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Should We Biochemically Enhance Sexual Fidelity?

  • Robbie Arrell (a1)
Abstract

In certain corners of the moral enhancement debate, it has been suggested we ought to consider the prospect of supplementing conventional methods of enhancing sexual fidelity (e.g. relationship counselling, moral education, self-betterment, etc.) with biochemical fidelity enhancement methods. In surveying this argument, I begin from the conviction that generally-speaking moral enhancement ought to expectably attenuate (or at least not exacerbate) vulnerability. Assuming conventional methods of enhancing sexual fidelity are at least partially effective in this respect – e.g., that relationship counselling sometimes successfully attenuates the particular vulnerability victims of infidelity feel – then presumably the case for supplementing conventional methods with biochemical methods turns, in part, on the claim that doing so will better promote attenuation of victim vulnerability.

In this chapter I argue that on a sufficiently sophisticated conception of what this vulnerability consists in, biochemical methods of enhancing fidelity will not expectably attenuate victims’ vulnerability. Moreover, when combined with conventional methods, biochemical methods will predictably tend to undermine whatever attenuation conventional methods expectably promote in that respect. Thus, I conclude that couples committed to saving their relationship following an instance of sexual infidelity have reason to prefer conventional methods of enhancing sexual fidelity sans biochemical methods to conventional methods plus biochemical methods.

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1 I provide no real argument for this assertion here. I merely assume that if you value your partner's sexual fidelity, their being sexually unfaithful will constitute a harm to you. I also assume that being in a sexually open or otherwise non-monogamous relationship does not insulate against such harms; by the shared norms of even open or polygamous relationships there are still persons who are presumably deemed off-limits (e.g. partners’ siblings, parents, friends, etc.), such that having sex with them would constitute a harmful sexual betrayal. For ease of exposition, I will also assume that sexual infidelity involves sexual intercourse. I do not as a matter of fact believe sexual infidelity requires intercourse, but the debate about what does constitute sexual infidelity is beyond the remit of this essay.

2 Betzig, Laura, ‘Causes of Conjugal Dissolution: A Cross-Cultural Study’, Current Anthropology 30:5 (1989), 654676; Amato, Paul R. and Previti, Denise, ‘People's Reasons for Divorcing: Gender, Social Class, the Life Course, and Adjustment’, Journal of Family Issues 24:5 (2003), 602626.

3 Daly, Martin and Wilson, Margo, ‘Evolutionary Social Psychology and Family Homicide’, Science 242:4878 (1988), 519524, 521.

4 Snyder, Douglas K., Castellani, Angela M., and Whisman, Mark A., ‘Current Status and Future Directions in Couple Therapy’, Annual Review of Psychology 57 (2006), 317344.

5 Savulescu, Julian and Sandberg, Anders, ‘Neuroenhancement of Love and Marriage: The Chemicals Between Us’, Neuroethics 1:1 (2008), 3144; Earp, Brian D., Sandberg, Anders, and Savulescu, Julian, ‘Natural Selection, Childrearing, and the Ethics of Marriage (and Divorce): Building a Case for the Neuroenhancement of Human Relationships’, Philosophy & Technology 25:4 (2012), 561587; Earp, Brian D., Wudarczyk, Olga A., Sandberg, Anders, and Savulescu, Julian, ‘If I Could Just Stop Loving You: Anti-Love Biotechnology and the Ethics of a Chemical Breakup’, The American Journal of Bioethics 13:11 (2013), 317.

6 Garcia, Justin R., MacKillop, James, Aller, Edward L., Merriwether, Ann M., Wilson, David Sloan, and Lum, J. Koji, ‘Associations between Dopamine D4 Receptor Gene Variation with Both Infidelity and Sexual Promiscuity’, PLoS One 5:11 (2010), e14162; Zietsch, Brendan P., Westberg, Lars, Santtila, Pekka, and Jern, Patrick, ‘Genetic Analysis of Human Extrapair Mating: Heritability, Between-Sex Correlation, and Receptor Genes for Vasopressin and Oxytocin’, Evolution and Human Behaviour 36:2 (2015), 130136.

7 Earp, et al., ‘Natural Selection, Childrearing, and the Ethics of Marriage (and Divorce)’, 583. Emphasis in original.

8 Savulescu and Sandberg, ‘Neuroenhancement of Love and Marriage’, 37.

9 Douglas, Thomas, ‘Moral Enhancement’, Journal of Applied Philosophy 25:3 (2008), 228245, 229.

10 DeGrazia, David, ‘Moral Enhancement, Freedom, and What We (Should) Value in Moral Behaviour’, Journal of Medical Ethics 40:6 (2014), 361368, 362–363. Emphasis in original.

