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Ethics and Sexual Taboos

The problem here is that social taboos are often matters of strong emotions. People are often disgusted by someone's violating a taboo. Their disgust signals to them that the behavior is unethical. They forget that what is socially unacceptable may not violate any ethical principle but, instead, be a violation of a social convention of one kind or other.

One obvious area to think through, based on this common confusion, is the area of human sexuality. Social groups often establish strong sanctions for unconventional behavior involving the human body. Some social groups inflict strong punishments on women who do no more than appear in public without being completely veiled, an act socially considered indecent and sexually provocative. The question for us, then, is when is human behavior that is considered illicitly sexual by some society a matter for ethical condemnation, and when is it properly considered a matter of social nonconformity?


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