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Analytic Philosophy Article Providing Technical Definitions of Sexual Attraction and Sexual Orientation

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Pramana

Analytic philosophers are finally turning their attention to the topics of sexual orientation and sexual attraction. This definition of sexual desires which form sexual attractions that constitute sexual orientations is from a forthcoming article by Esa Díaz-León:


"once someone possesses these concepts of sex/gender, and has sexual desires that are appropriately connected to those concepts, this is sufficient for the content of those desires to amount to sexual attraction for men and/or women, qua men and/or women. It is true that one can have these desires only when one possesses those concepts, but this does not entail that one can have those desires only when one interprets those very desires as being a desire- for-men or desire-for-women. That is to say, according to the account of sexual orientation that we are assuming here, what determines someone’s sexual orientation is a matter of her sexual desires for men and/or women, where the subject needs to conceptualize humans in terms of their sex and/or gender. But this does not require the subject to interpret her sexual desires themselves as sexual desire for men and/or women."

Díaz-León, Esa (forthcoming): “Sexual Orientations: The Desire View”. In: Maitra, Keya, and McWeeny, Jennifer (Eds.): Feminist Philosophy of Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press. The reference for the quote is from this article by Saray Ayala: https://philarchive.org/archive/AYASOA


Esa Díaz-León also summarizes her theory of sexual attraction and sexual orientation in this blog post: https://politicalphilosopher.net/2017/01/27/featured-philosopher-esa-diaz-leon/
 
"Hybrid view: A sexual desire (for men and/or women) involves the combination of a propositional attitude (of the form “S bears the relation of desiring towards proposition p”) plus a disposition to be sexually aroused by, or sexually attracted to, men or women."

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FictoVore.

Do you desire to engage in sexual intimacy with other people for pleasure? Yes? Sexual, No? Asexual.

 

If you answered yes, which gender/s are you drawn to seek partnered sexual activity with? Depending on your own gender, this is how you know what sexual orientation you are. Example: If you are a man who has an innate desire to connect sexually with other men for pleasure, you're homosexual. If you're a woman who desires sex with other people but doesn't care which gender, you could be bi or pan. Etc etc.

 

That's a much less complicated way to explain what really is a very basic concept. 

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Pramana
29 minutes ago, FictoVore. said:

Do you desire to engage in sexual intimacy with other people for pleasure? Yes? Sexual, No? Asexual.

 

If you answered yes, which gender/s are you drawn to seek partnered sexual activity with? Depending on your own gender, this is how you know what sexual orientation you are. Example: If you are a man who has an innate desire to connect sexually with other men for pleasure, you're homosexual. If you're a woman who desires sex with other people but doesn't care which gender, you could be bi or pan. Etc etc.

 

That's a much less complicated way to explain what really is a very basic concept. 

Actually, the pleasure based theory of sexual desire is rejected in another recent analytic philosophy article, which articulates a bidimensional dispositional (BD) view of sexual orientations (and forms one of the sources for the author referenced above). This article also rejects that the notion that your own sex and gender are relevant for determining your sexual orientation:

"If instead one prefers, for example, a pleasure-based theory of desire, then the formulation will be too narrow to capture the concept of sexual orientation. Not everyone receives pleasure from sexual behavior. Still other theories of desire (e. g., attention-based or holistic) are too broad to capture the concept. And so on, I would argue, for the other main candidate theories of desire. Of course, one could simply appeal to a “common understanding” of desire, but I am skeptical that there is any such thing."

"BD goes a step further by saying that the sex- and gender-attrac
tions — again, understanding these attractions in terms of behavioral dispositions under ordinary conditions — are all that matter for sexual orientation. My own sex and gender, for example, do not matter for my sexual orientation."


Dembroff, Robin A. 2016. “What Is Sexual Orientation?” Philosophers’ Imprint 16.3 (Jan.): 1–27.

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timewarp
40 minutes ago, FictoVore. said:

Do you desire to engage in sexual intimacy with other people for pleasure? Yes? Sexual, No? Asexual.

