Erotic (or sexual) love unites two highly celebrated goods, sex and love. Sex, according to Michel Foucault (1980–88: 1.156), is the pathway to identity and individuality, and “over the centuries it has become more important than our soul, more important almost than our life”. Love, proclaims Simon May (2011: 6), is “the rapture we feel for people and things that inspire in us the hope of an indestructible grounding for our life”. Combining these themes of identity and grounding, Robert Solomon (1988: 195) depicts erotic love as “the attempt to find another person who will give us a sense of our ‘true’ selves and make us feel complete, once and for all”. In highlighting the importance of erotic love, such glowing statements intimate the perplexities about how sex and love are connected, and should be connected. Their successful union requires both luck and the virtues, in myriad combinations.
Moral issues concerning sex arise at several levels, including: (a) standards of social justice governing permissible forms of sexual expression, (b) religious and cultural ideals and practices, and (c) personal ideals and choices about relationships and good lives. These levels are distinct but interact. Conservative perspectives typically canonize a narrow range of cultural ideals as permissible or preferable, whereas liberal movements such as sexual liberation, gay liberation and feminism target prejudice at all three levels (Okin 1989; Mohr 2007). In this chapter I will sketch a moderate position regarding personal choices and ideals of sexual love, devoting special attention to marriage.