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Beyond the Wallet Condom
Valerie Tarico   Sep 25, 2013   Sightline Daily  

Part 2 on Male Contraception: Eight promising possibilities for males. My teenage nephew came to visit last summer, and I asked him if there was anything he needed from the drug store. “Uh, condoms?” he said. It was easier to ask liberal Aunt Val than Grandma, who is raising him. We hopped in the car. At the local Walgreens, we found the display and we lingered, picking packages up and putting them back. “Wow, there’s a lot of choices,” he enthused, exchanging a rainbow of colors for a fruit-flavored variety pack.

I bit my tongue to keep from pointing out that we were seeing a lot of packaging but only a single type of latex device, vulnerable to misuse and rupture. I was determined to focus on the positive, making our shopping excursion as normal and playful as possible—to make condom buying (and wearing) an absolutely ordinary thing to do. For 20 years, ever since the HIV epidemic swelled to global proportions, aunts, parents, schools, public health agencies, and governments around the planet have been trying to do the same thing: indelibly pair condoms and sex. Condoms are the best thing we have going for prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.


Unfortunately, all the focus on HIV and condoms has drawn attention away from another reality: from a contraceptive standpoint condoms are mediocre at best. While the top tier of female birth control methods (IUDs and implants) have an annual pregnancy risk as low as 1 in 1,000, the annual risk for a couple using condoms is closer to 1 in 5. Multiply that by almost 40 years of female fertility! Reliance on condoms is one of the reasons that 1 in 3 American women has had an abortion by the time she hits menopause.

As my nephew and I stood in line at the cash register, I thought about how proud I was that even with a challenging home situation and only a grandmother to guide him, he was taking responsibility for himself. Then I thought, “I wish he had better options—like something we could count on!” Thanks to some determined researchers and funders, my wish may come true in time to give my nephew real choices as he moves into adulthood. In contrast to the frustrating options at the pharmacy, an array of promising possibilities can be found in various stages of research around the globe. Here are some of the top contenders.

Clean Sheets Pill

(London, Oxford) Dr. Nnaemeka Amobi and his team are researching a hormone-free method that has been dubbed the “clean sheets pill” because it decreases or eliminates semen emission while leaving intact the sensation of ejaculation and the pleasure of male orgasm. The pill works by relaxing just the muscles in the vas deferens that normally propel sperm-containing semen forward and out. Without the forward propulsion, circular muscle contractions essentially close down the passage. Reducing or eliminating emission of semen not only prevents pregnancy, it also decreases the spread of semen-born diseases, including HIV. The hope is that this medication can be delivered via pills that men take before sex—much like Viagra.


(Kharagpur) More than 250 men have undergone a procedure named RISUG, which stands for reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance, that researchers hope will provide a cheaper and more reversible alternative to vasectomy. A liquid polymer is injected into the vas deferens, where it provides contraception for up to ten years. In the duct, the positively charged polymer reportedly acts almost like a magnet, reacting with the negative electrical charge on the membranes of passing sperm and rendering them infertile. In research with rats and primates, fertility has been restored by a noninvasive procedure that removes the polymer. Human clinical trials of RISUG are moving forward slowly in India.


(San Francisco) Inspired by RISUG, a similar polymer, dubbed Vasalgel, is under development in the United States, with rabbit research now underway to meet FDA standards and primate studies planned. Over 18,000 men and women have signed up to receive information about clinical trials, expected to begin in 2014.


(Chapel Hill) Therapeutic ultrasound is a common sports medicine treatment for injured joints and muscles. A brief massage of the testes with the same instruments has been shown to reduce sperm count in both animals and humans. Doctors have long known that heating the testes even to body temperature reduces fertility, and we know that therapeutic ultrasound produces a deep warmth. But for reasons that are unclear, the contraceptive effect of ultrasound is ten times that of heat alone. Depending on the level of exposure, contraceptive duration ranges from six weeks to permanent. One major challenge at this point is to find a treatment regimen that is either reliably reversible or reliably permanent. Of the two, use as a nonsurgical vasectomy option is more likely.


(Kansas City) Potential contraceptives are sometimes discovered as side effects of other medications, and gamendazole derives from a cancer treatment that by chance was noted to decrease male fertility. Research shows that the drug works by interrupting sperm maturation. Men taking gamendazole produce and release normal quantities of sperm, but the sperm are “nonfunctional.” In mating studies of rats, the drug achieved 100 percent infertility and was fully reversible. Research with monkeys looks promising.


