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Augustine, Immanuel Kant, and, sometimes, Sigmund Freud, perceive the sexual impulse and acting on it to be something nearly always, if not necessarily, unbefitting the dignity of the human person; they see the essence and the results of the drive to be incompatible with more significant and lofty goals and aspirations of human existence; they fear that the power and demands of the sexual impulse make it a danger to harmonious civilized life; and they find in sexuality a severe threat not only to our proper relations with, and our moral treatment of, other persons, but also equally a threat to our own humanity.

Sexual pleasure at most has instrumental value, in inducing us to engage in an act that has procreation as its primary purpose. , not to the subjection of the spirit to the flesh in a sordid servitude" (, bk. Sexual activity involves pleasing the self and the other at the same time, and these exchanges of pleasure generate both gratitude and affection, which in turn are bound to deepen human relationships and make them more emotionally substantial. By awakening us to the living presence of someone else, sexuality can enable us to treat this other being as just the person he or she happens to be. A similar distinction between sexuality per se and eros is described by C. Lewis in his (chapter 5), and it is perhaps what Allan Bloom has in mind when he writes, "Animals have sex and human beings have eros, and no accurate science [or philosophy] is possible without making this distinction" (, p. The divide between metaphysical optimists and metaphysical pessimists might, then, be put this way: metaphysical pessimists think that sexuality, unless it is rigorously constrained by social norms that have become internalized, will tend to be governed by vulgar eros, while metaphysical optimists think that sexuality, by itself, does not lead to or become vulgar, that by its nature it can easily be and often is heavenly.

Such views are common among Christian thinkers, for example, St. and never relaxes his hold upon it except when intent on offspring, and then controls and applies it to the carnal generation of children . Further, and this is the most important point, sexual pleasure is, for a metaphysical optimist, a valuable thing in its own right, something to be cherished and promoted because it has intrinsic and not merely instrumental value. (See the entry, Philosophy of Love.) Of course, we can and often do evaluate sexual activity : we inquire whether a sexual act—either a particular occurrence of a sexual act (the act we are doing or want to do right now) or a type of sexual act (say, all instances of homosexual fellatio)—is morally good or morally bad.

(See Russell Vannoy's spirited defense of the value of sexual activity for its own sake, in .) Irving Singer is a contemporary philosopher of sexuality who expresses well one form of metaphysical optimism: "For though sexual interest resembles an appetite in some respects, it differs from hunger or thirst in being an sensitivity, one that enables us to delight in the mind and character of other persons as well as in their flesh. Note that if a specific type of sexual act is morally wrong (say, homosexual fellatio), then every instance of that type of act will be morally wrong.

Though at times people may be used as sexual objects and cast aside once their utility has been exhausted, this is no[t] . However, from the fact that the particular sexual act we are now doing or contemplate doing is morally wrong, it does not follow that any specific type of act is morally wrong; the sexual act that we are contemplating might be wrong for lots of different reasons having nothing to do with the type of sexual act that it is.

Conceptual analysis (for example: what are the distinctive features of a desire that make it sexual desire instead of something else?

In what ways does seduction differ from nonviolent rape?

In some cases, of course, a particular sexual act will be wrong for several reasons: not only is it wrong because it is of a specific type (say, it is an instance of homosexual fellatio), but it is also wrong because at least one of the participants is married to someone else (it is wrong also because it is adulterous).

We can also evaluate sexual activity (again, either a particular occurrence of a sexual act or a specific type of sexual activity) : nonmorally "good" sex is sexual activity that provides pleasure to the participants or is physically or emotionally satisfying, while nonmorally "bad" sex is unexciting, tedious, boring, unenjoyable, or even unpleasant.

Conceptual analysis is carried out in the philosophy of sexuality in order to clarify the fundamental notions of sexual desire and sexual activity.

Conceptual analysis is also carried out in attempting to arrive at satisfactory definitions of adultery, prostitution, rape, pornography, and so forth.

Thus the philosophy of sexuality is concerned with the perennial questions of sexual morality and constitutes a large branch of applied ethics.