 

If you answered yes, which gender/s are you drawn to seek partnered sexual activity with? Depending on your own gender, this is how you know what sexual orientation you are. Example: If you are a man who has an innate desire to connect sexually with other men for pleasure, you're homosexual. If you're a woman who desires sex with other people but doesn't care which gender, you could be bi or pan. Etc etc.

 

That's a much less complicated way to explain what really is a very basic concept. 

 

Yes, but you will not get research funding if you put it like that. :ph34r:

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Pramana

Robin Dembroff's article is the other recent major contribution from analytic philosophy that I wanted to introduce, because it represents a new theory of sexual orientations designed to account for differences between biological sex and gender identity, and because it discusses asexuality in a number of places. This theory is notable for grounding sexual orientations in dispositions rather than sexual attraction/desire, and thus argues that one can have a sexual orientation even in the absence of both sexual attraction and desire:

"My respondent might be fine with accounting for sexual orientation in terms of dispositions to desire rather than dispositions to behavior, strange as it may seem. But framing sexual orientation in this way would not avoid yet another problem for any desire-based account: dispositions to desire would underdetermine sexual orientation because desire underdetermines sexual orientation. Consider someone who is behaviorally disposed to sexually engage with certain persons, but does not possess the emotional or cognitive features of sexual desire. (Again, we could imagine that they are motivated to sexually engage with persons on the basis of curiosity, free of desire.) That is, they don’t (e.g.) feel sexual yearnings, spend time thinking about sexual behavior or receive particular pleasure from sexual behavior. Does this person have a sexual orientation? It seems to me that they do, suggesting that desires are not necessary for sexual orientation.
 

But are they sufficient? Consider too the unlikely but imaginable case of someone who feels desire for, say, cisgender men, but is disposed only to sexually engage with women. In this case, and particularly for the socio-politically motivations discussed above, I would argue that this person’s sexual orientation is one of orientation toward women and not cisgender men. But I admit that intuitions about our concept’s extension may get fuzzy with regard to both of these hypotheticals — I can only report my own. I suspect that one’s response may come down to whether one tends to think about sexual orientation as something predominately action-oriented or predominately internal. But more importantly (given that this is an engineering project), I support the former view as better equipped to achieve the social and political purposes behind the concept of sexual orientation, and as not clearly in conflict with the general extension of our everyday concept."

The dispositional account leads Dembroff to account for asexuality in the following way:

"Acknowledging that some people wholly lack dispositions to sexually engage with other persons on the basis of sex- or gender-attractions will include asexuality with regard to sex and gender among the class of sexual orientations."


Dembroff, Robin A. 2016. “What Is Sexual Orientation?” Philosophers’ Imprint 16.3 (Jan.): 1–27.
https://philarchive.org/archive/DEMWIS

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FictoVore.
29 minutes ago, Pramana said:

Actually, the pleasure based theory of sexual desire is rejected in another recent analytic philosophy article, which articulates a bidimensional dispositional (BD) view of sexual orientations (and forms one of the sources for the author referenced above). This article also rejects that the notion that your own sex and gender are relevant for determining your sexual orientation:

"If instead one prefers, for example, a pleasure-based theory of desire, then the formulation will be too narrow to capture the concept of sexual orientation. Not everyone receives pleasure from sexual behavior. Still other theories of desire (e. g., attention-based or holistic) are too broad to capture the concept. And so on, I would argue, for the other main candidate theories of desire. Of course, one could simply appeal to a “common understanding” of desire, but I am skeptical that there is any such thing."

"BD goes a step further by saying that the sex- and gender-attrac
tions — again, understanding these attractions in terms of behavioral dispositions under ordinary conditions — are all that matter for sexual orientation. My own sex and gender, for example, do not matter for my sexual orientation."


Dembroff, Robin A. 2016. “What Is Sexual Orientation?” Philosophers’ Imprint 16.3 (Jan.): 1–27.

hahaha, classic. *shakes head*

 

And yes I totally agree, because it doesn't matter if someone has a dick or not, they're automatically gay if they prefer to have sex with men. Obviously.

