Professor: Dr. Leonard O’Brian
Scottsdale Community College
Office: SB 120
Office hours: To be determined
Office: 480.423.6212
Cell: 480.231.4471

Philosophy of Sexuality



This course explores philosophical questions about sexuality. Some of the questions are metaphysical, some ethical, and some epistemological. Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality. For example, “Is masturbation really sex?” Ethics is the branch of philosophy that examines principles regarding what we should do. For example, “Is it immoral to have sex with a person who, because of inebriation, may be unable to consent rationally?” Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that examines what we know and how we know. For example, “Can a person of one gender know what having sex is like for a person of another gender?”

The purpose of the course is to help you think more effectively about such questions. The purpose is not to provide you with answers. True, often I will argue for certain answers to the questions under discussion. Usually, however, I will not be trying to persuade you of these answers. Rather, I will be trying to stimulate thought, trying to encourage you to view questions from a new perspective, to approach them carefully and logically. In human experience, sexuality is important and controversial. Sexual topics, questions, and words elicit strong emotions. Emotions, feelings, intuitions or hunches can sometimes begin to point the way toward truth, but also can short-circuit our rational processes. Any philosophy course attempts to help students think carefully and logically about questions that arouse strong feelings and emotions. Such is the case in a Philosophy of Sexuality course. While we will sometimes begin the examination of a question by attending to our feelings or intuitions, we will always seek to go beyond our intuitions to a rational, relatively dispassionate, analysis of the question.

Textbook and Encyclopedias

Alan Soble, The Philosophy of Sex (Roman and Littlefield, fifth edition, 2008)
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (via SCC library homepage)
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (

We cannot examine all writings that Professor Soble has included. Instead, we will read a few writings; we will read them well. In class, I will announce readings as we proceed. You are responsible for being aware of these announcements.

Embracing Confusion

Philosophical growth requires emotional and intellectual activity. It does not occur passively, as a result of something done to one. Therefore, I expect each person to contribute to the class discussion, raising questions, criticizing arguments, and proposing ideas.

Inevitably, you will be confused in this course. Confusion is good. It signals that questions may be forming. Confusion thus provides a reason for speech rather than for silence. Confusion invites you into the discussion rather than exempting you from it. If you are confused, you can say so. You can ask for clarification. You help your classmates as well as yourself.

Class Sessions

I expect your involvement in our class, your presence in mind as well as in body. At the end of the semester, I consider class participation in determining your final grade. ‘Participation’ refers to attendance; to your oral contributions to the class; and to your observance of a spirit of class decorum, discussed immediately below. Reading the assignments carefully before class, thereby having questions to ask or comments to make, will improve the participation component of your grade, and can affect your final grade significantly. If you are already someone who likes to talk a lot in class, please note: The concept of participation implies allowing others to speak, as well.
Class sessions will conform to standard principles of decency and courtesy, e.g., deference toward others when they are speaking, tolerance of viewpoints that differ from your own, and respect for the questions and thinkers under discussion. These principles cannot be reduced to formulas: Each of us must exercise a bit of wisdom in determining how to interact with her or his colleagues in an academic setting. Nevertheless, five points will help.

  1. Arrive at class on time. (Flat tires happen: It is better to arrive late than not to arrive, but tardiness should not be habitual.)

  2. Your generation of students bears its own distinctive burden: You may need to learn that courtesy toward those people who occupy your immediate physical environment consists, partly, in not using electronic devices to communicate with other people who occupy another physical environment. So, upon entering the classroom, turn off communications devices. Put them away, out of sight, out of hearing, and beyond touch. Remove earplugs. (If you have urgent reason for leaving a device on but switching it to vibrating mode, see point 4 below. Otherwise, turn it off.) During class, do not send or read text messages. Do not make or take phone calls. Moreover, do not leave the room to text or phone. If you would like to use a laptop for note taking, consult with me first.

  3. When someone is speaking publicly, that is, speaking to the class, direct your attention to him or her. Once I have begun class, there will be much public communication, virtually noprivate communication.

  4. Remain in the room for the entire period. Normally, adults go to the bathroom before coming to class. Yes, time between classes is short, but it is better to arrive a moment after class has begun than to leave in the middle and then return. (If you have a medical or psychological condition that makes remaining in class for the entire period difficult, please discuss that condition with me as soon as possible.) Further, normally, a vibrating cell phone does not constitute reason to leave the room. (If a family member is in critical condition, say, because of a car accident or heart attack, you are worried about her condition and may be receiving a call from an emergency room, please mention the situation to me before class.)

