethics in regards to sexual attitudes. From what I’ve seen, the reasoning among people who have a positive attitude towards sex in general seems consistent. On the other hand, people can have negative attitudes towards sex in general for various reasons, and I feel like it does a disservice to lump everyone together, which has happened due to biases in the questions. It’s a problem that the asexual community has assumed that having a negative attitude towards sex must mean believing in “puritanical” views on sex, which leads into one of the next points.

One of the things I wanted to find out is what percentage of the asexual community believe under which circumstances is sex in general morally acceptable, and a separate question about ethics. It’s a difficult set of questions to write though. However, some people I’ve talked with said that they don’t easily make the moral-ethical distinction I recognize, or don’t make it at all.

What I meant by morality distinction, is whether one agrees with the viewpoints of traditional sexual morality, often known as sexual puritanism (although as The Ace Theist explained, that’s a misnomer but the name stuck), is incorrectly believed as saying is sex is always evil. It’s actually usually believing sex is morally good or at least morally acceptable under a narrow range circumstances, and evil under the rest, with “acceptable” sex usually being defined as being: monogamous, between a man and woman in marriage, while open to the possibility of procreation.

By the ethics distinction, I meant under what circumstances does someone consider sex to be ethically acceptable, or rather, it asks questions such as:

  • Is it good for a person’s well-being, or is it harmful?
  • Does it overall have the potential to be good for a person’s well-being, or are they outweighed by the ways that sex can be harmful?
  • Given all the pressure to have sex, and how widespread sexual exploitation is, how feasible is consenting?
  • Is sex inherently “using” someone, and how?

Being “sex-negative” under the ethics distinction means believing that overall, believing that there are many ethical issues surrounding sex, and those issues, and the ways sex can harm outweigh any possible benefits. It’s a viewpoint rooted in concern for one’s own, and others’ well-being. “Sexual puritanism” in contrast, is rooted in whether one’s behavior follows a narrow set of pre-defined rules.

This is just a starting point, and I hope I can discuss these distinctions, and refine them.


Footnotes:

*The lack of “sex-neutral” option was a limitation of that question

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10 thoughts on “About “sex-negativity”, sexual morality vs. ethics

  1. Siggy

    It sounds like you’re trying to get at the distinction between conservative sexual morality and more liberal concerns about sex. And the distinction ends up sounding a bit like the difference between “my own ethical judgments, which are appropriately nuanced and well-founded,” and “your moral judgments, which are based purely on rules without deeper justification, and which are barely tolerable to me, as long as you don’t try to legislate them.” Maybe people with conservative views on sex believe that their own views are the ones which are nuanced and well-founded? In short, it doesn’t seem like a neutral classification scheme.

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    1. Aqua Post author

      That is the distinction I’m trying to make, but I still need help refining what the differences are.

      I shouldn’t have taken it for granted that others understand the framework underlying conservative sexual morality. I know how it works, though that knowledge is largely second-hand. The fundamentalists are the most extreme example, but from what I’ve read from ex-fundamentalists, many explained that they were taught to have such a rigid views on sex, and gender roles, not simply because they are taught it’s the “proper” way to live life, but that following those rules is the only way to be happy.

      The intent behind that rhetoric isn’t always clear, and I was referring to it mainly in the usual conservative Christian context it’s associated with, but I’ve also seen secular equivalents of this rhetoric. Usually it cites evolutionary psychology instead to explain that traditional views on sex are part of the natural order and a product of evolution.

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      1. Siggy

        Let’s look at this secular example you’re providing: moral arguments from evolutionary psychology. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s yet another view that you’re not sympathetic to. So it still sounds like you’re just trying to distinguish “ethical beliefs that are agreeable to me” and “moral beliefs which are disagreeable to me”. It’s not a neutral classification scheme, which is the same problem the 2011 AAW survey question suffered from.

