Sexual Citizenship Ethics
Department of Philosophy and Moral Science Ghent University Ghent, Belgium
In his Embattled Eros (1992) Steven Seidman signals a 'dilemma:' "How to arrive," he wonders, "at a sexual ethic that preserves what Gayle Rubin calls 'benign sexual variation,' yet articulates norms that allow us to make the kind of moral judgments that are routinely made in everyday life." (199) He echoes an oft-heard critique of the 'liberal view' of sexual ethics in which valid consent is seen as a sufficient condition for moral legitimacy of sexual acts and for the formulation of a sexual morality (Primoratz). According to Seidman, relying solely on what could be called a 'sexual ethics of consent' will not suffice because it does not empower us to make ethically informed choices in a range of everyday situations, practices and conflicts. Seidman suggests that the concept of 'sexual responsibility' has 'strategic value' for formulating such a sexual ethics.
Recently, the concept of 'sexual citizenship' has been proffered as a cornerstone for such a sexual ethics of 'responsibilisation' (cf. Plummer, Weeks). Even more critical and reserved advocates of sexual citizenship, like Bell & Binnie (2000), acknowledge its rich personal, social, political and ethical potential. Sexual citizenship is presented as an anchor point for the social recognition of (some) diverse sexual identities and as a grounding for sexual rights claims. On the offside, one could point at the possible normalizing and disciplining effects of the notion, problematizing 'irresponsible,' often 'public' sexualities.
In my presentation I will explore the theoretical structure, the contours, opportunities and limitations of this emerging Sexual Citizenship Ethics. Is the notion of sexual citizenship a necessary and welcome complement to the notion of (valid) consent in sexual ethics, adding a much needed ethical ideal (which?) to the procedural character of a sexual ethics of consent? How well does such a sexual citizenship ethics fare as a basis for everyday sexual moral choices, and as an aide to a sexually emancipatory agenda? How much, if at all, 'benign sexual variation' can such a sexual citizenship ethics tolerate and/or advocate -- and how much of this 'in public'?