In this essay I hope to establish a new definition of sexual perversion, one that will solve many of the conceptual problems which arise from the work of Thomas Nagel and Sara Ruddick. I shall redefine sexual perversion as that which would be contrary to ones individual sexual nature. In doing this I shall establish that only through the understanding of the individual can an act be described as perverse for to describe in another way (namely through a universal moral law) greatly underestimates the diversity of human sexual desire. Moreover such a definition also leads to the development of negative stereotypes and social stigmas. Once my definition (which I shall call the Natural Definition) has been justified I shall apply it systematically to problems which have arisen in one specific area of sexual ethics: prostitution.
Perversion in Ethical Discourse
Generally speaking, perversion is a term used in sexual ethics to describe behaviour deemed pathological by its deviation from "normal" sexual desire. The term "pervert" has become imbedded in the social conscious. It is often used as a derogatory term used to describe someone with abnormal or immoral sexual preferences.# The use of the term in this sense has led to it gaining a number of negative connotations. For example: the abbreviated term "perv" has been adopted as a slang term to refer to someone who propositions someone else who does not want their sexual attention. It may also be applicable to, say, a necrophile whose sexual desires and practices may be considered repugnant, immoral, or at least unorthodox. This point is important to remember when looking at perversion in the context of sexual ethics as it demonstrates the emotional content of the term. It is largely due to this emotional content that I feel perversion must be redefined in order to reduce its influence when it comes to labelling sexual acts.
The aim of this section shall be to outline two theories put forward by Nagel and Ruddick. Both have been influential in the area of sexual ethics however I wish to criticise both for ultimately neglecting the diversity and complexity of human sexual desire. This point shall be the focus of my criticism.
The Biological Definition
The first definition of perversion I wish to examine is what I shall refer to as the Biological Definition.# This is where we turn our attention to the work of Sara Ruddick and her paper Better Sex. Ruddick draws a distinction between what she calls "natural" and "perverted" sex. Natural sex is defined as that which may "serve the evolutionary and biological function of sexuality, namely reproduction".# Perverted sex is defined as a deviation from this principle. Ruddick then goes on to state that it is not through these terms alone that we can reach a reasonable understanding of perversion.# Indeed it would be undermining the complexity of the issue if one was to ignore human sexual desire. She therefore stipulates that a sexual act should have the potential for procreation, but this need not be the intent of the activity. The Psychological Definition
In contrast with Ruddick's Biological Definition comes Nagel's Psychological definition. Nagel suggests that if a particular inclination is a perversion then it must meet three conditions. The first condition is that it must be in some sense unnatural, that is a deviation from a normal sexual development.# This point is problematic if we consider what exactly defines a normal sexual development. The second condition is that it must be an inclination rather than a curiosity. For example: if a couple decide to try an unfamiliar practice out of curiosity then the act is by no means a perversion.# Nagel's third condition is that for something to be described as a perversion it must be an act which stems from an unnatural inclination. For example: if someone preferred to be beaten over other types of conventional sexual act then they could be...