Bringing the Body Back to Sexual Ethics


  • Anne Barnhill


The body and bodily experience make little appearance in analytic moral philosophy. This is true even of analytic sexual ethics—the one area of ethical inquiry we might have expected to give a starring role to bodily experience. I take a small step toward remedying that by identifying one way in which the bodily experience of sex is ethically significant: some of the physical actions of sex have a default expressive significance, conveying trust, affection, care, sensitivity, enjoyment, and pleasure. When people having sex don't in fact have these feelings, the sex can be misleading, even if they've antecedently communicated that they don't have these feelings. This account of how sex can mislead is inspired by a perhaps surprising source, Catholic sexual morality. Analytic sexual ethicists could benefit from emulating Catholic sexual morality's attentiveness to the bodily nature of sex and its ethical significance.