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Blog 4: Should Prostitution be Made Legal?

Prostitution, “the world’s oldest profession,” is fraught with stereotypes of immorality, filth, and disease. This is partially because of its continued criminalization in much of the world. It continues to be controversial issue, even though it has been around for thousands of years. Many people, such as the religious and some feminists are opposed to prostitution on moral grounds, whether they see it as harmful to women or to society. It has been called “white slavery.” Others against prostitution follow legal grounds, citing consistency of law enforcement as more important than legalization. On the other side of the debate are people who believe that prostitution should be legalized. Some of these people are feminists themselves, and the issue of agency and personal freedom is one main reason for legalization. Another argument proponents of legalization make is that the laws and policies we have in place against sex work in much of the world are not stemming the incidence of prostitution, but are making it more dangerous. Health and safety are important aspects of both sides of this issue.

Some believe that it is more important to standardize enforcement of current laws regarding prostitution than to reform the laws themselves or remove punitive policies. Criminalization has often affected only the sellers of sex, who are disproportionately arrested more than the buyers (Johnson, 2014, p 717). Throughout the history of prostitution in the US, Americans have “almost universally refused to legalize and regulate prostitution” (Johnson, 2014, p 720). With this knowledge, it is clear that enforcing the laws that already exist with an even hand is more likely to be effective and accepted than completely changing the laws. We don’t arrest “johns” (purchasers of sex), nearly as much as prostitutes, partially because of discrimination and the fact that police use male decoys, partially because it is harder to catch johns (although many police do not try and many courts do not delve deeply into evidence when johns do appear) (Johnson, 2014, p 727). As both johns and prostitutes profit from sex in a reciprocal exchange, both should be punished equally under existing law (Johnson, 2014, p 744).

One side of feminism is of the view that prostitution manifests a systemic problem of male domination in politics, economics, and society overall (Johnson, 2014, p 722). As posited by the former Swedish Minister of Gender Equality, Margareta Winberg, often women and children in prostitution are those who are marginalized economically and ethically, treated as a “caste of people whose purpose is to sexually service men” (Farley, 2013, p. 370). Prostitution is part of rape culture that encourages male violence and is harmful to women (more like slavery than liberation) (Farley, 2013, p. 370). There is psychological damage associated with being a prostitute, with most experiencing emotional distress and two thirds of people in prostitution meeting criteria for PTSD in a 9 country study (Farley, 2013, p. 371). One survivor, a lap dancer, says she can no longer tolerate the touch of any man, and from their hateful remarks toward her she has come away with “numb disinterest” (Farley, 2013, p. 371-2). Impoverished women enslaved in countries like China and Vietnam are transported to the US and renamed “migrant sex workers,” denying violent racism and implying free choice (Farley, 2013, p. 372). Third party control of prostitution shows up in pimping as high as 80% of all prostitution, and this type of coercive control meets “most legal definitions of trafficking” (Farley, 2013, p. 373). Commodification of women into objects sets prostitution up for violence and is a dehumanizing process (Farley, 2013, p. 373).

Prostitution is rarely a choice, more often being a last resort to continue survival when other alternatives exist; 89% of those in prostitution said they did the work because they had no alternative means to survive economically and saw no means of escape (Farley, 2013, p. 374). Women in prostitution show higher rates of being sexually abused as children than other women, and then they grow up to be paid for similar forms of abuse (Farley, 2013, p. 374). Coerced consent is not truly consent. Just because a woman knows what type of work she is getting into, this does not necessarily give her control of the situation or means to avoid it. Harm reduction programs offering support groups and free condoms are not enough, because they do not offer prostitutes a means of escape from the work (Farley, 2013, p. 376). Those who buy sex are predatory, often having attitudes that justify violence and objectification of women (Farley, 2013, p. 376). Coercive methods used by pimps and traffickers are very similar to those used in slavery as listed in the Thirteenth Amendment: “being deprived of food, sleep and money, being beaten and being raped, being tortured and threatened with death” (Farley, 2013, p. 379). Being choiceless is inherent to both prostitution and slavery, and in both situations, desperation can keep people in the same situation. Women who have survived prostitution see the experience as highly degrading (Farley, 2013, p. 382). Prostitution is bestial and encourages inequality and violence (Farley, 2013, p. 384).

