Masturbation and the Continuum of Sexual Activities

In Raja Halwani, Jacob M. Held, Natasha McKeever & Alan Soble (eds.), The Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings, 8th edition. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 69-93 (2022)

Some philosophical accounts imply that masturbation is inferior sexual activity. Against this, Soble argues that masturbation is central. Relying on the physical-anatomical indistinguishability of sexual act-types, he derives a Zeno-style paradox about sexual activity: either all sexual activity (even ordinary coitus) is masturbatory or none of it is (not even solitary masturbation). Soble argues for the first horn of the dilemma, thus ensuring that solitary masturbation is a member of the continuum of sexual activities. Going beyond anatomy, Soble also argues that the central psychological features of paired sexual activity are normally exhibited also by solitary masturbation, which further establishes that solitary masturbation is on the continuum of sexual activity. Altogether, Soble's arguments support a "unary" model of sexuality, compelling us to take seriously the genuine sexual nature of solitary masturbation, a result that is important for the philosophy of sex, the scientific study of sexuality, and the politics of human sexuality.
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