11 DeGrazia, ‘Moral Enhancement, Freedom, and What We (Should) Value in Moral Behaviour’, 363. Emphasis in original.

12 Douglas, ‘Moral Enhancement’, 229.

13 Douglas, ‘Moral Enhancement’, 230.

14 Persson, Ingmar and Savulescu, Julian, Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Persson, Ingmar and Savulescu, Julian, ‘Moral Enhancement, Freedom and the God Machine’, Monist 95:3 (2012), 399421; Persson, Ingmar and Savulescu, Julian, ‘Getting Moral Enhancement Right: The Desirability of Moral Bioenhancement’, Bioethics 27:3 (2013), 124131.

15 Persson and Savulescu, Unfit for the Future.

16 The Harry and Karen case introduced in this section is loosely adapted from the storyline involving those characters (played by Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson) in the 2003 Richard Curtis film Love Actually.

17 Earp, et al., ‘Natural Selection, Childrearing, and the Ethics of Marriage (and Divorce)’, 583. Parenthetical references in original.

18 Earp, et al., ‘Natural Selection, Childrearing, and the Ethics of Marriage (and Divorce)’, 562. Emphasis in original.

19 Earp, Brian D., Sandberg, Anders, and Savulescu, Julian, ‘Brave New Love: The Threat of High-Tech “Conversion” Therapy and the Bio-Oppression of Sexual Minorities’, AJOB Neuroscience 5:1 (2014), 412, 5.

20 Earp, et al., ‘Brave New Love’, 4–5.

21 Pettit, Philip, The Robust Demands of the Good (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 111115.

22 Pettit, The Robust Demands of the Good, 120–137.

23 More specifically, your partner is capable of inflicting certain wrongs on you or hurting you in ways that strangers are not; i.e., wrongs rendered “special” in virtue of facts about the special relationship you share. Strangers are of course perfectly capable of imposing on you all sorts of general harms or wrongs, but it would be bizarre to charge a stranger with the wrong of being sexually unfaithful to you in the absence of any kind of sexually exclusive relationship between you. Additionally, even when a stranger is capable of inflicting a wrong on you that is qualitatively similar to some wrong your partner might inflict on you, the partner-inflicted wrong will be special in a manner that the stranger-inflicted wrong cannot be, since in addition to the substantive wrong suffered the former also comprises a betrayal. This is why it feels worse if your partner steals money from your bank account than if an anonymous hacker steals from your account, even when the sum stolen is the same.

24 Earp, et al., ‘Brave New Love’, 4–5.

25 For an illuminating discussion of noncognitive moral enhancements, see Douglas, , ‘Moral Enhancement via Direct Emotion Modulation: A Reply to John Harris’, Bioethics 27:3 (2013) 160168.

26 This is straightforwardly true insofar as threats and chastity devices are not “biotechnologies”, but plugging them into the authors’ ethical framework for illustrative purposes should not, I hope, do them too great a disservice.

27 Earp, et al., ‘Brave New Love’, 5. The text that appears in brackets in the first criterion conveys detail from a footnote found in the original.

28 Alexa Tsoulis-Reay, ‘What It's Like to Be Chemically Castrated’, New York Magazine, December 2015: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/11/what-its-like-to-be-chemically-castrated.html.

29 Earp, et al., ‘If I Could Just Stop Loving You’, 10.

30 Douglas, ‘Moral Enhancement’, 230.

31 Douglas, ‘Moral Enhancement’, 231.

32 Earp, et al., ‘Natural Selection, Childrearing, and the Ethics of Marriage (and Divorce)’, 576.

33 Indeed, not only might it never be as clear to Karen that bioenhanced Harry is faithful because he is appropriately and sufficiently disposed to be, and not for merely contingent reasons (e.g., because he is fidelity drugged), but what the truth of the matter is will perhaps never be as clear even to Harry himself.

34 Earp, et al., ‘Natural Selection, Childrearing, and the Ethics of Marriage (and Divorce)’, 576.

35 Earp, et al., ‘Natural Selection, Childrearing, and the Ethics of Marriage (and Divorce)’, footnote 15, 572.

36 Earp, et al., ‘Natural Selection, Childrearing, and the Ethics of Marriage (and Divorce)’, 562–564.

37 Earp, et al., ‘Natural Selection, Childrearing, and the Ethics of Marriage (and Divorce)’, 564. Emphasis in original.

38 Earp, et al., ‘Natural Selection, Childrearing, and the Ethics of Marriage (and Divorce)’, footnote 15, 572.

39 Earp, et al., ‘Natural Selection, Childrearing, and the Ethics of Marriage (and Divorce)’, 564.

40 Savulescu and Sandberg, ‘Neuroenhancement of Love and Marriage’, 38.

41 I am grateful to Andrew Komasinski for impressing upon me the need to deal with this objection.

42 I thank Rob Sparrow for his extremely detailed and helpful comments; the audience at the 2016 ‘Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference’ hosted by Monash University, Australia; and the audience at the ‘International Conference on Applied Ethics: The Past, Present and Future of Applied Ethics’ hosted by Hokkaido University, Japan.  I would also like to thank Michael Selgelid, from whom I received helpful feedback on the seed of the argument that became this essay.

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Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements
  • ISSN: 1358-2461
  • EISSN: 1755-3555
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