What Is a Conservative Attitude Towards Sexual Relations?

Ed Feser recently explained that he had always been a conservative when it came to sexual morality. But in the comments I questioned whether he really meant that. Of course, every known society has had acceptable and unacceptable sexual practices: in few (if any) societies have entirely random couplings with whomever happened along, regardless of age, sex, or marital status, been acceptable. But I was thinking that Ed was endorsing Catholic sexual morality, which, while I think it is a quite sensible stance, cannot, I think, be properly described as "conservative."

That is because traditionally, in many cultures, and particularly, even in many Catholic cultures, there has been a tolerance for extra-marital affairs that is incompatible with the sexual morality that (I think) Ed means to endorse. In particular, it has commonly been thought that for married men to have a lady or two on the side was nothing extraordinary, and unmarried women, or women of very high birth, were sometimes granted similar license. One need merely count the number of mistresses and bastard children of various monarchs to see that this was so.

Now, I totally comprehend condemning this traditional way of things as a failure to live up to Christian principle, which holds the marital bond between a man and a woman to be sacred. And I can understand feminist objections to the traditional state of affairs, based on the fact that men were typically allowed significantly more sexual freedom than women. But what I do not understand is calling either of these objections "conservative": they are both reformist, calling for doing away with a traditional arrangement by invoking some higher, non-traditional standard.

Even though I consider myself a "conservative," in that I think traditions should be respected as a default position, barring some strong case against them, I do not think that every traditional way of doing things is immune to criticism or reform. And when I do endorse some reform, I don't try to call it "conservative"!


  1. Anonymous10:14 PM

    Conservatism, being a very relative term, often finds itself being the victim of its own philosophy; it sets out to be the tradition of traditions.

  2. "Because I want almost anything that doesn't yet exist; because I want to turn a silent people into a singing people; because I would rejoice if a wineless country could be a wine-growing country; because I would change a world of wage-slaves into a world of freeholders; because I would have healthy employment instead of hideous unemployment; because I wish folk, now ruled by other people's fads, to be ruled by their own laws and liberties; because I hate the established dirt and hate more the established cleanliness; because, in short, I want to alter nearly everything there is, a cursed, haughty, high-souled, well-informed, world-worrying, sky-scraping, hair-spliting, head-splitting, academic animal of a common quill-driving social reformer gets up and calls me a Conservative! Excuse me!" - Chesterton


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