Sexual Morality: The Cultures and Emotions of Conservatives and Liberals1


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    We are grateful to Matthew Ansfield, Rebecca Haidt, Carie Little, Mark Shulman, Dan Wegner, and Tim Wilson for their helpful comments on the manuscript; and to Kim Kendziora and Paul Hastings for their advice on statistics and their constructive feedback. We are especially indebted to Lori Mielcarek for her help with the arduous task of coding and consensus rating.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jonathan Haidt, Department of Psychology, Gilmer Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville. VA 22904-4400. e-mail:; or to Matthew Hersh, who is now at the Department of Psychology, Davie Hall, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599. e-mail:


Political conservatives and liberals were interviewed about 3 kinds of sexual acts: homosexual sex, unusual forms of masturbation, and consensual incest between an adult brother and sister. Conservatives were more likely to moralize and to condemn these acts, but the differences were concentrated in the homosexual scenarios and were minimal in the incest scenarios. Content analyses reveal that liberals had a narrow moral domain, largely limited to the “ethics of autonomy” (Shweder, Much, Mahapatra, & Park, 1997) while conservatives had a broader and more multifaceted moral domain. Regression analyses show that, for both groups, moral judgments were best predicted by affective reactions, and were not predicted by perceptions of harmfulness. Suggestions for calming the culture wars over homosexuality are discussed.