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Thursday, 25 October 2007

Spot the Difference

A few weeks ago wide publicity was given to a study that concluded that NZ women are the most promiscuous in the world. (The fact that, this study had some serious scientific shortcomings having neither a control group nor a random sample group was not so widely publicised.)

What was interesting was the reaction by some that this study as somehow validated permissive sexual mores. To cite one typical example, at the recent family first forum a question was asked from the floor about what would be taught in sex education courses at public schools. The response, from at least one politician, was that this study showed that encouraging people outside of a monogamous sexual relationship to practise abstinence was unrealistic.

Now this morning we see another study has come out this study suggests that sexual molestation of children is prevalent in NZ it suggests that one in four women have been sexually molested. I note the almost universal response from our politicians and media and quite rightly so, is to condemn these practises and exhort NZers to change any actions and attitudes that lead to such behaviour.

I am confused: I thought that when a significant number of people engaged in a sexual practise, then it was unrealistic to condemn it? I thought the state was supposed to simply accept contemporary practise and alter their values to fit it. Can the politicians who make the aforementioned argument about sex ed answer me this: When are you going to advocate that the state to teach safe child molestation techniques in public schools?

The reality is that we do not look to contemporary practise to determine what’s right and wrong. Rather we use principles of right and wrong to critique contemporary practise. Despite their trendy sloganising, our politicians know this, or at least they do when it suits them, but conveniently forget when it doesn’t. If contemporary liberals want to justify their values to others, they need to provide arguments for them. Not assurances that these practises are fashionable or trendy or that “all the cool people are doing it” or that “Kinsey showed 10% of people do this” etc. Unlike some people in parliament and the media many of us grew out of our teens sometime ago.


  1. How is it that you can not distinguish the moral difference between two activities; one that causes a child to suffer and one that gives pleasure between two consenting adults?

    Does having the bible as a moral foundation deprive you of your ability to recognise good from bad, happiness from suffering?

  2. Daiman

    I think you misunderstand both my argument and conclusion. Nowhere in this post do I say that there is no important moral differences between consensual causal sex and child molestation, clearly there are.

    Instead my point that, the one particular argument some people have used to argue for the former commit them to defending the latter and this shows that this particular argument is mistaken.

    Of course, there are other arguments a person could offer to try and justify supporting casual sex and not child-molestation. And if the MP’s in question had offered this argument I would have offered a different response. However my post is not an attempt to address all the arguments that could be raised for a position that would require something much larger. My point is that the particular argument mentioned (and which appears fairly common) is not a good argument.

    Regarding your arguments, if understand you correctly you suggest that [1] promiscuity is permissible because it is a pleasurable activity engaged in by consenting adults and [2] child molestation is wrong because it causes children to suffer.

    Re. [1], I have already addressed “consenting adult’s” argument for permissive sexual mores in several previous posts.

    Re. [2], I actually addressed this argument in my thesis. I of course agree with the conclusion, child molestation is clearly always wrong. However, I am skeptical that this wrongness is grounded in the suffering caused the child. True in many cases child molestation does cause suffering and this is an important factor. However I can imagine cases where no suffering is actually caused to the child and yet the action would is still be wrong. Suppose the child is drugged and so unconscious at the time and is never made aware of what happens. It seems to me that in this case the child will not suffer, yet what has been done to him or her is clearly still gravely wrong. Hence something other than the presence of suffering is needed to account for the wrongness of child molestation.


  3. The underlying problem is probably that where you consider consensual casual sex to be wrong, many people outside your belief framework don't.

    To the eyes of someone who sees casual sex at harmless it looks like a typical strawman argument when you escalate the issue to teaching child molestation techniques in school.

    So, by having the two arguments in the same context it appeared that you were saying that the two acts were of a similar nature.

    You mentioned that you'd previously addressed the issues surrounding consensual sex in previous posts? I'd be interested to see your views on the subject. Can you kindly point me in their direction or perhaps provide a summary?

  4. Damian

    I see your point about context.

    My suggestion was that one common *argument* for a certain type of sex education is an is analogous to an *argument* for child molestation. Seeing they are analogous, the first argument can be sound only if the second is, the second is not sound( because a sound argument can't have a false conclusion) so former cannot be either. I was not suggesting the *practices* the arguments are the same. Sorry for the confusion. The analogy is between specific arguments not practices.

    My comments on consensual sex are

    And a briefer more popular one

    I plan to blog on how this relates to child molestation in the future, basically I think that a sensible interpretation of the *consenting adults* account of sexual morality actually has trouble accounting for the wrongness of pedastry. On first site this seems ludicrous I know. However I think the issues are a bit more nuanced and complicated than people think, but I can’t go into it all here.


  5. OK, I see. So you were referring to the politician who replied that he thought that it would be 'unrealistic' when asked about teaching abstinence in schools because a study showed that abstinence wasn't really being observed elsewhere?

    Did he say why it wasn't realistic?

    I would tend to agree that saying something isn't realistic because it's just too popular is a silly argument. And you'd be right to highlight it with the exaggeration of other, more emotive, examples.

    But if he was saying that it wasn't realistic because there is no rational reason to teach abstinence for other reasons (like studies of teen pregnancies where abstinence is taught or that there is no rational moral issue with consensual casual sex) then I'd have to side with the politician. But first I'd want to know his reason.

    I've read your second link and perused the first. You seem to trying to find extremes to justify your stance on casual sex.

    I don't use the Bible as my reference point for my morals and I believe that most of life is filled with non-absolutes where we have to draw sometimes awkward lines that occasionally need adjusting. You didn't really address what would actually be wrong if (assuming I wasn't married) I went out on the town, hooked up with someone else who had the same expectations of a casual fling, and had consensual casual sex.

    What do you see is wrong with this? And why do you feel you have a right to try to stop it from happening?


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