(New York) Like gamendazole, adjudin is an analogue of a cancer drug, lonidamine. It works the same way, causing sperm to be released when they are immature. For lonidamine, the gap between a contraceptive dose and a toxic dose is small, making the drug too dangerous to give to healthy people. But researchers at the Population Council were able to create a related compound that is taken up only by the precise receptors in the testes where it is needed for contraception. This dramatically reduces the needed dose. Two remaining drawbacks to adjudin are that it can be administered only by injection, and its effect is short-lived. Researchers are working to devise a version that doesn’t require frequent injections.


(Waco, Boston) JQ1 is related to some familiar drugs, Valium and Xanax, but it has a very different effect. Instead of bringing on sleep or reducing anxiety, it blocks production of a protein in the testes that is essential to sperm growth. In mice that are given JQ1, the number of sperm takes a nose dive, and those that are produced don’t swim very well, which makes the mice infertile. Sex drive remains unaltered, and after the drug is stopped, sperm production rapidly returns to normal.

​Testosterone and Progestin

(BeijingLos Angeles, Seattle) If injected or absorbed through the skin, testosterone alters hormonal messaging and reduces production of sperm. When combined with a progestogen and rubbed on in gel form, a daily application has effectively suppressed sperm concentration in almost 90 percent of men, with few side effects. Current research, which builds in part on work done at the University of Washington and UCLA, is exploring the best combination oftestosterone and progestin, and how such a combination can be delivered to provide long-acting birth control.

With such a variety of options (and more) in the works, it seems like something new for men should be just around the corner. But much of the research is progressing at a snail’s pace due in part to regulatory barriers and lack of funding. Contraceptives get used by young healthy people, which means that the bar for safety and efficacy is much higher than for many other drugs. A cancer treatment might be welcomed if it has a 70 percent success rate and makes your hair fall out. Needless to say, either of these is a non-starter for a new contraceptive. The high bar (and the corresponding high risk of liability) makes drug companies and even philanthropists wary of investing in contraception—which has to be almost 100 percent effective and side effectfree to be a success.

Will any of these options make it to market in the next five years? That depends in part on whether drug companies, nonprofit research funders, and public health experts think we’re ready. Do men really want to take responsibility for contraception? Will women trust them to do so? Those questions are the focus of Part III in this series.

References | Images

Vasalgel. Photo credit Parsemus Foundation, used with permission

This article was originally published on Sightline Daily.

Dr. Valerie Tarico is a psychologist with a passion for personal and social evolution.  In 2005, she co-founded the Progress Alliance of Washington, a collective of future-oriented donors investing in progressive change.


This is a story (unless he’s 18+) about contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  We ought to inform the parents of the underage girls he’s after, although it will seem disingenuous to sabotage the plans of a kid who’s on such a _responsible_ prowl.  What if a middle-aged man pursued teens with his condoms and shots, despite a difficult home life and only Sebelius to guide him; would we call him responsible?  I hate to steal the thunder of Part 3 by announcing that Part 3 begs the question.  Since contraception is inherently about no-responsibility for one’s urges, neither man nor woman will or will be able to take responsibility and no-responsibility at the same time.  We have encountered the principle of non-contradiction precisely where the rubber hits the road to profound unhappiness.

Henry, perhaps you’d like it if Julia, wearing her Junior Anti-Sex League sash, were to pay Valerie’s nephew a visit? Am going to re-post this until you comment on it:

“It is extremely easy for an elderly man to ‘repent’; to say—if only to himself—“I had my fun and now I’m done. Easy to disparage pleasures of the past, to think if only youth knew; life is wasted on the young.. to feel superior in knowing even though one is old, one learnt important lessons in one’s frivolous youth. Too bad for young punks who have to learn life’s mysteries via the school of hard knocks- they have to learn things are rarely the way they appear.
Get it while you can then when in old age you can say how reckless you were, now you have renounced the past. We, older and wiser, safe in our neutered pension plan existence, can look down on youth and be glad we are not making the same dumb mistakes youthful fools are making—we’ve been there done that. Now we are free to live a life of religious fulfilment in our dotage.
Main issue IMO is how sex is one of the few joys the poor (real poor) look forward to. The poor don’t need dried up old men telling them only dried up old men know what joy is.

Wont give up, Henry, will keep posting it.

Perhaps the keyword (and I’m responding to comments here, not the article, which I’ve skimmed just enough to know what Henry was objecting to) is empathy.