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Pramana
5 minutes ago, FictoVore. said:

hahaha, classic. *shakes head*

 

And yes I totally agree, because it doesn't matter if someone has a dick or not, they're automatically gay if they prefer to have sex with men. Obviously.

The methodology for the paper is to rectify our ordinary concepts regarding sexual orientations (so in analytic philosophy parlance, it's a work of conceptual engineering rather than a work of conceptual analysis) in order to actualize certain political objectives (mainly surrounding gender identities). Of course, this can be debated, but it's worth keeping in mind that Robin Dembroff has been employed by both Princeton and Yale for doing this kind of work.

Regarding the sexual orientation question, though, regardless of whether one agrees with this dispositional view or a more traditional sexual attraction/desire view, either way the idea with sexual orientations centres on motivations for engaging in sex based on concepts about other people (such as certain people fitting a particular sex or gender category). So "desiring partnered sex for pleasure" would be a reason for having sex, but wouldn't be relevant to orientation because it doesn't say anything about how one perceives of other people, and thus it can't orient one towards other people.

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HonoraryJedi

Damn these articles can be such a pain to read. I have to admit I don't understand what they are trying to say here, aside from the bit about defining sexual orientation around actions rather than desire. Still, it is interesting to see these things talked about on an academic level.

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Pramana
13 hours ago, HonoraryJedi said:

Damn these articles can be such a pain to read. I have to admit I don't understand what they are trying to say here, aside from the bit about defining sexual orientation around actions rather than desire. Still, it is interesting to see these things talked about on an academic level.

I found this blog post that provides a much more readable summary of Robin Dembroff's argument, and what I also think is a good critique.

http://laser.fontmonkey.com/foe/comments.php?y=16&m=02&entry=entry160224-145944

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HonoraryJedi

Thank you

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scarletlatitude

As neither the research article or the blog post discuss asexuality directly, I will have to move this out of World Watch. But thanks for the share! @Pramana

 

Moving to the Gray Area

 

scarletlatitude

World Watch mod

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⚸ Hughesation ⚸
On ‎15‎/‎11‎/‎2017 at 8:06 AM, FictoVore. said:

because it doesn't matter if someone has a dick or not, they're automatically gay if they prefer to have sex with men. Obviously.

I think that terms like gay/lesbian would fall out of favour, based on what is being said. Technically, homosexual may still be applied to those who are attracted to the same gender (as heterosexual would likewise maintain it's original meaning), but this would be more of an extraneous, umbrella term, by my understanding.

 

We're looking at people who are attracted to men being termed "Androsexual", because any gender, including non-binaries who are attracted to men call use this term, whereas "Gay" wouldn't be accurate, as you say, for everyone. Likewise, "Gynosexual" would be applied for women, "Bisexual" for attraction to both binary genders, "Polysexual" for attraction to multiple masculine/feminine/neutral genders, "Pansexual" for attraction to all genders and "Asexual" for a lack of sexual attraction.

 

For many of us, our sexuality has little to nothing to do with our gender identity or birth gender. It isn't even relative. But for a long time, sexuality has been defined by our gender relative to the gender(/s) we are attracted to, making this a pretty novel, yet no less accurate viewpoint; and one that, if widely embraced, could go a long way to reducing the stigma surrounding sexuality.

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Pramana
6 hours ago, ⚸ Hughesation ⚸ said:

For many of us, our sexuality has little to nothing to do with our gender identity or birth gender. It isn't even relative. But for a long time, sexuality has been defined by our gender relative to the gender(/s) we are attracted to, making this a pretty novel, yet no less accurate viewpoint; and one that, if widely embraced, could go a long way to reducing the stigma surrounding sexuality.

The question I would focus on are the prospects for the view to obtain popular acceptance. I think that for a lot of people, a concept of their own sex/gender factors into how they understand their sexual orientation (for example, I'm a man who's attracted to women and who is looking for a woman to be attracted to me as a man, etc.). I would also say that in ordinary conversation a lot of people use sex and gender more or less interchangeably, or in such a way as to tie gender closely to sex. While that popular usage may lack technical accuracy, it suggests that a strong sex/gender distinction is more relevant to some people's experiences than it is to others.

