Single people don’t have a right to have sex

civil rights, ethics, liberalism, philosophy, religion Leave a reply

A good default position to hold is that ‘whatever the Family Research Council says is wrong’. You’ll get a fair bit of mileage out of that, and you’ll generally be on the right side of history as things shake out.

However, in this particular case, I’m going to agree with Pat Fagan, senior member of the aforementioned hate-group: Single people do not have a right to sex.

Here’s hoping I’m not taken out of context…

The idea of a ‘right to sex’ is problematic, so I’d like to expand on this in a fairly standard philosophic approach: negative and positive rights. The short version is that if you have a positive right to something, then people have an obligation to provide it to you. If you have a Negative Right, then people have an obligation to refrain from preventing you from having it.

So where I’d agree with Fagan is in the sense of a positive right: no-one has an obligation to provide you with sex (married or unmarried). Furthermore, society (as a generalised, abstract term) does not have an obligation to provide you with sex, in the same sense that society is obligated to provide you with healthcare.

But Negative Rights? Fagan and I sharply diverge here. While he is correct that societies have historically punished people who engaged in pre-marital sex, so what? This is nothing but an Appeal to Tradition, which he makes explicit:

Brushing aside millennia, thousands and thousands of years of wisdom, tradition, culture and setting in motion what we have.

Actually what we have is thousands of years of the wisdom, tradition and culture of people having sex in secret. And it’s true that society punished those people when they were caught. And those societies were wrong to do so. Here’s a simple test to determine whether you have a Negative Right to something: are you hurting anyone?

When a person (single or otherwise) engages in sex with one or more other enthusiastically-consenting people (who are single or otherwise), who is harmed? No-one? Then any restriction of that act is a violation of their right to autonomy, and society/the state has an obligation to stay out of it.

Also: societies that “corral” and “shame” people? Not a “functioning society” that I want to live in, thank you very much…

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