  5. Maintain a demeanor of attention until I have dismissed class. I expect of my students an attentive demeanor throughout the period, and that expectation applies to the last few minutes. To illustrate, I ask that, before I adjourn our meeting, you refrain from closing books and notebooks; refrain from opening book bags; refrain from reaching for purses and backpacks; and refrain from pocketing pencils and pens. In short, refrain from any behavior that symbolizes psychological withdrawal from the classroom.

The student who appears to me to be violating any specific point above will receive one free warning. A second apparent violation will be accompanied not only by a warning but also by the possibility of my lowering the student’s final grade by one letter. A third apparent violation will be accompanied by the possibility of my withdrawing the student from the course.

If you have questions about these guidelines, or if you anticipate having a problem with any of them, please consult with me as soon as possible.

Indeed, regarding any problem that you are experiencing with our work together, you should consult with me as soon as possible. The sooner you communicate with me, the more effectively we can address the problem. Talk with me in person, phone me, or email me.

Academic Freedom

We abide by the ideal of academic freedom. In general, the ideal of academic freedom entails that essentially any belief or question about any aspect of human experience that bears on the discipline in question may serve as the topic of examination. In particular, with respect to the discipline of philosophy, any belief or question about any aspect of human experience may serve as the topic of examination, because all aspects of human experience pertain to philosophy. The same must be said about our specific discipline, Philosophy of Sexuality. In Philosophy of Sexuality, we will—we must—discuss ideas associated with strong feelings and controversy.

Our language—what we read, what we write, what we say in class—must reflect the principle of academic freedom. It would be impossible for us to conduct this course without language that refers to sexual experiences, processes, and organs. On occasion, visual representations—drawings, photographs, whatever—may augment our linguistic communication.

A distinction must be drawn between two ways that human beings employ words: Commonly, we "use" words; less frequently, we "mention" words. We use words when they refer to aspects of the world—that is, aspects of reality, or presumed reality, or imagined reality. By contrast, we mention words when they refer to themselves. For example, you use ‘puppy’ when you tell us that your puppy Delilah—a darling little dachshund—last night creatively devastated your bedroom; you mention ‘puppy’ when you define ‘puppy’ as referring to a young dog.

Now, there are certain words that a sensitive person might never use that she nevertheless would mention for some purpose, often the purpose of analyzing their meaning or significance. This course requires that we all be free to use language directly, precisely; nevertheless, that we use language as decorously and sensitively as possible within the constraints of precision and clarity. The course also requires that we all be free to mention words, usually for purposes of definition, analysis, and evaluation—whether or not these would be words that we would or should use.

This course excludes no aspect of human sexual experience. Since, according to some psychologists, the sexual and the non-sexual aspects of experience cannot be readily distinguished, the course, at least in principle, excludes no aspect of human experience in general. The course is for adults, for people who subscribe to the ideal of academic freedom, for students who seek the truth wherever it may be found.

Procedures, Requirements, Grading, Due Dates


You will write six papers (five, if you choose that an unwritten assignment serve as the lowest grade, which I do not count for your final average). Each paper will be submitted in your personal folder. The folder I will provide. Each paper will remain in the folder as you submit further papers; moreover, the comment sheets, which I attach to papers when I return them to you, will also remain in the folder, attached to their respective papers. Please do not send papers by email, other than in exceptional circumstances about which we would have conferred. The entire contents of the folders are confidential between you and me.

  1. On the outside of the front cover, a label indicates the day or days that our class meets, and the time that it meets. Please legibly print your name on that label.

    On the inside, another label asks for your telephone number and email address. Your phone number and email address are confidential. If you have any concerns about privacy, please talk with me personally. I take the confidentiality of our relationship and your right to privacy seriously.

    Also on the inside, beside your phone number and email address, would you kindly attach a photograph of yourself? I hope that this request does not constitute too much of an inconvenience. A photocopy of your driver’s license would do. (You may white out or black out any information that you want to keep private.) If you’re reasonably artistic, maybe you could give a sketch of yourself? I just would like some likeness that will help me remember your name. Thank you for your help in this regard.