Because I could re-engage in a discussion with Henry about the internal coherence of our respective belief systems, and their connection with reality, but been there, done that. And the last time we really got into it, substantially, where we ended up (where I ended up anyway) was that the main thing that (still) seemed wrong with Henry’s viewpoint, from mine of course, was a certain failure of empathy. (Again, CygnusX1 will say, if he dares to check this thread, that this is the pot calling the kettle black, but…well, perhaps I should leave that to him.)

In this context what Intomorrow writes is relevant. There is an element of choice about what to believe, and more importantly what to preach (for example by posting comments on Internet blogs), and the choice one makes has an impact on others: including on how they feel, on their emotional well-being in the short term and in the long. And if our belief system requires us to condemn certain types of behaviour, not because they are causing harm in this sense (i.e. negatively impacting someone’s emotional well-being, especially over the long term), then what we are potentially doing, or at least risk doing, is making people feel guilty and confused, and quite possibly over the long term.

Henry writes as if he is angry at Valerie’s nephew, and/or those who guide him, but in addition to his own anger is he finding space in his consciousness to consider the actual feelings of those involved? Suppose he didn’t have his liberal aunt going with him to buy condoms: would that actually make the world a better place, with regard to people’s emotional well-being? And if not, in what sense would it make the world a better place, or otherwise be the right thing to do (i.e. refuse to help him buy his condoms), and why on earth should any of us care?

@Intomorrow:  it’s not fair to completely dodge the points I attempt, and then insist that I answer something else.  Your argument amounts to saying that elderly, pot-bellied men can’t coach college football, because they’d be out of breath after 1 snap.  Joy is your word, and an interesting word.  Joy is something only humans have, and they only have it because they possess an intellect.  Therefore, sex itself wouldn’t qualify for joyfulness, unless the rationality of its human agents was imported to the scene.  Fornication is never rational; there is never a reason to do it.  Therefore, it is always morally wrong.  Don’t threaten to hold me and the forum hostage with an array of abusive re-posts.

@Peter:  I’m not angry at the kid.  He’s obviously got a non-ideal maturation environment.  [Besides, only a fool stays angry for long.]  Why would cushy feelings make the world a better place?  It’s not my job to answer the why-should-we-care question, since the author couched the event in the moral language of ‘responsible’ action.  But I can answer it anyway; the moral ought derives from the is-to-be of practical reasoning.  The moral flow of the universe is maintained in a single polarity known as the eternal law given by the Divine lawgiver.  So the reason we ‘ought’ not counter this flow is that we _have_ no reason to counter it.  While we sometimes have excellent reasons to act immorally, those choices will still entail opposing something that we have no reason to oppose.

Henry, you say that Valerie’s nephew has “obviously got a non-ideal maturation environment”. But this is obvious to whom? Obviously not to Valerie, nor to Intomorrow and myself, otherwise we would not be having this conversation.

As for why “cushy feelings” would make the world a better place, well, I suppose it all depends on what you mean by “better”. I tend to hold to the view that all success is emotional success: it counts for nothing unless it makes you (or someone) happy. But then again, I don’t believe that the moral flow of the universe is maintained in a single polarity known as the eternal law given by the Divine lawgiver, so clearly we are arguing from within two completely different worldviews.

To put it in language that Intomorrow and I might have some chance of understanding, you seem to be saying that God makes the laws, and this defines the “moral flow of the universe”. But where does this idea come from? Catholic theology I guess, but why should you believe it? Why do you believe it?

As I said, I think what Intomorrow wrote is actually relevant. I try to argue with you from a standpoint of reason, bringing discussion of emotions into it carefully and cautiously, but the more - shall we say poetic? Colourful? Evocative? Yes, I think I’ll settle on evocative - approach used by Intomorrow also has value in my view, even if you find it “unfair” (perhaps contrary to God’s law?) and abusive.

Yet still perhaps there is a discussion to be had about what we are trying to achieve here. Are we trying to convert each other? To what purpose? Certainly I have better things to do than to get you, Henry, to change your mind about condoms and the Divine lawgiver. But I hope I am not being “abusive” - but rather emotionally honest - if I say that I find your views chilling, not least because they (in their many variations) are not uncommon, and they have inspired terrible acts ranging from the Inquisition to 9/11.

When we allow ourselves to become convinced that we are expressing or describing God’s law (without, of course, a shred of evidence to justify this), and then dismiss any talk of empathy and emotion as “cushy feelings”, then we open the door that allows our darkest side to flourish.

If this is spiritual warfare, then I know which side I’m on.