Some human rights activists and feminists believe that legalization of prostitution would help the health, agency, and legal harms that sex workers face. The International guidelines on HIV/AIDS and human rights states that sex work that doesn’t involve victimization should be decriminalized and then the health and safety aspects of it should be legally regulated to support both sex workers and their clients (Overs & Loff, 2013, p. 187). Overs and Loff state that United Nations agencies and groups of sex workers argue that criminalizing sex work has a negative impact on the workers’ health and human rights; the sex workers are adversely affected by laws and enforcement that actually result in higher exposure to violence and HIV, and lower their access to health services and education (2013, p. 187). Advocates of law reform argue that legitimization of sex work would protect sex workers from exploitation, and allow for trade in safer work places (Overs & Loff, 2013, p. 187).

In areas that have legal, regulated prostitution such as New Zealand, public health measures can be undertaken to reduce health risks to both client and worker (Overs & Loff, 2013, p. 188). Here, it is illegal to buy or sell unprotected sex; in many regions, medical examinations for STIs and HIV are required or strongly encouraged, and in other places like Nevada, sex workers cannot work if they have an STI (Overs & Loff, 2013, p. 188). In some regions that do not permit prostitution, sex workers are forced to undergo STI and HIV testing anyway, and their pictures are published along with their test results (Overs & Loff, 2013, p. 188). HIV in sex work presents the same problems whether prostituting is legal or criminal, but in the criminal case the workers are already not complying within parameters of the legal sector (Overs & Loff, 2013, p.188).

It is difficult to make policies regarding prostitution because enforcement rarely follows formal law and is based on discretion; this leads the policies to be prone to corruption (Overs & Loff, 2013, p. 188). Incarceration of sex workers can further their health risks by exposing them to assault, sexual violence, and depriving them of medications such as those for HIV (Overs & Loff, 2013, p. 189). Sex workers are disproportionately affected by lack of citizenship rights due to lack of legal status of the work, social stigma, or migrant status (Overs & Loff, 2013, p. 189). This places them in a disadvantaged position, making it difficult to attain lawful accommodation or health services and leading to vulnerability to loan sharks and other unscrupulous manipulators (Overs & Loff, 2013, p. 189).

When the law prohibits access to commercial sex in certain venues, sex workers will find other ways to conduct their affairs, whether it is solicitation on the street, in secret places or cover businesses for brothels, or over the phone or internet (Overs & Loff, 2013, p. 190). Therefore the transactions are still taking place, but now in riskier environments — shabbier, clandestine places with seedy crowds and higher likelihood for violence and unprotected sex (Overs & Loff, 2013, p.191). This could be helped if legal and regulated workplaces were established, and labor rights of sex workers were recognized (allowing for the application of safety and health standards, and legal as opposed to unlawful/unenforceable employment contracts) (Overs & Loff, 2013, p. 191). According to the UN Advisory Group on Sex Work, attempts to empower sex workers have led to improvements in their agency, quality of life, and self-confidence; regulatory frameworks are essential for these improvements (Overs & Loff, 2013, p. 191). If sex workers feel like they are seen as full citizens and their rights are recognized, they are more likely not only to come to authorities with crimes against them, but also to be comfortable reporting other crimes they witness (Overs & Loff, 2013, p. 192).

Theoretically, the eradication of prostitution is the ultimate goal of many states that have criminalizing policies (Carrasquillo, 2014, p. 704). On paper this may be a reasonable goal that could help prevent STD spread, reduce related illegal crimes, and enforce family values (Carrasquillo, 2014, p. 704). It also helps to maintain the stigma attached to prostitution, which is essential in order for the views of society to continue to cast it in a negative light, by seeing it as degrading and dangerous (Carrasquillo, 2014, p. 704). So if prostitution were seen as a moral and health problem, eradication by criminalization would help. The problem with this line of reasoning is that even with all of the criminalizing policies, prostitution has persisted (Carrasquillo, 2014, p. 704). Courts have upheld laws against prostitution because the practice may be harmful to the “fabric of our society,” and this displays that the government is allowed to decide what is immoral (Carrasquillo, 2014, p. 706). The immorality of prostitution is one of the most weighty reasons prostitution remains illegal, and a large part of this is runoff from times such as the Victorian era (in which prostitutes were seen as “fallen” women who had not protected their sacred purity), and the early years of criminalization (in which prostitutes were seen as a threat as the family unit because it was a way for women to support themselves outside of marriage, and a way to encourage husbands to cheat) (Carrasquillo, 2014, p. 707).

