“Why can’t two people do whatever they want behind closed doors as long at they don’t hurt anyone?” Is a question that has been so repeated in our day and age it has almost turned into dogma. The idea that we own ourselves and our bodies and we can do anything that we want with them is a prevailing view in our society. The logic goes that if I find a person who wants to enter into a fun encounter or a series of encounters why shouldn’t I do it if we both want to? Aren’t we just both are using our bodies for pleasure and what is the harm in that?
One of the most interesting thinkers of all time, Immanuel Kant, would answer these questions in this way:
Human love is good will, affection, promoting the happiness of others and finding joy in their happiness. But it is clear that, when a person loves another purely from sexual desire, none of these factors enter into the love. Far from there being any concern for the happiness of the loved one, the lover, in order to satisfy his desire and still his appetite, may even plunge the loved one into the depths of misery. Sexual love makes of the loved person an object of appetite; as soon as that appetite has been stifled, the person is cast aside as one casts away a lemon which has been sucked dry. Kant: Lectures on Ethics, 164
The problem that Kant sees with casual sex is that the people engaged in casual sex are treating each other like objects to satiate their desires and not as people worthy of dignity, honour and love. . Kant says, that when we treat each other like objects we don’t care about each other and we may hurt each other to get what we need and when we are done we discard each other like a piece of trash.
Michael Sandel summarises Kant’s objection this way:
“Even when casual sex involves the mutual satisfaction of the partners, “each of them dishonours the human nature of the other. They make of humanity an instrument for the satisfaction of their lusts and inclinations.” Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? 130
The reason casual sex is destructive, according to Kant, is that it is dehumanizing. And we would all agree that when something is dehumanizing it is destructive.