Peter, this just doesn’t seem the place to profitably address your concerns.  You don’t seem to be discussing male contraception, or ethics, but rather emotivism.  My argument is that if we can’t walk teens into porn stores, we oughtn’t walk them into condom stores.  Nobody wants to address this.  Curiously, there’s no articles on IEET about walking teens into strip-clubs.  A curious omission, if you ask me.

it’s not fair to completely dodge the points I attempt, and then insist that I answer something else.  Your argument amounts to saying that elderly, pot-bellied men can’t coach college football, because they’d be out of breath after 1 snap.  Joy is your word, and an interesting word.  Joy is something only humans have, and they only have it because they possess an intellect.  Therefore, sex itself wouldn’t qualify for joyfulness, unless the rationality of its human agents was imported to the scene.  Fornication is never rational; there is never a reason to do it.  Therefore, it is always morally wrong.  Don’t threaten to hold me and the forum hostage with an array of abusive re-posts…
My argument is that if we can’t walk teens into porn stores, we oughtn’t walk them into condom stores.  Nobody wants to address this.  Curiously, there’s no articles on IEET about walking teens into strip-clubs.  A curious omission, if you ask me

Now we’re getting somewhere, and you would possibly not have replied had I not been, yes, somewhat abusive. However you can be challenging yourself; that is to write you comment as an arch-conservative—don’t deny it—at a technoprogressive site, expecting no sparks to fly? C’mon. Your football coach analogy is based on half-truth.. difference is the coach isn’t smug (let’s hope not) about what he did in the past. Even if an aged were to say quite rightly, “back in my day, HIV wasn’t a factor”, still there’s an air of ‘too bad Sonny, you were born too late’ or something else not v. Christian.

they only have it because they possess an intellect.  Therefore, sex itself wouldn’t qualify for joyfulness, unless the rationality of its human agents was imported to the scene.  Fornication is never rational; there is never a reason to do it.”

You could be right on this, will have to think about it, hard. But I have a negative view of sex only because when in HS long ago it seemed as a gift from God- now it seems a drain of energy. Question is, is this wisdom or just an old man damning what he can no longer do? Such is an open question, not to be dismissed out of hand.
Frankly, I’d rather teens engage in gay sex than risk pregnancy via heterosexuality. Teens should not have children, 25- 30 yrs IMO is the better age to reproduce. BTW if what you write is correct, porn and maybe strip clubs are an alternative to actual sex. Teens can’t get pregnant from merely watching sex/nudity, nor can they be infected with STDs.
You possess much book knowledge, Henry—yet your comprehension of the world outside academia (academia includes theology) is a bit lacking. You don’t want to be as Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Iglefeld:

“Now we’re getting somewhere, and you would possibly not have replied had I not been, yes, somewhat abusive.”

This, also, is an important point, and is relevant also with regard to the kind of concerns that CygnusX1 likes to express. Been reading a book over the summer about how to build trust in one’s (professional, but it also applies more generally) relationships, and one of the precepts is that before you earn the “right” (from the perspective of gaining the other person’s trust) to even *listen*, let alone comment and advise, you first have to secure that person’s engagement around the issue you want to discuss. In other words, they have to see it as an issue worth discussing, and you as someone worth discussing it with.

In fact, this is one reason why I’m sceptical with regard to CygnusX1’s insistence that one always has to have read the article to participate meaningfully (and respectfully) in discussions. For example, do we have Valerie’s “engagement” in discussing whether or not she was right to help her nephew by condoms? Apparently not: for all I know, she is not even aware of our exchange. So why focus so much on the author, unless the author is actually engaging in the discussion? Obviously the article will act as some kind of catalyst, but does it need to do more? According to my ethical framework, as applied to IEET, the important thing is that our discussions serve some kind of useful purpose in the context of enhancing mutual understanding around technoprogressive issues.

So perhaps that is the question that should guide us in deciding to what extent, and how, to engage with Henry’s views on teen sex. From a perspective of the IEET readership Henry’s views on this issue are indeed “arch-conservative”; is there even much point in discussing them?

By contrast, and in complete contradiction to what Henry says, what he calls “emotivism” may be a very useful subject to discuss, since it seems, at least in part, to underpin the real difference between our views and Henry’s on this issue. I would actually like Henry to elaborate on this point, if he is willing.

One thing you and I have in common, Intomorrow (apart from, roughly speaking, our views on teen sex), but which apparently we don’t have in common with CygnusX1, for example, is that we both feel instinctively, for one reason or another, that the views expressed by Henry, and those like him, *need* to be engaged with. And I think we are right. It is good that some “arch-conservatives” (I dare say on other issues he is quite liberal) pop up here from time to time, if only to remind us - as you also do, relentlessly - that there other ways of looking at these issues, which may seem INSANE from our liberal/technoprogressive perspective, but are no less fervently held because of it.