Statistics have demonstrated that prostitutes are “constant reoffenders” and criminalization does not decrease the amount of prostitution (Carrasquillo, 2014, p. 708). Criminalization poses a legal burden: when prostitutes are afraid of punishment, they do not report related crimes, and prostitutes cost taxpayers large amounts of money when they serve jail time (Carrasquillo, 2014, p. 708). Removing criminal penalties from prostitution/purchasing sex and adding standards of control is the most favorable option. Licensing could be required, and regular medical testing could make selling sex safer (Carrasquillo, 2014, p. 716). Prostitutes could receive employee benefits and make more informed decisions about entering the business in the first place (Carrasquillo, 2014, p. 716). Many of the harms of prostitution come from violent clients, who could be screened and refused service, and from third party sellers of sex (pimps) who could be banned from being part of the business — both of these policies have shown benefit where they’ve been implemented in Nevada.

Both sides of this argument bring up poignant and valid points. While both of the opposing sources quote first hand sources, this had limited impact on me as I did not feel it was particularly thorough or objective. The source that vilified prostitution brought up good points, but cited very few sources and used much emotional and fallacious strategies, at times collapsing into angry ranting. I wholeheartedly agree with the other opposing source — with laws as they are, they should at least be enforced with blind justice. I am not convinced that efforts are better put into this than into reforming the laws and policies themselves, however, and this resource did not touch on their reasoning for that, other than the fact that Americans have refused to legalize prostitution (which is vague and undated in the article).

The proponent sources I found seemed to have more solid arguments. The Overs and Loff article focused on recognition of sex workers as legal persons in order to protect their rights, and cited instances of this being effective, as well as logical reasons why criminalization presents a barrier to this humane goal. The other article that approves legalization of prostitution showed many examples of how policies have affected concerns such as STDs and health in societies with varying levels of legality. The authors reviewed scales from criminalization to full legalization and showed evidence for harms and benefits of each. Thus, I feel their conclusion of legalization as the least harmful option was justified. While I do see that prostitution as it is now lends itself to secrecy, violence, and degradation, I do not think this has to be how it is. What would really make a difference in the profession is if women were to have control: control over their own bodies and those they choose to sell to, control over their own enterprise independent from controlling third parties, control over their health and safety in a legal and protected work environment, control over their finances and education, their decisions to enter prostitution in the first place.



Carrasquillo, T. (2014). Understanding prostitution and the need for reform. Touro Law

      Review, 30(3), 697-721.

Farley, M. (2013). Prostitution, Liberalism, and Slavery. Logos: A Journal Of Modern Society

      & Culture12(3), 370-386.

Johnson, E. M. (2014). Buyers Without Remorse: Ending the Discriminatory Enforcement of

Prostitution Laws. Texas Law Review92(3), 717-748.

Overs, C., & Loff, B. (2013). Toward a legal framework that promotes and protects sex

workers’ health and human rights. Health & Human Rights: An International Journal,

      15(1), 186-196.

Blog 3: Is BDSM a Healthy Form of Sexual Expression?

BDSM is really BD-DS-SM, as it represents three separate but combinable elements of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism. It is typically considered taboo, but in recent years has been receiving more attention in the media with such representations as the movie Secretary and the Fifty Shades book trilogy. It is important that people understand BDSM as it gains more mainstream popularity in the United States, whether they practice it, know someone who does, influence public policy, or are involved in therapy/counseling. Some people are of the mind that BDSM is a perfectly healthy form of sexual expression, allowing for well adjusted and balanced interaction, and not indicative of anything sinister. Others see these practices as harmful or pathological, seeing them as sexist, dangerous, or indicative of poor mental health.

