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Sex Without Commitment

By: Ishan Sharma Term Paper

Traditional views are opposed by modern liberal views, when discussing sexual morality. In this paper I critically compare the expositions of Vincent Punzo and Frederick Elliston in regards to the issue of sex without commitment. To conclude, I provide a personal evaluation of their views and using a conjunction of their philosophies I state my original position. On the

matter of sex without commitment Vincent Punzo in Morality in Human Sexuality takes a conservative view and claims that sex without total commitment is morally wrong. Through In a Defense of Promiscuity, Frederick Elliston challenges traditional Western norm and argues modestly that promiscuity and sex without commitment can have some value in modern society to certain individuals.

Punzo places great importance on maintaining self-respect and respect for another person. According to Kants categorical imperative it is a humans moral duty to treat all persons (including oneself) with respect, and do not to treat any person as a mere means to ones goals. Punzo calls sex without commitment depersonalized, as there is total merging and union on a physical (sexual) level, on one hand and a conscious decision not to unite any other dimension on the other hand. (Punzo, 119) Punzo believes a persons sexuality is an essential part of ones very self, sexuality should not be treated as a tool from which one obtains sexual pleasure. In alienating sexuality from the rest of oneself, noncommittal sex is disrespectful. The usage of a partners sexuality while engaging in noncommittal sex is a usage of this person as a means to acquire an end. Some say a humans moral task is to live in a way as to not bring harm to others, but according to Punzo this alone is not enough. A humans moral task is to strive to be the most perfect version of himself or herself. (Punzo, 118) Sex without commitment lacks respect, and by engaging in it, a human is not living up to his or her moral task. Elliston points out that if the definition of respect depends on Western norms, only then is noncommittal sex disrespectful. According to Elliston these traditional moral rules (such as Kants categorical imperative) are somewhat chauvinistic (Elliston, 147), should be challenged.

In Defense of Promiscuity Elliston feels existing definitions of promiscuity are inadequate and improves on them to provide his own; repeated consensual, noncommittal sexual intercourse with different partners (adults) who lack of marital relations. Most importantly in this definition, promiscuity is sex without commitment. (Elliston, 144) Rather than viewing sex without commitment as disrespectful, traditional norms should be challenged.

Some argue that promiscuity is immoral as it entails lying, deceiving and exploiting. According to the popular prototype, promiscuous people are unfaithful and unreliable: they break promises, say things that are not true and use others for their own sexual gratification. (Elliston, 146) Elliston rebuts, it is not promiscuity itself that violates morality but rather the violation of these certain moral rules; tell the truth, do not deceive or exploit others. Promiscuity may be precedent to the breaking of moral rules, hence is immoral through association, but promiscuous behavior itself is not wrong. The defense of promiscuity is seen as exploitive because promiscuity places men at an advantage in society: men receive sexual gratification; women receive social condemnation. (Elliston, 146) Arguing logically once again, Elliston claims that it is not promiscuity that is wrong but rather the double standard that exists within society.

Elliston believes it is falsely argued that promiscuity is immoral as it threatens personal emotional security and growth. Philosophers argue it exhibits a lack of self-discipline in people who cannot control their desires, and a failure to show respect and consideration for those on whom the demand is placed. (Elliston, 147) Learning how to attract another from the very first
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approach, the promiscuous person displays a great deal of self-discipline in having learned what Elliston calls the ritual of seduction. (Elliston, 147) As for lacking respect, Elliston points out that acknowledging the others freedom to engage or not engage in noncommittal sex demonstrates some degree of respect. (Elliston, 147) The promiscuous person is wrongfully penalized for challenging the moral rules he or she rejects.

Punzo argues his view by stating sex without commitment lacks existential integrity which on the other hand is manifested through chastity and marriage. Chastity is often frowned upon as a medieval concept because of the belief that a chaste person is one that rejects his/her sexuality. According to Punzo, a chaste person refuses a depersonalization of his/her bodily existence. A chaste person saves him or herself, and engages in sexual intercourse once in committed relationship with the right person. To a chaste person, sex is an expression of love and this commitment and Chastity is one aspect of ones attempt to attain existential integrity, to accept ones body as a dimension of their total personality. (Punzo, 119) The concept of a historical being plays an important role in Punzos argument. Punzo says the very being of a human self involves his past and his movement toward the future. (Punzo, 119) He sees a sexual encounter to be a definitive experience, one in which the physical intimacy and merging involves also a merging of the nonphysical dimensions of the partners. (Punzo, 119) Punzo believes in a committed relationship man and woman move towards a shared future and sexual intercourse, being a definitive experience, asserts this total commitment. Punzo views marriage as the total commitment of one person to another person (of the opposite sex), that involves a full existential sharing on the part of two beingsof their historical existence (future problems, joyous occasions). (Punzo, 120)
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Elliston believes this definitive experience does not need to be bound by emotional and sexual restrictions. Elliston provides his existential defense by arguing promiscuity can help one achieve an authentic sexuality. Human existence is affected by a social matrix, in other words affected by the existence of others around them; Heideggers term for this is Being-with. There are two ways of being-with another, to leap-in or to leap-ahead. To leap-ahead is to prepare another for their genuine or authentic possibilities. This authenticity stands in contrast to the inauthenticity of everyday life. (Elliston, 151) Ones existence can become inauthentic and limited by conforming to the norm. An authentic existence can be achieved by challenging norms that control and limit your life. The Heidegerrian concept of authenticity can be applied to sexuality. Western norm thinks of love to be possessive, and by making a commitment, in a way one becomes in possession of the other. A person is not a tool which can be possessed, rather an entity. Love should be constructed in Heideggerian terms as leaping-ahead that affirms anothers genuinely human possibilitiesas the confirmation of that which is true and good in another. (Elliston, 151) Being-with another sexually, one can achieve a moment of oneness of thoughts and feelings which is a definitive experience. Promiscuity provides this privilege without a necessary commitment. This does not rule out a future commitment; rather from this moment you can decide what kind of commitment to make to another. With its freedom from emotional and sexual restrictions promiscuity can play an important role in the achievement of authentic sexuality. (Elliston, 151)