  2. When you submit a paper, submit it in the folder—together with all previous papers and their respective comment sheets.

You are responsible for the maintenance and preservation of your personal folder and its contents. What if you lose your folder? What if someone steals your book bag, which contains the folder? What if someone steals your car, which contains your folder? You are still responsible. Thus, it would be a good idea to keep a secondary folder with photocopies of all papers (and any spontaneous writings) that you have submitted. Merely running off computer copies of your papers would not fully do the job, since these copies would not carry my comments. I want to see how you are progressing with respect to my comments. Moreover, the folder helps you to know how you are progressing.

If my initial scanning of a paper, before reading it, suggests that it may receive a grade of approximately D or lower, I will return it, essentially unread and unmarked. We will discuss the situation to determine what you need to do to improve your work. You may then re-write the paper, and turn it in with the original that I had returned to you. I will deduct something from the grade, but, hopefully, the grade will be better than it would have been had you not re-written the paper.

Requirements: Mechanical

All six papers must be typed and double-spaced. They should be printed in a standard, simple font, preferably a 12. (This syllabus is printed in Geneva 12.) Use standard margins, about an inch all the way around.

A one-page limit applies to all papers throughout the semester. This limit concerns the text of the paper only. (Please do not confuse the one-page requirement for this class with any one-page requirement for any of my other classes, since there may be differences; please follow this syllabus for this class.) Your name, my name, the number of the assignment (Assignment 3, Assignment 5, etc.), and the title of the paper should be on a separate cover sheet. Footnotes constitute another exception to the one-page requirement: A paper may run beyond one page to the extent of the length of the footnotes. In a one-page paper, any quotations should be few and brief.

Please observe the following principles.

1. Your name, my name, the number of the assignment (Assignment 2, Assignment 4, etc.), and a title for the paper should be typed or printed legibly on a separate page, giving you a full page for text.

2. To the extent possible, organize your thoughts before beginning the first draft; refine the organization as you write revisions.

3. The first sentence should state your thesis. The thesis is the single point that the paper seeks to establish; the paper argues for the presumed truth of the thesis. You cannot write a good paper if you cannot identify your thesis. In the interest of clarity, the paper should probably begin with the thesis. If you want to express the thesis in the second (or third?) sentence, you may do so, but express it early, not the in the middle or at the end of the paper. Usually, for a short, argumentative essay, the best sentence for the thesis is the first sentence.

4. Omit everything but thesis and argument. Assume that your reader understands the problem that you are addressing. Instead of explaining the problem, then following with your thesis and argument, begin with your thesis, following with your argument. If you refer to a particular philosopher, avoid biographical information.

5. Footnotes and a title page require at least two sheets of paper, possibly three. Please connect the sheets with a paper clip or staple.

6. Proofread for conciseness, clarity, grammar, and spelling.

7. Keep a copy of the paper.

Requirements: Ethical

Intellectual honesty is a fundamental academic virtue, plagiarism a fundamental academic vice. An act of plagiarism constitutes a serious academic offense. Papers must result from your own work; the ideas must be expressed in your own words, except when you cite the work of others. When you use the language of another author, you must (1) quote the author exactly, (2) set off the quoted material with quotation marks, and (3) identify the author, the publication and page(s) wherein the material appears. If you use the distinctive ideas of another, even though not his or her exact words, the person must be given credit by your identifying the person, the publication wherein his or her ideas appear, including the page(s). For some reason, students sometimes fail to indicate the page(s). Proper citation includes indication of the page(s). See the treatment of “Student Misconduct,” in the catalogue.
We will discuss footnoting further when I make your first assignment. If you have any doubts about the avoidance of plagiarism, it is your responsibility to ask me. There is nothing wrong in asking for clarification about the nature of plagiarism; indeed, asking for such clarification is commendable. There is much wrong, however, in plagiarizing. Neither Scottsdale Community College nor I tolerate plagiarizing. Any student who submits work as his or her own that is not his or her own will receive either a failing grade for the course or other appropriate reprimand or penalty.
Regarding use of the Internet, keep in mind that, at various sites, almost anyone, regardless of qualifications, can make claims. Sometimes these sources are fine, sometimes not. Please proceed cautiously: If you use the Internet, except for the Routledge or Stanford encyclopedias, you must append to your paper a printed version of either the complete text from which you have drawn, or, if the text is long, the portion of the material that is relevant. If you use the Routledge or Stanford encyclopedias, cite according to the stipulations of the respective source. In the case of the Routledge and Stanford encyclopedias, accurate, clean citation suffices; you need not append a printed version of the material.
Remember libraries and bookstores. By examining books and professional journals in libraries, such as the SCC or ASU libraries or public libraries, and good bookstores such as Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Changing Hands, you can reasonably suppose that the materials upon which you are drawing have survived at least some process of expert evaluation. University presses, though not the only good sources, are usually highly dependable. If the university press of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Chicago, Princeton, or Yale, and so on, has published a book, you can count on its having been adequately juried.
Whether your sources are electronic, oral, or paper, you must abide by the principle of intellectual honesty.


