Friday, March 20, 2015

Prostitution and sex only for pleasure

Suppose Sid is the beneficiary of a trust fund which yields just enough money to live, but not to have much pleasure in life. Sid works as a prostitute solely in order to get more money in order to buy pleasures like fine dining. Thus, Sid has sex for the sake of pleasure. Compare this to Flynn who has sex solely for the sake of pleasure in the more ordinary way--it's the sex that he enjoys. Is there any interesting moral difference between Sid and Flynn? Both Sid and Flynn are having sex solely for the sake of pleasure: they are both ultimately being paid with pleasure. (The intermediate presence of money in the case of Sid may be a red herring. We might suppose Sid is having sex with a great chef and he doesn't enjoy the sex, but she is going to give him great culinary pleasures in exchange.)

I think a case can be made that Sid and Flynn are close to morally on par. (And clearly Sid is morally in a less good position than the more typical prostitute who has sex to provide for the necessities of life.) This would suggest that:

  • If sex solely for money is always wrong, then sex solely for pleasure is always wrong.

When I think of ways of challenging the above argument, I think about how there is something interpersonally significant about the pleasure of sex, and so I think that maybe there is something less perverse about Flynn's case than Sid's. But on the other hand, I've described Flynn as just pursuing the pleasure, not any interpersonal significance of the pleasure.


Angra Mainyu said...

Hi Alex

It might be argued that sex only for money has negative psychological consequences for the person, because she may be enduring sex she does not enjoy, which may be intuitively experienced as forced. It's a potential objection to the parallel if the person making the parallel is committed to, say, a belief that self-damage is always immoral. But I think the parallel can be modified, specifying that Sid chooses only to have sex with people with whom the sex would not be felt as a negative experience (say, if she does porn movies instead of prostitution, or she's a prostitute who can select her clients and her psychological makeup doesn't make her experience sex as bad even when she does not enjoy it, etc.)).

An alternative reply is to use the parallel in reverse: Given that sex exclusively for pleasure is not always immoral, neither is sex exclusively for money.

I think a more direct reply is to say that both the antecedent and the consequence are false, so the conditional is true, but that's not a difficulty.

Anonymous said...

This compares pleasure, which can be end or means, with money, which can only be an end. So the thought experiment seeks the practical or logical penalty of equivocating an end and means in cases where they are in fact different. The penalty is that we conflate different answers to the Anscombian "why?" question about intention. Thus whatever renders sex for money wrong cannot ipso facto render sex for pleasure wrong.

Veronica HN said...

I don't think the end is the means necessary to judge a situation or it's rewards, I think that sex for please is inherent. It is a pleasurable act. Increasing pleasure can only be a plus as long as there are no drawbacks of risk. Then I suppose the end comes in, but if this pleasure for pleasure is reinforced without altruistic intents*see effective altruism link on which I really agree with, it still won't feel empty.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Actually, money is typically a means. I assume this is what you meant?

Does it make a difference for the case, though?

One can pursue money as an end in itself. Some people do. And one can pursue pleasure as simply a means, e.g., a means to resting. It would be odd to think that prostitution is OK but only when one pursues the money as an end in itself. And it would be odd (but perhaps a little less odd) to think that sex solely for pleasure becomes wrong when one pursues the pleasure solely for the sake of some further end.


Note that Sid could have altruistic ends, too.