According to Elliston if personal pleasure, freedom had equal importance, along with respect within relationships then promiscuity need not be viewed as a taboo. (Elliston, 147) Kants categorical imperative states that humans are self-governing moral agents, that a persons autonomy should be respected hence the person should be allowed to form his or her own beliefs. As a body language, sex has meaning that goes beyond its physical dimensions. (Elliston, 149) One can express feelings like desire and satisfaction through sex. The subjectivity of another, their autonomy and individuality, is confirmed in the dialectics of sex. (Elliston, 149) Western norm dictates that this language be restricted and used in communicating with just one person. Western norms that restrict individual autonomy should be loosened so promiscuity can become more widely accepted. Elliston compares sex and dining in that he claims if the same restrictions that apply to sex applied to eating, then eating would become quite boring. One should be able to eat with whomever they please, experiment in dishes and menu, share food, as this kind of freedom will enhance the pleasure from the experience. Promiscuity provides variety which is the spice of life, and this can result in increased freedom, pleasure and respect of autonomy.

Unlike Elliston, Punzo would argue that because sex is such a definitive experience, it should not be viewed in the same light as eating. Punzo presents the arguments of other philosophers who believe that sexual intercourse does not differ significantly from other human activities. (Punzo, 118) The psychological consequences of a tennis match and sexual intercourse are not very different according to them. Punzo believes that in a society where sexuality is used to sell many products it is no surprise that our sexuality should itself be treated as a commodity. (Punzo, 119) Punzo sees a clear distinction between a tennis match and sexual
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intercourse, and would see a distinction between eating and sexual intercourse. He would say sex is a definitive experience that cannot be compared to the mundane activity of eating.

Unlike Punzo, Elliston would see nothing immoral in engaging in consensual sexual intercourse with a friend or acquaintance. Elliston challenges that perhaps promiscuity is not good or bad in a moral sense but a matter of preference. (Elliston, 147) Sex with a friend would show respect for his or her freedom as well provide pleasure for both hence according to Elliston would be considered permissible from a Utilitarian point of view. Utilitarianism is grounded on the belief that nothing is good or bad, and anything that seeks the greatest amount of pleasure and causes least harm is acceptable. This is in direct contrast to Kantianism which sees sex as a moral issue. Punzos auxiliary argument that one should only have sex with someone they love or trust, is defected. If one loves and trust his or her friend then by Punzos argument one may have sexual intercourse with that friend.

Punzo argues that in noncommittal sex there is total merging on the physical level and a decision not to unite on any other hence one engaging in it lacks existential integrity. I side more with Elliston when it comes to this argument. One of the merits in Ellistons defense of promiscuity is that he argues To insist on an emotional involvement that closes off the future as a condition of this sexual self-revelation to others is, ironically to frustrate the growth of the very love that such commitments are intended to cultivate. (Elliston, 151) What Punzo fails to recognize is that noncommittal doesnt necessarily rule out a commitment in the future.

According to Punzo one is risking what one will become and taking the responsibility of what another can become by having sexual intercourse. At the same time isnt marriage a huge risk? Although it is the commitment to another in their historical existence that is of importance, the social nature of human is what gives birth to the marriage ceremony and married life. Once a couple gets married they must share the rest of their life in society, a home, activities, bills. Marriage seems to be of greater risk (and economic investment) than promiscuity.

In promiscuity, Punzo sees a conditional agreement in which two people exchange bodies. However the Western norm reverses the relationship and makes marriage a condition for sex. It is a difference of perspective, but at the end of the day sex is conditional and two people are essentially exchanging either their body, or the rest of their lives to one another. I think what is of significance isnt what is the condition under which two people have sex but rather that the couple share the conditions. If a couple agrees that they should fully commit to one another and wait, then that is what they should do. At the same time if two people feel they should have sex without commitment and see where it takes them, then that is also acceptable.

In conclusion, though it is not necessarily suitable for everyone, I agree with Elliston in that promiscuity can be beneficial to some. I agree with the Kantian perspective Punzo brings in the sense that one must strive to be the best they can. However I believe that the best a person can be is open and acceptable of others and in striving to be the best you must be open and accepting of peoples sexuality and sex lives. I agree with Elliston (who even agrees with Punzo) when he concludes that ultimately an exclusive committed relationship may be more intrinsically
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valuable (Elliston, 152) However not all people see it this way, they have to learn the value of it. Striving to be the best person doesnt happen overnight, it is a process of exploration and experimentation. Sometimes you learn to value things in the absence of it. Hence promiscuity through its absence of commitment can teach one to value it.

References Elliston, Frederick. In Defense of Promiscuity PHL 606 Course Pack. Ed. Jo Kornegay. Toronto: Ryerson Bookstore, 2010. 142-153. Punzo, Vincent C. Morality and Human Sexuality PHL 606 Course Pack. Ed. Jo Kornegay. Toronto: Ryerson Bookstore, 2010. 118-120.

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