Henry is a special case, of course: hardly a “brutally professional theologian” (in the case of Alex that would have been closer to the mark), but with an unusual (and, I repeat, for me chilling) dedication to a remarkably coherent yet indeed basically insane ideology. Yet precisely because of this, Henry can act as a vehicle to express ideas that are in fact widespread, just in less pure forms for the most part, and which therefore influence people’s behaviour.

Henry did not respond to my Inquisition-9/11 reference, perhaps he dismissed it as empty rhetoric, but while it was surely rhetorical, it was not empty. If, like me, you are someone who sees profound importance in emotional honesty, and ensuring that this evolutionarily clumsy interface between emotion and reason is made to work better, then you might also see a causal link between the tendency, so ably expressed by Henry, to dismiss of emotional considerations as “emotivism” and “cushy feelings”, and the perpetration of terrible acts in the name of various ideologies, whether theist or atheist.

Indeed, if utilitarianism is dangerous (as well as being necessary), I would argue that it is precisely because of this clumsy interface between emotion and reason, which ends up distorting our reasoning while unleashing the worst emotions. Allowing ourselves to do harm that good might result is essential if we are to live, let alone achieve anything significant, but if the emotion-reason interface isn’t working properly, then it can indeed have terrible results - and that’s even without bringing a Divine lawgiver into the picture.

Meant brutally professional in a manner many, v. many, pros are; for instance Henry has revealed absolutely nothing about himself as a mensch, so why on Earth would I personally want to trust someone who could as far as I know have come from outer space?
I refuse to trust a total stranger.
Not even Henry’s metaphysics and morality are in dispute with my way of thinking—being raised a Christian, it is not alien. But for starters Henry’s scare tactic of accusing Valerie of maybe contributing to the deliquency of a minor was a low blow- made me mistrust him more than for being a stranger.
Unfortunately, Henry IMO is thoroughly impractical. It is utterly foolish to think young people are going to take cold showers, ingest saltpeter, and not think on sex. Youths cannot behave as ‘bots. Now, again it would be illogical to dialogue with Henry and categorically reject his morals and metaphysics: comparable to attending a house of worship to say to the clergy and congregation that you don’t think God exists. They would ask why come to their house of worship in the first place.

Ah but that’s the thing: as you have more or less stated above, he came to our house of worship, not vice versa.

I’m actually interest that you do not consider yourself as “in dispute” with Henry’s metaphysics and morality. I was raised a Christian as well, as you know, so it’s not exactly *alien* to me, but do we really not have good reason to “dispute” it?

It is certainly the case that Henry was accusing Valerie of maybe (probably, even) contributing to the delinquency of a minor (and not just a minor, mind you, her very own nephew). So much for CygnusX1’s much-vaunted “respect for the author”. Whether he did so as a “scare tactic” is less clear to me. As I said, it looked like he was angry, and he has not denied it. (“Not angry at the kid” - well nobody said he was - “only a fool stays angry for long” - didn’t say he did that either.) I think he was basically just stating his views.

Regarding his apparent unwillingness to reveal something about himself as a mensch: but have we really asked him to do so? What would be in it for him? Why is trust an issue in any case? Another thing I picked up from the book I was reading is that trust always involves risk: you do not truly trust someone unless you are taking a risk by doing so. What risk are we taking with Henry?

Perhaps this: we are taking a risk by engaging with him (if only because we risk once again attracting CygnusX1’s ire). Will we get something in return? Is this in any way a fruitful exercise, or does it merely distract from enhancing mutual understanding of technoprogressive issues?

And in this respect I think you have a point. If Henry were indeed to reveal something of himself “as a mensch”, then we could genuinely learn. And I think we could also learn if he elaborated on his views regarding “emotivism”.

What we won’t learn from, at least nothing that would seem to me to justify continuing to engage with him, is if he just reaffirms his views in response to the next article someone writes at IEET that contradicts or offends them in some way.

“Ah but that’s the thing: as you have more or less stated above, he came to our house of worship, not vice versa.”

Nonetheless I (can’t answer for you) replied to his comments because of our mutual religious backgrounds, plus his being educated and knowledgable of Christianity and Roman Catholicism. 
Chose to reply to Henry, which is tantamount to entering a house of worship online. After all, none of us is obliged to reply to Henry or any other religious blogger here or anywhere else. Do not dislike Henry: because I do not know him at all- wouldn’t know him from Adam.

