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Sexual Problem

Kant tends to view sexuality as an immoral act. According to him, when an individual experiences sexual desire for another, one sees the other as an object. He asserts that sexuality is not an attraction that an individual has for another, but an attraction towards the sex of the other. This paper discusses Kant’s and Soble’s sex problem and the internal and external theories of sex. The paper will go further to offer solutions for this problem.

The Problem

The sex problem is raised in the Kantian ethics and his view regarding the nature of sexuality. The moral problem for acting on sexual desire starts when a person desires for the body of another. This sexual feeling makes the person want to smell the other’s hair, feel his/her skin and engage in the intercourse (McEvoy, 284). Thus, it makes the person objectify the other; using the other as a means to satisfy his sexual desire. The Kantian notion is that the starting point is the feeling of wanting someone, which raises a moral problem. The craving to be touched, or get excited by the other’s touch, and being the object of another person’s desire is the sex problem. However, the Second Formulation states that one should act in a way that in whatever he or she does, he treats humanity as both a means and an end concurrently; not only as a means. Therefore, every human being exists as an end; not just a means. In all the actions one performs, whether to himself or towards the others, they must view him as an end.

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Kant's Solution

As a solution to this problem, Kant recommends that people should treat themselves and others as humans. This is achieved by taking another person’s ends as if they were one’s own. One should not take the other’s ends for their own sake, or use it as a means of achieving their goals (Soble, 555). Rather, when one intends to make use of the other, he must ensure that he is not doing anything that may block or sidestep the other’s ability of choice to act in accordance with their reason. This generally means that one should seek the other’s fully informed consent and avoid taking advantage of the other’s weakness of will. Kant indicates that this can only be achieved in marriage; where partners, upon marrying, assume ownership of each other (McEvoy 285). This means that they acquire each other.

Soble's Solution

Soble claims that there are five other solutions to the Kantian problem; classified under internal and external theories. The internal solution suggests that humans should modify their character of sexual activity to enable the persons involved in it to satisfy the second formulation (Soble and Nicholas 263). For internalists, the consent is essential to attain the morality of a sexual act; though it is not sufficient. Soble classifies internalisms as either behavioral or physical activity, and each is discussed below.

To explain the behavioral internalism Soble reviews the work of Goldman. Goldman sees the problem of sexual activity as using another person to fulfill one’s sexual desires. He suggests that the solution is to try pleasing the other person. One can accomplish this by allowing his or her partner to treat him or her as an object; or by doing something for, or to the other. Therefore, one allows the other to treat him/her as an object while being passive. Soble supports this by the claim that pleasing the other person contributes to one’s pleasure. For instance, while providing sexual pleasure to the other, one gets pleasure as he witnesses the effects of his or her exertions.

In addition, one should provide pleasure to the other for the sake of pleasing the other only, as one knows that the other person currently has sexual needs or desires and is hoping for satisfaction. Thus, the sexual satisfaction of the other person is or should be considered an end; it is something valuable itself, and does not have instrumental value.
Unlike the behavioral internalism, which only concentrates on the performance of behaviors that give pleasure to the other, psychological internalism suggests that sexual acts have to be restrained or accompanied by certain attitudes (Soble and Nicholas, 266). These attitudes, however, should ensure that they satisfy the Second Formulation. As Hampton states, sex should be accompanied by certain attitudes that affirm humanity, not just providing pleasure. Attitudes that disrespect humanity are morally wrong and destroy mutual pleasure.

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Externalist solutions demand the emphasis on when to engage in sexual activity, with whom and under what conditions the sexual activity is performed. Thin externalism, according to Mappes, suggests that giving informed consent by both parties is both necessary and sufficient. However, this does not meet Kant’s Second Formulation since it undermines and denies the humanity of the persons involved (Soble and Nicholas, 269). Thick externalism requires some strict contextual constraints accompanied by free and informed consent for the sexual activity to have morality. This calls for a mutually- abiding relationship between the parties involved in the sexual activity. Thick Extended Externalism requires that both parties ignore their individuality and identify themselves with their sexual organs.


Considering the sentiments given by Kant and Goldman, I feel that there is a problem. In my opinion, the Kantian solution is acceptable. In his solution, Kant considers both behavioral and psychological factors, and stresses on the need to respect others, and to avoid taking advantage of their weakness of will. Additionally, he stresses on the need for a mutually abiding relationship for sexual activity to be moral. Based on the problems and solutions given in this article, that is the only condition under which moral sexual activity can take place.

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