Now like you say, I agree that Dembroff's alternative view is logically coherent, is better suited to meet certain ethical/political objectives, and provides a better account for the sexualities of people who don't fit into the traditional sex/gender/orientation binaries. But as outlined above, it may also sacrifice the ability of the concept to communicate sexual desires that have a recursive/reciprocal aspect based on a self-concept of sex/gender, and that function may be important to how the concept is commonly used in ordinary language. On balance, though, perhaps Dembroff's view is preferable. The methodology of conceptual engineering in analytic philosophy is new to me, and I'm still not entirely sure how it relates to the older method of conceptual analysis (i.e. how much about our ordinary concepts are we permitted to change to meet normative ethical constraints – is it simply a cost/benefit ethical balancing act?).

In any case, I really like this paper because it demonstrates the ability of analytic philosophy to clarify concepts and show where the key decision points lie. I appreciate that the author is transparent about the ethical commitments which motivate their writing, and provides good definitions of key terms, both features that I find lacking in many of the psychology and sociology papers I've read on sexual orientation.

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⚸ Hughesation ⚸
1 hour ago, Pramana said:

Now like you say, I agree that Dembroff's alternative view is logically coherent, is better suited to meet certain ethical/political objectives, and provides a better account for the sexualities of people who don't fit into the traditional sex/gender/orientation binaries. But as outlined above, it may also sacrifice the ability of the concept to communicate sexual desires that have a recursive/reciprocal aspect based on a self-concept of sex/gender, and that function may be important to how the concept is commonly used in ordinary language. On balance, though, perhaps Dembroff's view is preferable.

Linguistic alterations seem to be a kind of superfluous consideration, if you ask me; we undergo many changes to the way we speak as natural progression, and language itself undergoes evolution near constantly. I can see why this is a consideration to some, yet on the other hand, language is frequently a clumsy tool in self expression.

I know many people have an aversion to using unfamiliar words, and also feel we already utilize too many self-descriptive labels, and therefore there are those who would find fault based on such reasoning, but I personally find it a poor excuse to avoid persistent passive discrimination.

 

In terms of reciprocated interest, I believe that most people are already inclined to indicate their gender/s when seeking a partner; terms such as gay or straight are a potentially useful shorthand, but we assume that these would fall entirely out of use. I propose that a relationship between persons with the same gender would be deemed "homosexual/gay" (likewise for differing genders being seen as "heterosexual/straight"), rather than being viewed as a sexuality. Thus those seeking partners of the same gender would be able to do so at Gay Bars, where gay refers to the relationship between two people, not an orientation; in this regard, it would become more like polyamorous or monogamous in it's usages.

That, or terms such as homoamorous , or heteroamorous could be utilized as alternative terms, if we want to view gay and straight as pejorative.

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Pramana
13 minutes ago, ⚸ Hughesation ⚸ said:

I know many people have an aversion to using unfamiliar words...

I've wondered about this with respect to the difficulty of establishing an English language gender neutral first person pronoun. It seems like our best bet is "they", despite the grammatical awkwardness, simply because "they" is already a well established pronoun. It seems to be easy to establish a new word for something novel and technical, but really hard to bring new language into old ways of speaking.
 

16 minutes ago, ⚸ Hughesation ⚸ said:

In terms of reciprocated interest, I believe that most people are already inclined to indicate their gender/s when seeking a partner; terms such as gay or straight are a potentially useful shorthand, but we assume that these would fall entirely out of use. I propose that a relationship between persons with the same gender would be deemed "homosexual/gay" (likewise for differing genders being seen as "heterosexual/straight"), rather than being viewed as a sexuality. Thus those seeking partners of the same gender would be able to do so at Gay Bars, where gay refers to the relationship between two people, not an orientation; in this regard, it would become more like polyamorous or monogamous in it's usages.

