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Statement on Sexual Ethics for the 21st Century

From the Association of Humanistic Rabbis: A Statement on Sexual Ethics for the 21st Century

 

Background

From the time of its founding, Secular Humanistic Judaism has demonstrated an openness to societal change. This has included calls for the freedom, equality, and empowerment of all people with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Throughout human history, traditional religions have frequently placed human sexuality and sexual behaviors at the center of their concern. In most cases this has resulted in the creation of restrictive rules concerning human sexuality that limited or eliminated the freedom, equality, and empowerment of all human beings with regard to sexual behaviors and relationships, frequently through suppression and oppression.

In recent decades, free societies have increasingly loosened these restrictions as individuals have empowered themselves with more freedom of sexual expression. For some this has meant rejecting traditional assumptions about the connection between sexual conduct and committed relationships. For others it has led to new understandings about what constitutes committed relationships. Alongside these positive developments, our society is also exhibiting a growing awareness of the urgency to address our long history of sexual exploitation, including harassment, abuse of power, and violence.

For all of these reasons, the time has come to offer ethical guidance regarding sexual conduct and sexual relationships in our times. We are confident that core elements of our Humanistic philosophy – particularly those that speak to respecting the dignity of every person and those that underscore the necessity of personal responsibility – can provide a path to ethical decision-making in these areas.

Human Sexuality

1. We acknowledge the reality that human sexuality is the result of an evolutionary process that shaped it for both procreational and non-procreational purposes and recognize that the vast majority of expressions of human sexuality are non-procreational;

2. We commit to the freedom and empowerment of all adults to full consensual sexual expression, be it monogamous or polyamorous.

 

Dignity and Consent

1. We conclude that respect for the dignity of all persons demands – as a precondition to any sexual conduct – the willing participation of all parties to all sexual activities through free, fully informed, unambiguous, and affirmative consent;

2. We note that the right to fully informed, unambiguous, and affirmative consent is not to be assumed by the existence of committed or other pre-existing relationships between or among participants and is to be understood as revocable at all times;

3. We encourage all parties to share information regarding their sexual health with partners.

 

Responsibility

1. We affirm that it is the responsibility of all participants in sexual activities to ensure that sexual conduct between or among individuals be free of coercion;

2. We particularly emphasize the special responsibility of those who occupy a relational power imbalance with respect to others – be it in the workplace, educational settings, or in any other domain in which one or more participants in a sexual relationship may wield power or influence over others – to remain acutely aware that sexual coercion is frequently implied or inferred as a result of an imbalance of power.

 

Freedom of Choice

1. We endorse the freedom and empowerment of all adults who choose to enter into committed relationships, whether closed or open, whether comprised of two adults or more, as long as all parties freely assent to any self-imposed restrictions upon sexual conduct, and so long as the rights of all parties to fully informed, unambiguous, and affirmative consent is continuously respected;

2. We deem it important that all individuals who enter into committed relationships, whether closed or open, whether comprised of two adults or more, pay attention to their responsibilities regarding the rearing of children within the families they may create, including the necessity of considering the welfare and best interests of children at all times, even when these bonds are dissolved.

 

Education

1. We recognize that sexual experimentation and activity among post-pubescent youth is normal and that for this reason adults are obligated to provide psychologically sound, scientifically accurate, and developmentally appropriate sexual education; that such education should include information about contraception, the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy options including termination; and that it should emphasize the utmost importance of the ethical principles communicated in this statement regarding responsibility and consent;

2. We advocate that all communication to children and post-pubescent youth regarding sexual matters should be both developmentally appropriate and non-disparaging about issues such as masturbation; sexual development; sexual orientations; gender identities; the need for fully informed, unambiguous, and affirmative consent; and similar topics; and that parents or other caregivers should consult professional resources when seeking to provide sexual education to children;

3. We are aware of the ubiquity of sexually explicit media accessible to children and post-pubescent youth and we urge parents and other caregivers to engage in developmentally appropriate communication about sexuality, including its portrayals in all forms of media.

 

Legal Reform

1. We urge the legal system to focus its concerns regarding sexual activities on nonconsensual activities, including sexual violence or other violations perpetrated by acquaintances or others, and the sex trafficking of minors and others;

2. We call upon governments to revoke all criminal penalties attached to sexual activities and relationships between or among fully informed, independent, unambiguously, and affirmatively consenting adults, including those imposed upon sex work.

 

Conclusion

As Secular Humanistic Rabbis, we take seriously any breaches of these ethical guidelines within our own institutions and are committed to addressing them responsibly, both individually and collectively.