        Here’s another way to think about it. When it comes to moral/ethical beliefs, there’s the *content* of those beliefs, and the *justification* for those beliefs. When you try to describe the moral/ethical distinction, what you’re describing is different justifications for the beliefs (which sounds a little like the deontology/consequentialism distinction). But when you come up with examples for the moral/ethical distinction, it appears that you’re thinking about the content of the beliefs. It’s really tempting to think that people that disagree with you are disagreeing because something about their method of thinking is fundamentally wrong. But is it necessarily true?

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        1. Aqua Post author

          Are you saying that I’ve been approaching this backwards, that I should be describing them by their content, then use examples to describe the justifications used? I know I have my own biases, and I’ve been struggling to word much of what I’ve been saying, which are why I’m looking for help to refine it so a better framework for these concepts can be made. I haven’t been able to discuss this with anyone before, and I haven’t seen anyone discuss it in much detail before either.

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          1. Siggy

            I’m approaching this as someone who is personally involved in the data analysis of this survey (as you know, but I say for the benefit of others). I’m *always* arguing for fewer questions because I know that there are already more questions than I have time to analyze. So when I hear a proposal, I’m thinking, “Is this even a tractable issue?” “If I made a pie chart of that, what would I get out of it?” “If people started spreading around the result for political purposes, would I be fine with that, or would I be angry about the nuances and survey flaws that they’re ignoring?”

            I’m also a blogger, though, and a very politically-minded one. And as a blogger, I don’t see a problem with this discussion about finding the right framework. I disagree with the framework so far laid out, but I know we can’t improve our frameworks without talking about them. I just… don’t think it’s a tractable issue for an amateur survey of 10,000+ people.

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            1. Aqua Post author

              Those are good questions to consider. It was an ambitious attempt at trying to write the most nuanced “sexual attitudes” section seen in a large asexual community survey, but do you feel like the sexual attitudes questions that were asked in the 2014 survey gave enough information? More elaborate questions may give more information, but there comes a point of diminishing returns. In this case, do you think we might not have gained that much more information, for all the extra effort we’d have to put into those questions? That’s what I’m concerned about too.

              Even if it’s not worth the effort to try and write such questions for a survey, I still wanted to find the right framework, so it’d be easier to talk about these concepts.

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  2. Coyote

    I think Siggy’s point bears repeating.

    I’m also thinking, are you sure you want to get into this? …I mean, have you thought about the gradients and layers to even defining “morally acceptable”? Are you looking to ask about all aces’ sexual ethics, or are you looking to define and defend “sex-negative”?

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    1. Aqua Post author

      I know I’m opening up a large can of worms with this, but since you’re asking whether I’m sure if I want to do this or not, do you think there are ramifications if we try to get further into this?

      One of the things that prompted this post was remembering a scrapped question from the 2014 survey, intended to ask about under which circumstances is sex “morally acceptable”, but it was too difficult to implement. I thought what “moral acceptability” means and refers to are understandable at face-value, but I’ve been told that they aren’t. I’ve wanted to know if implementing such a question, and one about sexual ethics (though a question about that had never been proposed), would be feasible in the future?

      I can see now how difficult it can be to define “moral acceptability” so that kind of question could eventually be asked, but I’m stuck.

      I’ve also been wanting to explain how people can have negative attitudes towards sex for different reasons, because it has bothered me that they’re all lumped together in a way that isn’t representative of any, and the assumption that it must also mean attacking or shaming others whom have or want sex. It’s an issue that some people have with the sex-positive movement, being spoken over by them.

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      1. Coyote

        “do you think there are ramifications if we try to get further into this?”

        Yes.

        To clarify, I’m… not saying it’s bad for people to discuss sexual ethics. I’ve done that myself plenty. But I’m… wary of, say, trying to open a community-wide discussion on the topic. Let’s just say you won’t always like what you find out about people.

        “I’ve wanted to know if implementing such a question, and one about sexual ethics (though a question about that had never been proposed), would be feasible in the future? … I’ve also been wanting to explain how people can have negative attitudes towards sex for different reasons, because it has bothered me that they’re all lumped together in a way that isn’t representative of any”

        I see. Sounds like two separate goals here. One sounds investigative, one sounds didactic (and I don’t mean that in a bad way — just that I don’t think you can pursue both of those at the same time).

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