Moral Norms for Just Sex

Adapted from:

Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics

by Margaret A. Farley

New York: Continuum Publishing, 2006

Sister Margaret Farley, RSM

         In this treatise, Sister Margaret Farley observes that the church’s teaching on sexuality is based in an act-centered morality (i.e., what is judged good or bad is an activity).  She proposes that the church adopt a relationship-centered  morality (i.e. what is judged good or bad is the quality of the relationship between people). Principles such as free-consent of the partners, equality between partners, a sense of commitment, she argues, provide a better basis for evaluating the good in a partnership than the Church’s current teaching with its heavy biological emphasis.  Sister Farley applies these norms equally to heterosexual and homosexual couples.

Here is a list, with short descriptions, of all the principles she enumerates:

1. Do No Unjust Harm
Harm: Physical, Psychological, Spiritual, Relational
Harm can be a failure to support, to assist, to care for, to honor, in ways that are required by reason of context and relationship.

Forms of harm: exploitation, battering, rape, enslavement, negligence about safe sex; Deceit, betrayal, disparity in committed loves, debilitating forms of desire, seduction, pain of unfulfillment

2. Free consent
This norm is violated by rape, violence, or any harmful use of power against unwilling victims. Less dramatic forms of violating free consent: manipulation, seduction of people who are immature, have special dependency, or loss of ordinary forms of power.

Truth-telling and promise-keeping are important here: deception and betrayal are coercive.

3. Mutuality
Both give and both receive; both are active and passive. Roles are not pre-determined, especially roles based on gender. Opposite of complementarity.

4. Equality
Important traits: social and economic status; age and maturity; professional identity; interpretations of gender roles—all can POSSIBLY lead to inequality.

What is needed for equality is an appreciation of the uniqueness and difference of the other, and for each to respect each other as ends in themselves.

5. Commitment
This norm is not included to guarantee the family order or to tame concupiscence.

Human relationality offers the potentiality for knowing and being known, loving and being loved. Commitment is a means, not an end.

6. Fruitfulness
Not just reproductive fruitfulness. Love between persons violates relationality if it closes in upon itself and refuses to open to a wider community of persons. Without fruitfulness of some kind, any significant interpersonal love (not only sexual love) becomes egotistic.

Some ways that love moves beyond itself: nourishing other relationships; providing goods, services, and beauty for others, informing the fruitful work lives of the partners in relation; helping to raise other people’s children.

7. Social Justice
Social justice is the kind of justice that everyone in a community or society is obligated to affirm for its members as sexual beings. This principle asserts that, regardless of the sexual status of persons, they have legitimate needs for incorporation into the community, for psychic security and basic well-being, and make the same claims for social cooperation among us as do those of us all.

Sexual partners have always to be concerned about not harming “third parties” – future loves, children of one partner. They need to take responsibility for the consequences of their love and their sexual activity. No love is just “the two of us.”

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(For additional news items and analyses of sexual ethics, click here.)

                                      –Compiled by Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

2 Responses to Moral Norms for Just Sex

  1. […] both of whom, along with many theologians, call for the Church to base its sexual ethics on a theory of right relationship, rather than on the morality of particular sexual […]

  2. […] an ethical point of view, pointing out that the goodness of a relationship should be judged by its relational qualities, not on the basis of any particular sexual act which may occur between two […]

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