BDSM encompasses a wide range of sexual practices, characterized by physical restriction, role-playing, exchange of power, and sometimes administration of pain (Wismeijer & Assen, 2013, p. 1943). People who practice BDSM may have interests in all or only some of these activities; additionally, these practices are for sensory and not just erotic pleasure, and do not stem only from violence as is often posited (Wismeijer & Assen, 2013, p. 1943). The practice of viewing BDSM as pathology began in the 19th century, but even in the fifth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, BDSM is pathologized somewhat, with sexual sadism and masochism being considered paraphilia (sexual perversion or deviation, attraction to atypical objects or practices), and paraphilic disorders if they cause undue distress to self or others (Wismeijer & Assen, 2013, p. 1944).

One of the strongest arguments for BDSM as a healthy practice is from a study published two years ago comparing BDSM and control participants. Large numbers of both filled out online questionnaires containing sections measuring the Big Five personality dimensions, attachment styles, rejection sensitivity, and subjective well-being (Wismeijer & Assen, 2013, p. 1943). While it has often been posited that BDSM practitioners have some type of pathology, the results of this study actually found quite the opposite: BDSM practitioners were “less neurotic, more extraverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rekection sensitive, and had higher subjective well-being” (Wismeijer & Assen, 2013, p. 1943). Authors of the study concluded therefore that BDSM should be thought of as recreation rather than expression of psychopathology (Wismeijer & Assen, 2013, p. 1943).

Another compelling argument for BDSM as a healthy practice is that most problems that people in the BDSM subculture face come not from the practices themselves, but from being forced to hide these practices, or the discrimination they face in society if they do not hide them. When people believe that sadomasochism (SM) is violent or abusive behavior, it often results in harassment and discrimination against those who identify as SM – not just in conservative or religious communities, but also facing opposition from self-identified feminists (Wright, 2006, p. 217). Even the National Organization for Women (NOW), which supports equality of the sexes and advocates for lesbian and women’s rights, explicitly rejected sadomasochism in a 1980 conference resolution, as it violated feminist principles (Wright, 2006, p. 219). Their and other feminist’s ideas that SM was abusive and violent were not built upon research, but quoting specific people who had encountered abuse (Wright, 2006, p. 222). SM has been shown to be consensual and desired, however, involving discussions of limits and levels of comfort, rather than unpredictability and escalation that are associated with abusive behavior (Wright, 2006, p. 222). Having garnered enough support by 1996, in 1999 SM practitioners were able to have the anti-SM stance of NOW removed, but the group is still not openly supportive of these practices, and therefore safe SM techniques and discussions for awareness will likely not take place in the group (Wright, 2006, p. 224). There has been a lasting pattern of discrimination against SM practitioners, and they face harassment and violence, and there are cases of people losing their jobs or the custody of their children during divorce and family court proceedings (seen as “unfit”) as a result of their practices coming to light or never being hidden in the first place (Wright, 2006, p. 226). There has also been resistance to SM conferences, which have been cancelled and banned by venues because they are controversial; this makes it more difficult to hold meetings for SM education and support (Wright, 2006, p. 227). Additionally, many states still have statues in place that forbid “consent as a defense to assault” which is used to penalize SM behaviors considered by prosecutors to be too extreme (Wright, 2006, p. 229).

One of the main academic and moral oppositions to the practices of BDSM comes from psychoanalytical writers, who view the practices as a “symptom of underlying psychopathology” (Connolly, 2006, p. 80). Posited reasons for people to practice BDSM include unresolved childhood conflict, developmental failures, and early traumatic experiences (Connolly, 2006, p. 80). Freud characterized sexual masochists as formerly abused children, trying to regain control by replicating events (Connolly, 2006, p. 80). Sexual sadism and sexual masochism have been recently connected with posttraumatic stress disorder and related symptoms such as dissociation, and they have also been associated with mood disorders like depression and anxiety (Connolly, 2006, p. 80). A demographic questionnaire of 132 self-identified BDSM practicing individuals found that although clinical disorders are not evidenced to be more prevalent among BDSM individuals, there was a presence of nonspecific dissociative symptoms and narcissistic personality traits among them (Connolly, 2006, p. 117).

