Ruddick’s Account

In contrast to more casual approaches to sex that treat any given body as more or less interchangeable with any other, complete sex thereby fosters the Kantian duty of respect for the Other as a person – that is, precisely as an autonomous and unique person deserving fundamental respect. In Kantian language, this means a person we must always treat as an end in itself, never as a means only – i.e., as “just meat.” Indeed, Ruddick’s analysis helpfully points toward what many of us find most important in such experiences – namely, the sense of being loved fully and completely, precisely as the unique body-subject that we experience ourselves to be much of the time. On this basis, finally, Ruddick argues further that complete sex fosters two additional values – namely, the deontological norm of equality and the virtue of loving.

Many of my students, especially those who are more secular, find Ruddick’s account valuable: it helps them make sense of one of their primary moral intuitions about their sexuality and intimate relationships. That is, these students (among others) are “serial monogamists.” Contra an earlier sexual ethic that would limit sex to a single partner over a lifetime, serial monogamists are happy to have sexuality as part of some sort of close, intimate, and exclusive relationship that will endure for some length of time, whether a few weeks, months, or years. Once a given relationship is over, the serial monogamist is perfectly free to take up a sexual relationship with another person or persons over time. But generally, within a given relationship, the intuition is that for one’s partner to “have sex” with someone else amounts to some form of “cheating” or infidelity.

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