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Philosophy of Sex and Love

Sexual objectification has been a hot topic since the rise of feminism. Scholars and feminists have divergent views of sexual objectification. Therefore, due to divergent views, some people may not see any bad in sexual objectification regardless of the premises it occurs. Marino and Nussbaum have different perspectives on what constitutes permissible sexual objectification. While Nussbaum considers relationship contexts as factors to consider when determining permissible sexual objectification, Marino maintains that genuine consent and respect for autonomy should form the basis for permissible sexual objectification. Therefore, I agree with Marino that genuine sexual consent should form the basis for permissible sexual objectification.

Marino’s view of sexual objectification being unproblematic is solely based on her view of the role of consent and respect for autonomy. She argues that sexual objectification can only be permissible if, for example, A consents to sexual objectification from A (Marino, 2008). However, her argument of consent and respect for autonomy being critical factors to consider if sexual objectification is to be considered permissible or not is based on the nature of consent. She argues that consent should be genuine for sexual objectification to be considered benign.

Moreover, she adds that background factors such as social equality and politics should form the basis of the genuineness of consent. In addition, she expounds that social and political pressures might force partners to consent to sexual objectification. In this case, Marino argues that genuine consent is impossible due to the deformed nature of people’s preferences in such circumstances (Marino, 2008). Therefore, Marino’s view of sexual objectification being permissible is solely based on the political and social factors that make consent genuine. She argues that in certain circumstances, such as economic hardship or social pressures, one might consent to sexual objectification but not genuinely.

The significant difference between Nussbaum’s views of sexual objectification and Marino’s own is the Relationship significant view. Nussbaum’s view of good sexual objectification is based on the relationship significance view, which has three aspects; mutuality, symmetry, and intimacy (Nussbaum, 1995). It is vital to remember that Marino is against using the relationship significance view as a condition to determine the permissibility of sexual objectification. Marino argues against using context to determine the permissibility of sexual objectification. She says using the type of relationships to justify sexual objectification is not robust. For her, the only condition that can justify sexual objectification is respect for persons’ autonomy, where the background context and not the relationship context is needed to determine if the consent is genuine or not. In contrast, Nussbaum argues that using a partner or person’ sexually may not be necessarily bad as long as it is done in the proper context and in the right way.

In addition, according to Nussbaum, “good” objectification is one where a respectful relationship has intimacy, mutuality, and symmetry. Hence good sexual objectification can only be considered as such if it happens in a significant relationship (Nussbaum, 1995). Therefore, according to Nussbaum, wrong sexual objectification is considered as such if one is treated as a means to an end and there is a denial of autonomy (Nussbaum, 1995). To further reject Nussbaum’s use of relationship significance view as conditions to determine the permissibility of sexual objectification, Marino argues that there are instances that can make sexual objectification not permissible even if it happens where there is an instrumentality, intimacy, and the partners’ consents.

Furthermore, Marino argues that due to narrative history and intimate relationships, partners may find it difficult to say “no” to sexual objectification for fear of being viewed by their partners as not intimate. Therefore, many partners may feel obliged to consent to sexual objectification in an intimate relationship even if they do not feel like it. This, therefore, contradicts Nussbaum’s uses of intimacy as a condition to determine if sexual objectification is permissible or not. Besides, she puts succinctly that “the complexities of intimate relationships ensure that the participants are involved in a web of interwoven requests, demands, and favors” (Marino, 2008). Thus, “intimacy may make use more morally troubling rather than less .”Therefore, Marino argues that it would easy for someone to sys no to sexual objectification from a stranger than they can say no to someone they are intimate with or even a friend.

Marino’s most significant critique of Nussbaum’s conditions of sexual objectification is solely based on the use of relationship contexts and not background contexts to determine the permissibility of sexual objectification. Nussbaum might defend herself from Marino’s criticism by arguing that they both agree on wrong sexual objectification. Nussbaum considers bad sexual objectification to be one where one is denied autonomy and is treated as mere means, similar to Marino’s view of what constitutes bad objectification. In my opinion, Marino’s description of violating one’s autonomy stems from background factors that might render the consent not genuine. However, Nussbaum’s view of the violation of one’s autonomy stems from relationship contexts factors which Marino is vehemently against.

The middle ground in Nussbaum’s and Marino’s view for when sexual objectification can be permissible is autonomy. They both agree that violating one’s autonomy amounts to wrong sexual objectification. Regardless of the differences in how they both arrive at the violation of one’s autonomy, they both agree that a lack of respect for autonomy constitutes bad sexual objectivity.

In my opinion, however, I agree with Marino’s conditions of permissible sexual objectivity. Respect for autonomy and the genuineness of the consent should be critical predictors of permissible sexual objectification. Although we all live in a society where we are subject to cultural and social dictates, in many cases, consenting to sexual objectification out of social and political pressure should not be acceptable. Consenting to sexual objectification should therefore be solely informed by one’s genuine consent. The consent should come from one’s own volition without being coerced by circumstances. In this respect, therefore, relationship contexts should not be used to justify sexual justification. As we have seen, it is usually difficult for people in intimate relationships or even friends to say no to sexual objectification due to the deformed nature of their preferences.


Marino, P. (2008). The Ethics of Sexual Objectification: Autonomy and Consent.

Nussbaum, Martha C. (1995). Objectification.


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