Bioethics Blogs

Defaults, status quo, and disagreements about sex

Scott Alexander has a thoughtful piece about who gets to set the default in disagreements about what is reasonable. He describes a couple therapy session where one member is bored with his sex life and goes kinky clubbing, to the anger of his strongly monogamous partner. Yet both want to stay together at least for the sake of the kids. Assuming the answer is an either-or situation where one has to give up on their demand (likely not the ideal response in an actual couple therapy setting), the issue seems to boil down to who has the unreasonable demand.

It resonated with another article I came across in my news flow today: What It’s Like to Be Chemically Castrated. This article is an interview with a man who wanted to be chemically castrated in order to manage his sex addiction and save his 45-year marriage. Is this an unreasonable intervention?

While the man felt he did not have any control over his use of prostitutes, the clubbing man “Adam” in Scott’s example seems to have had free choice: he might desire kinky clubbing, but presumably he could avoid it if he had reason to. The man in the castration article instead felt that his only chance of having his higher order desires win would be to have chemical castration.

However, both are similar in that there is a choice between behaviours for the sake of others. As Scott points out, some demands in a relationship are unreasonable. It is easy to tell one party that even though their preferences are honestly felt, they are too demanding, outré, or otherwise problematic given the context.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.