Others are concerned with potential problems arising with BDSM outside of ideal communication/consenting situations. People who have suffered prior abuse may have difficulty expressing limits/safewords and protecting themselves (Jozifkova, 2013). This group may suffer more injuries in SM activities, and people may not realize that it is not just physical discomfort to keep in mind with a safeword, but psychological distress as well (Jozifkova, 2013). Some people trying to practice BDSM may not be mindful enough of their own sexual interests, or may not be aware of safe BDSM practices, which could lead to accidents (Jozifkova, 2013).   Further, some of these sexual interactions may begin consensually, but proceed into abuse or violence over time if communication is poor or safewords are ignored (Jozifkova, 2013). Severely dominant or abusive partners may want sexual encounters without a condom, and if submissive partners do not ask, this can lead to higher numbers of BDSM individuals who are HIV-positive (for example leathermen, who practice dominance and submission and have a 61% higher likelihood for HIV compared to non-leathermen) (Jozifkova, 2013). A lack of communication and skills stemming from communicating only with a partner or subgroup one is involved in can lead to unhealthy practices and abuse, especially if the person believes it will be difficult to find another BDSM partner (Jozifkova, 2013). These problems come from decisions that are made by one person out of fear more than free will, and the less experienced or more submissive person may in turn be manipulated (Jozifkova, 2013).

I was honestly unable to find empirical, current evidence that BDSM is an unhealthy sexual practice. Even the arguments I have explained that are against or suspicious of BDSM are from larger articles/studies, which used the arguments to explain BDSM’s history and delineate BDSM from abuse. The psychoanalytic theories for the reasons to practice BDSM have not been supported by any of the recent studies I have seen, with most of the data showing instead that BDSM is not an indicator of pathology, but rather just a sexual preference. The feminist arguments against BDSM are paradoxical – to fight for sexual freedom and equality, but at the same time condemn a consensual practice based on the idea that it is degrading does not make sense.As a consensual (read: with mutual permissions) sexual practice, BDSM should not be grounds for job or legal/custody discrimination, which can turn a bedroom leisure activity into a practice that ruins the life of someone who never conducted harmful or nonconsensual activities.  The idea that BDSM practitioners are maladjusted is also unfounded based on all of the large-scale studies involving trusted methodologies (tested questionnaires, interviews, et cetera) that I read. BDSM may in fact be a benefit to couples who want to live out fantasies, change roles, or release strong emotions in a positive and loving way. It is vital to be educated and communicative regarding BDSM if you plan on practicing it, of course, to avoid abuse or harm to anyone involved. But as long as BDSM is attached to such stigma coming from preconceived ideas (even in psychology, thanks to people like Freud), it will be an obstacle to be overcome by individuals, who should not have to worry about what other people think about their kinky bedroom activities.




Connolly, P. H. (2006). Psychological functioning of Bondage/Domination/Sado-

Masochism (BDSM) practitioners. Journal Of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 18(1), 79-


Jozifkova, E. (2013). Consensual sadomasochistic sex (BDSM): the roots, the

risks, and the distinctions between BDSM and violence. Current Psychiatry Reports, 15(9),


Wismeijer, A., & Assen, M. (2013). Psychological characteristics of BDSM

practitioners. Journal Of Sexual Medicine, 10(8), 1943-1952.

Wright, S. (2006). Discrimination of SM-identified individuals. Journal Of

     Homosexuality, 50(2/3), 217-231.

Blog 2: Should Parents Be Allowed to Select the Sex of Their Baby?

Reproductive technology has come far in the past twenty years. One of the more controversial developments is that it is now possible for parents to control for the gender of their baby with fairly high accuracy. There are medical reasons for doing so, like preventing sex-linked diseases and genetic abnormalities. Many people believe that medical reasons are a good and valid purpose for the use of sex selection technology. However, there has been quite a stir in the last few years over whether or not these procedures should be permitted for non-medical reasons, meaning the procedure is undertaken simply because the parents have a preferred biological sex for their baby. The arguments I came across in this debate were largely based on logic and ethics. Some believe sex selection is immoral and globally unacceptable, while others find it a required part of reproductive freedom and societally beneficial, or at least not harmful.