I will grade papers primarily according to (A) their reflection of an accurate understanding of the philosopher or problem in question; (B) their judicious focus; (C) their creative synthesis and analysis of ideas; (D) their careful reasoning in support of the thesis; and (E) their concise, clear, precise, grammatical expression. The one-page limit places a premium on focus, on judicious selection of support, and on conciseness of expression. Whether with respect to the topic itself, reasons, or words, eliminate whatever is least important until the one-page criterion is satisfied.

In addition to applying criteria (A)-(E), I will note whether you cite the Routledge On-line Encyclopedia at least once per paper. (The citation may be quotation or paraphrase.) I do not require that you cite the Routledge; but I take your doing so as indication that you are going beyond minimal requirements.

Papers should be submitted at the beginning of class on the date on which they are due. I will, however, accept a paper that is turned in later than the class meeting itself, provided that it is turned in on the date of that class meeting. What this allowance means, in practice, is that if a paper is due, say, on a particular Wednesday, and you have slid the folder containing the paper under my office door so that I receive the paper by the time that I enter the office on the immediately following Thursday, I consider the paper as being on time. Or, if it is due on a particular Thursday, and if I am not on campus Friday, but you have slid the folder containing the paper under my office door so that I receive the paper by the time that I enter the office on Monday, I consider the paper as being on time. If these conditions are not met, whether a paper is turned in late or is not turned in at all, it automatically becomes the assignment that receives the lowest grade, and thus is not figured in the determination of your paper grade average. Any additional papers that either are turned in late or not turned in at all automatically receive a grade of D.

Due Dates

First paper: R, 4 February
Second paper: R, 25 February
Spring break: Begins M, 15 March
Third paper: R, 25 March
Fourth paper: R, 8 April
Fifth paper: R, 29 April
Sixth paper: T, 11 May, scheduled day of final examination,


I require attendance. If you choose to be absent for some reason, you should explain that reason to me. Preferably, you should speak to me about the absence before it occurs, though emergencies can arise that preclude prior consultation. If you accumulate absences greater than the equivalent of two seventy-five minute meetings, I may withdraw you from the class. (See the college catalogue for possible exceptions.) I will not withdraw you, however, provided that it is clear to me, based on your communications with me, that you are taking your work in the course seriously and are thereby performing adequately. Absences accumulate from the first date that the class meets, not from the first date of your enrollment or attendance.

Course Grades

The total of points for the highest five of the six papers contributes about 75% toward your grade—in other words, each of the five is worth about 15%. The lowest grade of the six papers I drop. If you wish to write only five papers, the paper that you do not write becomes your lowest grade, and is dropped. Class participation, as I evaluate it, counts for about 25% of your course grade. Again, ‘Participation’ refers to attendance; to your oral contributions to the class; and to your observance of a spirit of class decorum, (See the discussion under “Class Sessions,” pages 2-4, above.). Reading the assignments carefully before class, thereby having questions to ask or comments to make, will improve the participation component of your grade considerably, and can affect your final grade significantly.


Under “Class Sessions,” I have asked that, with respect to any problem that you are having with our work together, you discuss it with me as soon as possible. If this process of communication has been occurring, we can (A) minimize the possibility that you will withdraw if, in fact, withdrawal is unnecessary, or (B) expedite withdrawal if, in fact, withdrawal would be appropriate. Thus, I will have been able to try to help you in any way that is feasible.


My office is SB 120. Please feel free to drop by. In addition, you may phone me at my office. Leave a message on voice mail if I am not in. You may also email me at the address given at the top of the syllabus. Should you need to reach me immediately and other methods have failed, you may call my cell phone.