Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Philosophy of Sexuality

I am supposed to develop a philosophy course on "sex, sexualities, masculinities and sexual expression." I teach at a historically black college for men, so most of the students are African-American males, and they would likely appreciate any materials especially relevant to their life experiences. Does anyone have an suggestions for what to do in such a course, including readings? Thanks!


  1. To continue my post, there are a number of books and anthologies on philosophy of sex, and this entry on the topic:

    I have gotten these suggestions thusfar:

    Larry May and Robert Strikwerda's anthology, _Rethinking Masculinity_?

    John Stoltenberg's _Refusing To Be A Man_?

    Marlon Riggs' classic documentary _Tongues Untied

  2. I understand teaching a course on African American Philosophy and African Philosophy, but why would you teach a Philosophy of Sex based on the African American Experience? Why can't you just teach a course on the Philosophy of Sex? Also, what would this course look like unless you are going to bring in subtle racist tropes, AIDS, being on the "down low,", sexism in hip hop, and other themes that only perpetuate stereotypes?

  3. Nathan,

    Sexual ethics is a pretty common topic in my intro to ethics course (students always choose it!). The three main articles I use are Goldman's "Plain sex," Punzo's "Morality and human sexuality," and Benatar's "Two views of sexual ethics." I think those three pieces do a good job in suggesting the main contrasts amongst the positions.

  4. I recently purchased Janet Halley and Andrew Parker's edited volume "After Sex?: On Writing since Queer Theory" (Duke, 2011). Many of the pieces assume that the reader is familiar with the sexuality studies "canon", but nevertheless many of these pieces are short and are written by folks who are prominent in the field. One that might be of particular interest is Richard Thompson Ford's "What’s Queer about Race?", which one can find here:

  5. Also, did you see the article "In a Softball Case, a Thorny Debate Over Who Qualifies as Gay" on the front page of the New York Times website this morning? Cf. Pieces like these could serve as the springboard for short argumentative paper assignments for your students.

  6. Thanks Michael and Katherine for your suggestions.

    Anonymous, to respond to some of your questions, (a) at least where I am, a culturally diverse set of readings is encouraged, (b) I assume that it makes sense to say that that some cultural groups have some unique perspectives on some issues, and that that's relevant here concerning topics related to sexuality, and (c) I don't how understand how reading about and/or discussing any of the particular issues you mention would *perpetuate* stereotypes, if there are philosophical issues there and any of these issues are of special interest to certain cultural groups. Indeed, I suppose a theme of such a course might be identifying and challenging stereotypes.

  7. You are at Howard University, which has a predominant Black student body. (a) Diverse readings in the philosophy of sexuality are perfectly fine. However, all courses are not created equal. African Americans are not so fragile as to necessitate having their course materials cater to their life experience. (b)Do African Americans have philosophically substantive perspectives on sex that are any different from any other group? If so, I would like to know what they are (which are routinely taught in philosophy courses on sex and sexuality that do not disrespect that group). (c) You perpetuate stereotypes when you talk about AIDS as if it is primarily an Af. Am. problem rather than a human one; you perpetuate stereotypes when you bring in issues about the so-called "down low" theme when there are clear studies that demonstrate this is not a black problem in particular. I think you get the point. To use a course on the philosophy of sex/sexuality to discuss sexism in hip-hop without actually talking about hip hop as an art form created by Af. Am. is to further that negative stereotype that is so often tossed about by its detractors. You do a grand disservice to a an art form created by blacks themselves. That is to say, when the philosophy of sex is taught to primarily white kids they are not talking about such things. You seem, perhaps unknowingly, to want to further denigrate the the integrity of African Americans, not enrich it. Well-meaning white liberals of the NPR variety have a real problem with their unacknowledged silent racism. That is to say, one should check how one issues in stereotypical images and paternalistic assumptions. It's worth considering.

  8. I wonder why no one has mentioned bell hooks' essay "Selling Hot Pussy." I know your course is not on feminism and the title used masculinity in particular, but hooks' essay details the problem of hyper-sexualizing black women, which should be relevant to your course.

  9. Hi Nathan, I'm browsing through Teaching Philosophy right now, and I just saw this and thought of your post here...perhaps it is relevant:

    Charles W. Mills
    Non-Cartesian Sums: Philosophy and the African-American Experience
    Teaching Philosophy
    vol. 17, no. 3, pages 223 - 243, 1994

  10. Anonymous, a few quick points:

    -- As far as I can tell, you are, so far, the only one who brought up the very examples that you're now criticizing as being indicative of a guilty NPR white liberal viewpoint. I'm not taking issue with your analyses of those examples, but at this point in the conversation you seem to be putting words in others' mouths.

    -- Nathan works at Morehouse, not at Howard. I don't think that the people at either school would appreciate having their school confused for the other one...

    -- "Life experience" is a slippery term, especially in discussions like this one about sexuality. A course on the philosophy of sexuality might not be asking just about the students' lived experiences as sexual beings, but also about how sexuality itself -- or philosophical discussions of it -- might be "raced" or "gendered" in ways that could certainly be relevant to their life experiences. hooks, Mills, and Zack (among legions of others) have written on those subjects.

    You might be right that those questions are not always raised in philosophy of sexuality courses that are taught elsewhere. In fact, I think you probably ARE right. But does that mean that Nathan shouldn't try to incorporate such questions into his course?

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Thanks Karla and Vance (especially for responding to anonymous).

    Here are a some more suggestions from a student group especially interested in topics like these; some of their suggestions look interesting:

    Boykin, Keith (2005). Beyond The Down Low.

    King, J.L. (2004). On the Down Low.

    Traps: African American men on gender and sexuality By Rudolph P. Byrd and Beverly Guy-Sheftall

    Judith Butler's Gender Trouble,

    Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet,

    David Halperin's One Hundred Years of Homosexuality,

    Darieck Scott "Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination" and

    Octavia Butler (anything)

  13. I haven't taught a course specifically on this topic, but did cover it in an applied ethics course. Students really seemed to enjoy Russell's piece on "Sexual Ethics" (I used an older version of Bonevac's _Today's Moral Issues_, I'm not sure if the current book has the same essay), and Mappes, "Sexual Morality and the Concept of Using Another Person" (also from the Bonevac).

  14. This is what I've finally come up with for this class. Thanks to everyone out there for their input:


If you wish to use your name and don't have a blogger profile, please mark Name/URL in the list below. You can of course opt for Anonymous, but please keep in mind that multiple anonymous comments on a post are difficult to follow. Thanks!