There are several methods of sex selection. One company, the Genetics & IVF Institute, offers MicroSort, which is sperm sorting involving separating X and Y chromosome sperm and then using the sperm in either intrauterine insemination or in-vitro fertilization (Jesudason, Yeung, & Shen). Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) is used to determine the sex of an embryo before IVF, and there is also the more extreme sex-selective abortion method, which can follow analyzing fetal cells to determine the sex (Jesudason et al.).

Statistics have shown that even in the United States, the use of sex selection and preference for sons has resulted in more males than females being born amongst Asian-American communities (Jesudason et al.). This may be for the same reasons that sex selection is predominant in China, South Korea, and India, such as men contributing more to family income, and having an elevated social status among these cultures (Jesudason et al.). These communities in the U.S. are actively targeted by fertility clinics and doctors and in advertisements (Jesudason et al.). Sex selection for non-medical reasons has been banned in many industrialized countries, but in the U.S. there is almost no federal or state regulation (Jesudason et al.). The American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Ethics Committee has stated that the use of PGD solely for sex selection should be discouraged, and this opinion includes the concern that sex selection may propagate gender role expectations and stereotypes (Jesudason et al.). The ethics board of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has declared both that sex selection is inappropriate and that pre-fertilization sex selection techniques (like MicroSort) have not been shown to be reliable (Jesudason et al.). There are also concerns amongst advocates for restricting sex selections that it will set up for allowing for parents to “select traits,” and encourage the pursuit of “perfect children” (Jesudason et al.). This could ultimately lead to a new private and personal form of eugenics, and could pose an issue for natural diversity and people with disabilities in the future. Disability advocates are concerned about sex selection even for medical reasons, because getting rid of embryos based on genetic conditions reinforces biases against those with disabilities (Jesudason et al.). Non-medical sex selection may encourages binary view of gender rather than fluid and as a result may encourage gender stereotypes and discrimination, which is a concern amongst LGBTQ communities (Jesudason et al.).

One of the most pervasive ethical arguments in favor of non-medical sex selection is for reproductive autonomy, which proponents believe should exist as long as they cause no harm to others. Some ethicists, however, refute this argument, saying that it does in fact cause harm. Sex selection creates child sex ratio disparities in South and East Asian countries that reinforce patriarchal societal structures; prenatal sex selection does not change the fact that this is “institutionalized discrimination” to the detriment of women and girls (Blyth, Frith, & Crawshaw, 2008, p. 42). Even westernized countries that are “lower risk” for this imbalance have shown some evidence for son preference, especially in certain localized communities (Blyth et al., 2008, p. 43). Permitting sex selection just in these northern-hemisphere countries could have effects through the rest of the world, legitimizing the techniques in the global view (Blyth et al., 2008, p. 43). Blyth, Frith, and Crawshaw argue that while it is clearly immoral to abort or kill a newborn because it is not the parentally desired sex, it is also morally unacceptable for a parent to have this desire so strongly that cannot overcome this individual desire; from a virtue ethics standpoint, this is not the type of choice is not one of a “good” parent (Blyth et al., 2008, p. 43). Some argue that sex selection begins to make children more like products, and increases the possibility of rejection; even if in westernized countries the preference for a certain sex is not strong and is only for family balancing, it opens the techniques to those with the strong preference, and additionally comes with possible harms that are not worth the risk if the desire in the parents is weak (Blyth et al., 2008, p. 43). In summary, we have seen in countries where the desire for a certain sex is widespread that there are obvious harms, and if there is only a weak preference, then this practice is not worth defending for the potential risks it could bring (Blyth et al., 2008). Preference for sons exists all over the world in varying degrees, and this may arise out of sexist societal constructs even in westernized countries — these decisions take place in a global social context (Blyth et al., 2008, p. 44).   When sexism is present in a society, then it follows that sexism will be present in sex selection choices.

