As long as we're talking swear words, let's talk sex too.

Ooh! Double the fun, controversial topics. And double the being-a-crazy-hippie. I was born four decades too late. Except I like showers and not acoustic guitars.

The question: should people be allowed/encouraged/neutral to have as much (safe) sex as they want?

Now bear with me. I realize even posing the question is a little Victorian of me. But let’s draw a parallel to eating: at one time, sex and eating were both essential to survival, and the more you did of both, the better. Now we can eat as much as we want. Should we? No. Also, we have enough time and energy to have sex as much as we want. Should we?

My straw-man “no” argument: usually, doing the “natural” thing is pretty good. At least when it comes to your body. (see: eating) Safe, frequent sex requires condoms or some other birth control (even between two healthy loving people… babies, etc.). That seems unnatural. It’d be like if we were eating as much food as we want, but we took diet pills so we didn’t get fat. If nature has designed us in a certain way (that having sex makes babies), shouldn’t we avoid sex unless the possibility of babies is involved?

My “yes” argument: Well, frequent (safe) sex doesn’t seem to hurt. And in a lot of (most? some?) cases (that is, where two people are really in love), it really helps. And sexual repression does seem to hurt (see: the Victorian era, Puritans). It seems like regular sex is beneficial to physical/mental/emotional/or some kind of health. Plus, why not?

I guess where I come out of this “thought experiment” (pow!) is a resounding “yes”, if you are two people in love, and you’re being safe, go ahead and do it as much as you want. It just bothers me a little (only a little) that Modern Science (inventor of high fructose corn syrup, thalidomide, and the Atkins diet) has had to come up with the latex condom for us to be healthy in this way.

post script: okay, on second thought, maybe we’ve just evolved too fast. Up until 100 years ago, (200? I dunno) having lots of babies was good. Now, with worldwide overpopulation, having lots of babies is bad. That’s only 100 years! We wouldn’t evolve to be less fertile so quickly (especially because, in evolution, reproduction is weird… those of us that did evolve to be less fertile (despite being good to the greater good) would not survive because the super-fertile ones would out-populate them. tragedy of the commons n’at.). This doesn’t really bother me anymore. That’s why this is a postscript: if I included this paragraph in the main essay, the essay itself would be rather pointless.


Anonymous -


You’ve committed a logical fallacy here: “If nature has designed us in a certain way (that having sex makes babies), shouldn’t we avoid sex unless the possibility of babies is involved?”

This is a very common fallacy: an appeal to nature. (see: Wikipedia’s article on the appeal to nature). I’m particularly sensitive to it because it appears all the time in debates about gay rights, religion, etc.

Nature “designed” us a certain way because that way worked. No other reason. One can only look at nature for mechanistic explanations for sex. It is impossible to go from “is” to “ought.” (This is Hume’s famous “is-ought” problem:). Dennet calls this a “rush from facts to values.”

Besides, “natural” is a nebulous concept. It is often possible to find natural examples for both sides of an argument. Many species – Bonobos being the usual example – have sex for social reasons all the time. Parents have sex with their children to greet them.

Similarly, one could appeal to nature to argue either side of the debate:
-“Nature made sex feel good, therefore it is good.”
-“Nature made sex to make babies. If you’re not making babies, sex is bad.”

So what is “natural” should never have any bearing on the morality of an action.

I think it is clear that people should be allowed to have complete control over their sex life, whether they want to have free love or live a life of celibacy.

Whether society should encourage free love is a thornier problem, and depends on a whole host of issues. Ideally one would approach this question in a utilitarian way, but it is complicated. You have to take into account social and cultural values, psychology, physiology, the risks of STDS and the the cost of contracting one, the mental and physical benefits of sex.

Dan -

*sigh* yes, I did an “appeal to nature”, and yes, I know that’s silly.

In food, I posit that it’s not so silly! I have as evidence no deductive argument, but rather an inductive argument: look at all these foods that we agree are healthy- they are all natural. Furthermore, most diets that we’d say are healthy are “natural” in one sense or another, and generally the more “artificial” you get, the less healthy you become.

I guess I draw the sex-food parallel a lot, so I just kept rolling to see where that took me, and I think it went too far.

Actually, this was all prompted by a friend, who is not one of the “shy about sex” variety, so when the subject of long-distance relationships came up, he exclaimed “man, that’s tough! I was engaged once, my fiancee lived in England for a year. We had to just agree to have sex with other people, because I mean, it’s just a basic human need.” Which made me want to disagree with him, which made me want to have some basis to disagree with him, so I went searching.

When I want to disagree with someone, I will often go to great lengths to do so!

Anonymous -

I know what you mean. I like to disagree too.

Speaking of disagreeing… I have to take issue with your idea that natural food = healthy food.

Theoretically, there is nothing stopping artificial food from being healthier than “natural” food.

Maybe scientists just haven’t gotten it right yet.

Or maybe they are currently focusing too much on our love of sugar. People will eat just about anything if you coat it in enough high fructose corn syrup.

Speaking of high fructose corn syrup, maybe artificial food is so unhealthy because of our massive corn subsidies. It’s pretty hard to make healthy food when everything has corn in it.

HOWEVER, your inductive argument is correct, at least for the time being. I just doubt it will always be true in the future, because “natural” food is a stationary target. It isn’t getting any more healthy.

Maybe we’ll even figure out how to genetically modify ourselves to metabolize sugar, without side effects like diabetes.

Dan -

Damn, I’m on my way out the door, but I have to comment on this!

I totally agree! However, I think many people would be misled by your argument, not because it is misleading, but because people are overly optimistic, especially when it comes to fad foods.

Someday we will have candy bars that actually make us healthier, burgers that make us harder, better, faster, stronger, and ice cream that makes us fitter, happier, and more productive. Probably. I mean, the body is hella complex, but it’s finitely complex, right? And we’re getting exponentially smarter, or something. We have to understand the body super well before we can make food that we are sure has no side effects, and someday we will!

My big worry is that I think this is like 1000 years in the future, and many people think it’s like 5. Or even 0. (Olestra! Aspartame!) Not to say that technology will never make better food, but it won’t soon, and until then, we’re way better off eating the natural stuff.

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