“I’m actually interest that you do not consider yourself as ‘in dispute’ with Henry’s metaphysics and morality. I was raised a Christian as well, as you know, so it’s not exactly *alien* to me, but do we really not have good reason to ‘dispute’ it?”

Now it gets fast: don’t know about metaphysics, morality yet do know love is not anti-entropic. So though whatever suggestions Henry might make are ethical (and metaphysical, of course), they aren’t practical. We don’t want to confuse expediency with morality.
It may be expedient to slip paroxetine into a teen’s food, reducing the sex drive; however it is not moral. Henry’s possible suggestions for reducing a teen’s sex drive might conceivably be say—just for example—prayer, church, cold showers, sports, etc. They would be (and are) moral suggestions: but they are not practical.
As for Henry, not knowing him only concerns me as far as his religion goes. I do not care to know anything about him except that he presents himself as a person of faith.. a member of the RC Church. I have never known a religious person who would not reveal anything about themselves. So it makes me suspicious; for all anyone knows Henry could be a Satanist. Why ought we take an absolute stranger’s word for anything—especially concerning matters of faith? An open question.

“Nonetheless I (can’t answer for you) replied to his comments because of our mutual religious backgrounds,”

Yes, I’m sure that’s also part of the attraction for me as well. By arguing with Henry, we are also engagin with our past. Still, perhaps we can at least agree with CygnusX1 on this: IEET should not be the place for us to engage with our personal demons unless it serves some useful purpose in the context of IEET’s mission. And here I think these issues of metaphysics and morality (this being an ethics blog, after all) become really interesting.

What also may be relevant here is the following from Henry: “So the reason we ‘ought’ not counter this flow is that we _have_ no reason to counter it.  While we sometimes have excellent reasons to act immorally, those choices will still entail opposing something that we have no reason to oppose.” At face value this seems unobjectionable: we may have excellent reasons to burgle someone’s house and steal all their money (perhaps they are one of the 1% and we intend to give the money to the poor), but this doesn’t mean we should. But if we apply it to the issue under discussion, it seems to amount to this: ultimately, Henry doesn’t *care* whether he is being practical/expedient or not. He has certain red lines - handed down, in his imagination, by the Divine lawgiver - and he will not cross them, no matter how “inexpedient” it may be, no matter how much harm (and yes, by that I mean *emotional* harm) he might do by refusing to do so.

And that, precisely, is the problem I have with non-utilitarian (or at least non-consequentialist) ethical frameworks, whether theistic or atheistic. They are impractical, and there tend to do more harm than good.

“perhaps we can at least agree with CygnusX1 on this: IEET should not be the place for us to engage with our personal demons unless it serves some useful purpose in the context of IEET’s mission.”

Yes. Re religion, it is a fine line to walk: faith it goes without saying is personal, thus we have to be extra careful to aim for some sort of ‘objectivity’ to anchor the discussions with. Henry does well some of the time (appears he may have gone to law school because he has an eye for the law) but veers off at times into excessive religiosity. Too much of a good thing—drink too much water and one drowns.
Valerie has written a good piece going into options for male contraception; important due to men being far more irresponsible than women in sexual matters. Unfortunately Henry chose to ignore the technical in service of morality not based on enough practicality. Which though relevant at an RC site, here isn’t good enough. Not worthless, Henry is educated to the degree he is worthy of dialoguing with.. as worthy as any religious person in Mid America. (If this isn’t seen as a backhanded jibe!)

“Unfortunately Henry chose to ignore the technical in service of morality not based on enough practicality.”

Henry is welcome to write what he wants, as far as I’m concerned: I think it is important for people to feel free to express their views, within reason of course. Why would Henry want to focus on “options for male contraception” when he opposed to the whole idea?

Re ‘objectivity’, perhaps we can start with this: we can each choose what to believe, and what to value. Faith is indeed personal, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be a legitimate subject for discussion, nor does it mean it is morally neutral. But whether one regards something as morally positive or negative will depend on one’s beliefs and values. So there’s a circularity.

From Henry’s perspective, there is a moral flow of the universe, and one is either in accord with it or one isn’t. From our perspective, it’s a little different. We don’t like to talk of “moral flows” or a “Divine lawgiver”. We are concerned with practicality, and the real (emotional) effect of actions on real people. We distrust the idea of God, even as we find it comfortingly familiar, because something on our past has given us the impression that it is built on sand, not rock. I call that something ‘evidence’ and ‘logic’, but look inside my mind and of course you will find all sorts of causes for my scepticism that are far less ‘objective’.