I agree with this proposal. I can see an argument that dispositions/attractions/desires are the commonly held shared component of our ordinary concept of sexual orientation, whereas the relevance of one's own gender identity is a factor for some people but not for others, so the first aspect should take precedence over the second aspect.

I find the relationship point really interesting, as it's something I've been thinking about lately. Dembroff favours a dispositional account of sexual orientations (dispositions to act rather than experiences of relevant psychological states) because of their concern for legal protections for sexual behaviour. But a consequence of grouding sexualities in dispositions rather than psychological states is that these dispositions could be based on things over which we might be taken to have more choice (one of Dembroff's examples is a man who is sexually attracted to other men but who has a persistent curiosity that disposes him towards sexual behaviour with women). If we're willing to give up the "not a choice" argument for legal protections, though, then I'm wondering if maybe the locus of legal protections should just be moved from orientations to relationships, because while legal protections formally attach to sexualities, it's the activities of people in relationships that invoke legal notice.

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⚸ Hughesation ⚸
11 hours ago, Pramana said:

If we're willing to give up the "not a choice" argument for legal protections, though, then I'm wondering if maybe the locus of legal protections should just be moved from orientations to relationships, because while legal protections formally attach to sexualities, it's the activities of people in relationships that invoke legal notice.

I couldn't agree more; whether a relationship is a matter of choice or not should not deny legal protections; I might be getting a bit political here, but to assume that a relationship/orientation is acceptable only because there is no "choice" is to deny people the freedom to choose. For those such as myself (a Panromantic) my partners certainly are a choice, and one I would not like to feel is legally or morality invalidated due to my gender identity.

 

I feel it should be the relationships or people in relationships who receive this legal protection; thus, those who engage in or seek homosexual relationships are still protected from hate crimes/ hate speech, and other forms of discrimination. As you say, it is the relationship activities alone which differ from that if any heterosexual couple; a sexuality alone poses very little difference. I support your view wholeheartedly, and would like to see more consideration on this topic; it seems many people are quick to generalize or fall into non-sequiturs, rather than consider the argument for what it is, then formulate a view.

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Pramana
5 hours ago, ⚸ Hughesation ⚸ said:

As you say, it is the relationship activities alone which differ from that if any heterosexual couple; a sexuality alone poses very little difference.

I posted some speculations about the relationship idea a week ago, as I was thinking it might represent a more pragmatic way of speaking, especially in the context of asexuality where there's so much diversity in terms of the types of relationships people are pursuing (so instead of an asexual dating site, the idea would be to have a dating site for people who want say a "nonsexual homoromantic relationship", and so forth). Now if the focus is on, for example, "wanting a nonsexual relationship", then emphasis would be moved from first to second order desires (and thus from "not a choice" to "choice" – barring debates about free will versus determinism). I realized that would create overlap between asexuals who prefer not to have sex and antisexual people who are celibate for ideological reasons, and I'm not sure if that's an advantage or not. Is what's most important "not wanting sex" or "not wanting sex for the same reasons"?

http://www.asexuality.org/en/topic/163909-relationships-and-orientation/

 

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⚸ Hughesation ⚸
41 minutes ago, Pramana said:

Now if the focus is on, for example, "wanting a nonsexual relationship", then emphasis would be moved from first to second order desires (and thus from "not a choice" to "choice" – barring debates about free will versus determinism). I realized that would create overlap between asexuals who prefer not to have sex and antisexual people who are celibate for ideological reasons, and I'm not sure if that's an advantage or not. Is what's most important "not wanting sex" or "not wanting sex for the same reasons"?

I would suggest that what defines a non-sexual relationship would be the lack of the sexual component; whilst reasons are important for gaining an more intimate understanding with said partner, these are often matters we can express at a later time, or even share in the likes of dating profiles. But, we are fundamentally seeking a relationship with specific boundaries, rather than seeking like-minded reasoning (although this may certainly be a plus).

 

Thank you for the link, I'll be happy to check out the thread. And also, thanks for the stimulating conversation :)

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