The Ethical Significance of Being an Erotic Object

In David Boonin (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Sexual Ethics. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 55-71 (2022)
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Discussions of sexual ethics often focus on the wrong of treating another as a mere object instead of as a person worthy of respect. On this view, the task of sexual ethics becomes putting the other’s subjectivity above their status as erotic object so as to avoid the harms of objectification. Ward and Anderson argue that such a view disregards the crucial, moral role that erotic objecthood plays in sexual encounters. Important moral features of intimacy are disclosed through the experience of being an erotic object for another, as well as in perceiving another as an erotic object. Drawing on phenomenology, especially the insights of Simone de Beauvoir, Ward and Anderson argue that erotic encounters are shaped by the human condition of ambiguity, where being an object for others is intertwined with bodily agency. Because sexual agency is complex in this way, theories of sexual ethics and responsibility must widen their focus beyond transparent communication and authoritative expressions of will.

Author Profiles

Ellie Anderson
Pomona College
Caleb Ward
Universität Hamburg


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