Certainly Henry is worth dialoguing with (though for the moment he seems to have lost the motivation to do so)...but whether there is sufficient value in doing so, with regard to
IEET’s mission, is another matter. We would not want people to think we were obsessed…

“We would not want people to think we were obsessed”

Will write this as last comment until pt. 3. Want Henry to know I don’t dislike RC Church, it is very civilised for such a large entity. But so are the Hare Krshnas—and as one doesn’t have to agree with the Krshnas concerning Vedic dogma, neither IMO does one have to agree with Catholics re their dogma.

Indeed one doesn’t…

I see my position as neither non-technical nor impractical.  There are more variables in the equation than ‘possible baby’ and ‘possible disease.’  There is the formation of habit in the agent’s character.  Do you guys subscribe to virtue ethics?  It’s not a religious doctrine . . .

I subscribe to virtue ethics, but as a means to an end, not an end in itself. I don’t see ‘virtue’ as something good in and of itself, I see virtue as good to the extent that it leads to good outcomes.

What would be the relevant ‘virtues’ here? Abstinence? Procreation? I remember on another thread you suggested that a married couple deliberately dulling their desire for sex as a way to avoid conceiving amounts to contraception and is therefore sinful. So is the idea that a married couple must allow their sex drive to do its thing, while any sexual contact outside marriage is forbidden? Is that the virtue?

If so, from my utilitarian perspective I would want to ask: what higher purpose (in terms of *consequences*) is this supposed to serve? And even if I was a strict (but secular) virtue ethicist, I doubt I would be willing to accept this essentially traditionalist conception of sex as ‘virtue’, and I can’t imagine there are many (any?) secular virtue ethicists that do.

I’m sorry I was not clear enough, but no, I would not considering the “dulling of desire” to “avoid conception” as wrong.  I would consider only acts against the coming-to-be of new life as wrong, since such acts are unreasonable.  Dulling desire or avoiding occasions can still be specified as the legitimate not-trying for a child; it depends on the 1st-person perspective.

If you don’t see virtue as an end in itself, then you don’t see it as Aristotle did… so I’m not sure what else we can discuss about it.

Why? Do I have to see everything as Aristotle did in order to for it to be worth engaging with me in a discussion about ethics? Is utilitarianism to be ruled out of court because it is incompatible with Aristotle?

Utilitarianism rules itself out.  If the value of open-ended goods like human life can be calculated in advance, or more specifically if their value is commensurable with every other kind of available good, then even their purported, forecasted, value is zero (0), because it means a person may be exchanged for a radish if the circumstances are right.  This equates to no minimum net worth, or zero.

I’m not really sure what it would mean to “calculate in advance” the value of human life. Of course, in health-related cost-benefit analyses one does, in practice, place a “value on human life” (for example when one decides how much public money one is willing to spend to achieve certain health outcomes including avoidance of premature death), but this is a kind of rule of thumb for making health policy decisions. It is not a philosophical statement, and certainly not a logical consequence of utilitarianism.

There is one obvious difference between a human being and a radish: a human being acts as a subject, not (only) as an object, whereas a radish is only an object. When humans objectify other humans (for example by calculating how much they are “worth”) they are not applying utilitarianism, but rather something akin to solipsism.

For sure, one can conceive crass versions of utilitarianism that have the kind of dehumanising effect you describe, and what happens in practice often looks a lot like that. But no-one is maximising overall welfare when this happens, so the basic goal of utilitarianism is not being served.

I wrote earlier that I subscribe to virtue ethics, as a means to an end. The end, of course, is the maximisation of overall welfare, and virtue ethics essentially emerges as a form of rule utilitarianism, where the chosen ‘virtues’ function as ‘rules’ in the sense of rule utilitarianism, obviating the need to do some kind of cost benefit assessment before making even routine decisions. One just applies the rules instead. But because they are embedded in a utilitarian framework, that framework provides a criterion for deciding what to regard as ‘virtue’, and under what circumstances to apply it. The virtue of patience will not be favoured during an emergency, for example, any more than the virtue of haste will be favoured when the situation calls for calm reflection.

Henry, I’ll agree with you on one point: casual sex is certainly habit-forming. So do we consider it as a ‘virtue’ - making the most of what life has to offer, and setting an example for others to do the same, taking the reasonable precautions, but otherwise free from guilt - or do we consider it as a ‘vice’ - e.g. because those ‘reasonable precautions’ entail ‘acts against the coming-to-be of life’ and are thus in fact ‘unreasonable’, or because Divine law prohibits sex outside marriage? Clearly, the utilitarian will say ‘virtue’...and the world becomes a more joyous place.

