I'm seeing this meme spread more and more in the sex positive blogosphere, and believe me, I get the impetus behind it. It's incredibly empowering to cast off the social taboos that once bound you. It's a defiant affirmation that rape is the only sexual crime*- that all immoral sex acts must boil down to a disrespect for the autonomy of another individual. It's an affirmation of one's identity, a refusal to allow the message that say we are sick or perverted to deny us our happiness. Really, I get it.
Nevertheless, I have to disagree. There are shoulds between consenting adults. We should aim for enthusiastic consent rather than begrudging acceptance. We should aim to respect our partners and not treat them as means to an end. We should aim in all instances to practice the virtue of love in our sex life, which is not to say that we must feel a romantic attachment for a sex act to be positive or moral. Rather, the morality borne of empathy with our fellow humans ought to be our guide in sex as well as the rest of life. As Jens Bjornboe put it:
People speak of 'sexual morality,' but that is a misleading expression. There is no special morality for sex. No matter what you do with yourself, whether you go to bed with girls or with boys, and no matter what it occurs to you to do with them or with yourself, no moral rule applies to that sphere of activity other than the principles that govern every aspect of life: honesty, courage, common humanity, consideration.This ethic eschews a facile checklist approach to morality and concerns itself instead with their underlying principles. Rather than blindly following a list of dos and don'ts, we must thoughtfully construct satisfying principles and figure out how to better live them.
No greater example of this poor sexual morality is found than in this comment from a conservative Christian online magazine:
There are so many of us who simply don't like living in a world where absolutely anything can be condoned. Man must have laws and rules and those who seek to destroy boundaries should think twice.Let me first say that I'm disinclined to sacrifice my only hope for happiness in this world so that people like Maria may have the mental security that someone, somewhere, has been prevented from practicing a fulfilling life.
Part of this is a problem of perception, and part of it is a problem of articulation. Certainly, sex positive activists have been trying to convince the rest of the world that we have not abandoned all of our moral principles in favor of libertine anarchy, with greater or less results.
Yet I think we could be doing better at articulating a righteous sex positivity-not simply as an overturning of conventional mores in favor of sexual freedom, but as a framework in which to lead a morally satisfying life. We should be articulating why our outlook on the world is the one most consonant with the classical virtues, why Christ's outreach to the marginalized reflects on our sexual minorities, and why our opponents fall short of the only morally defensible principles.
Here's to the work of a lifetime.
*Which is to say that, pedophilia, bestiality, et al are immoral because of their affinity to rape, as the victims are incapable of consent.