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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: July 2009

6 - Sex and the Body


No one doubts that dualism has often influenced views of sexual morality. Platonists, for example, have sometimes viewed sexual activity as inherently bad, since in their view it lowered the spirit, which is the true self, to a preoccupation for the merely bodily. On the other hand, dualism has often led to a somewhat opposite view, namely, sexual libertinism. For, if the self is a spirit, or a consciousness, and the body is outside the self, then bodily sexual activities may be viewed as rather unimportant – useful perhaps to obtain pleasure (viewed as an effect in one's consciousness), to relieve tension, or so on. If one's body, or one's animality, is viewed as extrinsic to what one really is, then one might also conclude that what happens within the realm of the bodily or animal is of itself quite irrelevant to what occurs to one's real self. Perhaps the sexual may receive some important significance or meaning, but – if the self is a pure consciousness – it does not have within its nature, or inherently, any significance or value.

We believe that such views are more commonplace than one might first expect. Indeed, in our judgment, keeping firmly in mind that the human person is bodily, and not just a consciousness possessing or inhabiting a body, is a key to understanding the basic issues in sexual ethics.