But Peter, you have neglected one of the downsides of fornication-as-vicious:  i.e. that the habit-forming propensity subtracts from “making the most of what life has to offer.”  For life also offers me the chance to become the kind of person who can take-it-or-leave-it regarding sex, and not just brutally as the non-rapist avoids prison, but joyfully, in the service of other perfecting goods.  So here I see utilitarianism to bend the other knee:  if fornication brings about the ‘greater good,’ and those goods are commensurable (for doesn’t the pleasure and emotional exchange weigh equally for one couple what abstinence and alternative good works do for another?), then it is immediately hard to see how the choice of a ‘greater good’ could leave other available goods fallow.  It seems the ‘greater’ would by definition include all the available, or it wouldn’t be greater than any of the available I might otherwise desire or responsibly calculate as being more upright.  Thus, I think utilitarianism makes choice impossible, and at root just collapses into relativism, which is not in my view the world’s most convincing ethic.

Actually what you’ve started to do there is to make a utilitarian case against casual sex, and you’re right: there is indeed a case to be made (not a particularly convincing one, in my view, but ceetainly one that deserves to be taken seriously). But you then go on to turn this into a case against utilitarianism, on the grounds that it “makes choice impossible”. But it doesn’t. What it does mean is that there will always be a degree of subjective judgement, which also means that emotions will and must pay a role in what kind of judgements one makes. Once one has espoused utilitarianism one does not have a logical algorithm for deciding every moral dilemma, and indeed it is the idea that one does that (to some extent - mainly it’s just human nature in action) gives rise to such dystopic manifestations of utilitarianism.

What utilitarianism does, for me, is to provide a conceptual ethical framework that, to a large extent, I *do* find convincing, which I then apply alongside the usual emotional / aesthetic processes that underpin our judgement on such issues. Obviously, the fact that it works for me doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you, but I certainly do *not* experience it as being akin to relativism, which would provide me no guidance whatsoever.

Okay, at the risk of sounding condescending, it feels like I’m walking a spaniel in a park he already well knows.  Let’s sit on the bench for a moment:  what about fornication, in your view, relinquishes it from intrinsic wrongness?

Yes, Henry, that did sound condescending. I’m not a spaniel, and while, yes, I know the park well, I thought it might also be of interest to you. Apparently not.

But back to the bench, and what relinquishes fornication from intrinsic wrongness…uh no, I think we need to go back to the park. Because in my nice Utilitarianism Park, “intrinsic wrongness” is defined as “that which tends to reduce, rather than increase, overall well-being”. As I said before, there is inevitably an element of subjective judgement here, but that’s OK: it’s the principle that counts. So ‘fornication’ (already a morally loaded word by the way, which is why I prefer to use the more neutral ‘casual sex’) can only be Intrinsically Wrong, from a utilitarian perspective, to the extent that it always and inevitably reduces overall well-being, and in my subjective judgement it does not.

It’s fine to sit on the bench, Henry, but you also need to know which park you’re in. In other words, if your dispute is with utilitarianism, then to understand why we have different views about casual sex we need to talk about that. If rather we have a disagreement about the practical effects (including the formation of good or bad habits) of casual sex, well sure, we can talk about that instead.

Sorry for the poor analogy; we’re not dogs, and you’re a good leader.  So I wonder how reinforcement of the habit of sleeping with someone to whom I’m not married fails to always and everywhere tend to reduced well-being…

Henry has turned me against sex with his arguments; if sex causes so much pain, will watch war movies instead—no one gets pregnant, no one is infected with STDs from watching a war film.
Seriously though: Henry’s metaphysics/morality are not in dispute by my lights; it is the practical which is in question. Should inexperienced young people be told sex is a positive ‘thing’, or ought we tell the younger set that sex is neutral, what one—or a couple, say—makes of it.
I vote the latter.
Will write, though, that sex causes too much guilt and jealousy for me to decide that sex is positive. The guilt and jealousy may be worse than the negative physical results.

Wasn’t really offended, Henry…and thanks for the compliment.

To your question, see my latest on the other thread. I think Intomorrow’s advice is sound, that would also be my inclination if I had or was in sufficiently close contact with children and teenagers to be discussing such matters with them. But “always and everywhere tend[s] to reduce well-being”? Again, see my comment on the other thread.

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