Is it immoral to have sex in public places? If so, what are the rational and empirical reasons?

Most people believe it’s immoral to have sex in public places. Have ethicists come up with any good arguments for avoiding the charge of immorality? It seems as if it's a universal philosophical notion, which doesn't seem common.

  • 1
    Do most people believe that it is immoral, or just inappropriate for pragmatic reasons such as sanitary concerns and social disruption? After all, pornography is publicly available.
    – Conifold
    Oct 30 '20 at 21:30
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    This is a question about religion, not philosophy.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 30 '20 at 21:33
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    @HotLicks: I don't think so. Just because the churches of abrahamic religions like to condemn anything that has to do with sex (I guess celibacy is a factor here), this does not make every question about sexual practice a question about religion. Morality is often influenced by religion, yes. But religion is not the only, nor ultimate, source of moral rules.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Oct 30 '20 at 21:41
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    Legalities aside, more an issue of consideration and respect for others. Not everyone wants to see your naughty bits. Keep it for consenting adults. The public hasn't given their consent.
    – user4894
    Oct 30 '20 at 23:11
  • Hope you don't mind, but as Mr. Kloecking has recognized there are other factors of morality besides reason and religion.
    – J D
    Oct 31 '20 at 1:47

I think your question is more aligned with science or anthropology than philosophy.

It isn't just a matter of having sex. How many places are there where a person could merely walk around naked in public without getting arrested?

Our sex culture is deeply rooted in biology.

Humans are among the very few a animals that both mate face to face and walk erect. (As far as I know, we're the ONLY species for which both are true.) We're also very visual creatures.

There are cultures where nudity is OK, but I think sex is something that generally doesn't mix well with large numbers of people. It's simply too distracting at best.

Your question might even be somewhat related to the question of why most of the great philosophers had so little to say about sex and relationships. Were they all celibate monks?

In summary, human sexuality is unique and has evolved quite recently. On top of that, our sexual behavior has to adapt itself to a growing population and rapidly changing cultures. I would venture to guess that the simple fact that diverse societies in a sense don't know how to handle sex makes it more confusing and a little scary.

  • Is it your intention to suggest that morality is often studied by the anatomist than the ethicist who is an expert in morality and can also be informed by science?
    – J D
    Oct 31 '20 at 1:41
  • I'm still upvoting for the great insight that science tremendously informs the nature of morality, such as a sociobiological interpretation of altruism.
    – J D
    Oct 31 '20 at 1:44
  • I believe philosophers attempt to give morality some sort of grounding, or foundation. For example, people who subscribe to a particular religion may cite their respective holy book (e.g. the Bible) as a source for their moral code. People who view Nature or the universe as "God," may see Nature as a foundation for THEIR moral code. I don't completely understand your question, but. I think biology can be a foundation for morality. Oct 31 '20 at 4:34
  • Oh, morality for many is absolutely rooted in evolution. Here's an ethological perspective by de Waal.
    – J D
    Oct 31 '20 at 4:41
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    I don't know the answer to that question. However, scientists and ethicists can both be blinded by their "belief systems." Moreover, scientists, like philosophers, are guided - or should be - by rational inquiry. That isn't true of at least some religions. If you have to choose between ethical codes promoted by scientists, Christians, Buddhists and atheists, which one are you going to choose? Oct 31 '20 at 4:52

It’s about why morality evolved. Shame evolved to avoid being vulnerable, for instance while defecating. Disgust evolved to avoid hazards from infection. Humans hijacked these to serve cultural ends, and then have applied reasoning and develop cultural practices which moderate shame & disgust where it’s not relevant to harms, and to provide legal and other backing where these instincts aren't enough, or to enforce consequences to violating the prescriptions which usually have had an evolutionary basis (but cultural variation is dramatic, showing how sophisticated a route to varied social practice it has been).

Only two species are known to have sex so overwhelmingly in private. In our case, it seems to be linked to human’s complex cooperative behaviour, & monogamy (crèche rearing young is known to result in more mirror neutrons, & monogamy has allowed more resources for long infancy) https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2020/08/12/why-do-humans-mate-in-private-instinct-or-morality

  • Bonobos have orgies to avoid the Hobbesian trap. Sadly, humans are more closely aligned to chimps in this aspect.
    – J D
    Oct 31 '20 at 1:43

Some philosophers have practiced sex in public places. Diogenes the Cynic engaged in public sex, though only with himself.

His point was to confront his fellow Athenians with the truth of their animal nature. Most of us, however, prefer a life of self-consciousness and feel some pride in the fact that we are not merely dogs, from which the word Cynic derives.

I suspect rational consciousness, which is always self-consciousness is the reason this taboo is so nearly universal. There have always been exhibitionists, voyeurs, middle-class "swingers," romantics, and radicals who promote such "liberation" from social constraints.

But as far as I know, modern philosophy have not devoted much time to this particular problem. Possibly Zizek has something to say about it; since he has something to say about everything. If sex in public can be shown to be moral in a deontic sense, then the State should certainly make it mandatory.

  • @Sazzad Hissain Khan - Public places are places that can include kids. You will probably find information researching natural rights vs social contracts and how blurry of a line this becomes. Diogenes is a great starting place to research, I would be interested to hear what you find.
    – Noah
    Oct 31 '20 at 4:42

Those who think human is only an animal having intelligence, can take this as rather amoral.

By moral, if it implies something good for the coming generation also, this is never moral. On the contrary, since this does something bad to the coming generation this is immoral.

If we are higher order animal we should be able to control our animal instincts. Otherwise we had better think that evolution is still taking place in the minute level.

If one observes he/she can understand that the level of 'humanliness' (humanity) differs from person to person. If one's developed 'intelligence' says that humanity is moving towards divinity, having sex in public place is immoral. There is a great possibility of popping up of some other latent emotions if this is allowed. This must be the religious, rational and empirical reason behind the aversion towards this type of behavior.

You may verify whether this is fully religious or not:



  • You seem to imply that seeing people having sex could be damaging to children. Other than the common habits (which affect me as well), is there any argument making this inherently true? The flower power movement seemed to try to question that, for example.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Oct 31 '20 at 9:59
  • Your first statement is true. It affects not only children but others also. "Other than the common habits (which affect me as well), is there any argument making this inherently true?" ~ I believe, from the link, you could imagine the consequences happening in the onlooking children...changes in the hormones, thought etc. Would they be promote their growth as a good person or not? Just imagine what happens if our senses are unleashed without any control. (For the last statement) ~ I didn't mean passive resistance. Oct 31 '20 at 16:27
  • Please read this quote of Holy Mother Sarada Devi - wife of Sri Ramakrishna: "If you practice spiritual disciplines for some time in a solitary place, you will find that your mind has become strong, and then you can live in any place or society without being in the least affected by it. When the plant is tender it should be hedged around. But when it has grown big not even cows and goats can injure it. Spiritual practices in a solitary place are essential." Oct 31 '20 at 16:43
  • This is not only the case of devotees but also children. In the case of controlling senses many of us are only children. I didn't mean the passive resistance of a chicken-hearted fellow. Nov 1 '20 at 1:48

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