There are also many who believe sex selection is not only morally acceptable but has potential benefits. Firstly, some argue that restrictions of any kind on sex selection impinge upon personal freedoms, especially to families in “one-child-only nations” and will lead to sex selective abortions (Kalfoglou, Kammersell, Philpott, & Dahl, 2013). The restrictions would be “unnecessarily oppressive” in countries without sex bias, and some even argue that government imposition on reproductive autonomy for the good of society is a form of eugenics (Kalfoglou et al. 2013). Others are afraid that in restricting sex selection, other reproductive rights such as abortion would be infringed upon as well; many US state legislatures have tried to or succeeded in passing laws banning abortion based on sex preference, and many fear this would spread to further restricted access (Kalfoglou et al. 2013). Sperm sorting is currently the only technique for sex selection that does not destroy any embryos or fetuses — many argue that regulation of this will actually lead to abortions, which are much more ethically concerning when done for sex selection than the MicroSort preconception method (Kalfoglou et al. 2013). In a related vein, proponents argue that sex selection may assist women who are living in oppressive societies, because they can attain the goal of a son or a gender-balanced family without having burdensome numbers of children, or undergoing physical/emotional stress of abortions or infidelity to obtain sons (Kalfoglou et al. 2013). Lastly, if parents have a desire for a specific sex, especially if it is culturally motivated, sex selection could actually allow a child to have a more positive future (as a boy in most cases), because the child has been chosen and does not have to face neglect or abuse (as a girl).

A medical director from India offers another set of ethical and logical arguments. In the same reasoning as reproductive freedom, Malpani asks why couples should not have the freedom to select the sex of their child when they have the freedom to decide how many children to have, when to have them, and when to terminate them (2002, p. 192). It is pragmatic, he argues, for a family to want to balance the sex ratio within their household, and statistics that say this is going to lead to populations that are more skewed have been sensationalized (Malpani, 2002, p. 193). It is an inevitability in India (and other such countries), that sons will be selected for in one way or another, as long as they are associated with economic and social benefit; parents are not going to have expensive sex selection procedures done unless they are benefitted (Malpani, 2002, p. 193). Reproductive choices are highly personal decisions made to maximize personal benefit, and preconception sex selection can let families stop reproducing and having unwanted children once the desired child is obtained (Malpani, 2002, p. 193). Furthermore, the selection of traits is something we conduct anyway, in adopting a child (and being able to choose the gender!) and even in the selection of our partner (intelligence, appearance, etc.) (Malpani, 2002, p. 193). Is it such a leap to determine the sex of one’s own child?

While both sides seem to agree that sexism is an underlying issue and needs to be addressed directly, what is done with policy and in the medical field is still a point of contention. From my research, it seems to me that the opponents of sex selection have stronger arguments. Like many people in class said today, this does not necessarily sit well with me, because I believe strongly in personal freedom (especially from governmental regulation and interference if no harm is being done). However, the ethical and logical arguments made by the opponents moved me to see that there could in fact be harm done if one thinks on a broader scale than for instance just a local American clinic and a couple who really wants a little girl. The implication globally for the acceptance of these practices is something that the proponent side seems to discount or overlook the importance of. The idea that sexism and discrimination based on binary gender roles is not an important factor in westernized countries is fallacious and dangerous — we still have sexism here, and convoluted attitudes toward gender. Adding in essentially eugenics (selection of certain desired genetic traits, or de-selection of undesired traits) to the already complicated interactions between genders is potentially quite unwise, as innocuous as it may seem in certain scenarios. This may seem like a slippery slope argument, but sex selection is by definition a eugenic procedure, and this makes it an ethical gray area (as well illustrated by the opposing points) whether or not it snowballs into selection for other traits in the future.

Proponents do make a good point that preconception sex selection may reduce sex selective abortions — this is important and should not be ignored. However, this accepts sexism as a cultural inevitability, and bandages rather than heals this dividing issue. The idea that making policies restricting sex selection necessarily restricts other reproductive freedoms is an oversimplification — policies could navigate the line between these two types of procedures, likely with great clarity over time. Malpani and the others may be right that sex selection is going to happen anyway, and that we might as well make it do the least harm (reduce loss of life, neglect, and abuse as much as we can) through preconception techniques. However,  even in their own arguments, they make it clear that this is not an ideal solution, but a inevitable or temporary one, a quick fix until women no longer feel forced to bear children until they have a boy, until the tantamount issues of inequality and discrimination can be reconciled with personal and reproductive freedoms. Then perhaps it will be clear whether or not children should be picked out like one checks a carton of eggs before purchasing them, and then perhaps we can see the gravity this technology could hold.  We need to be able to look through eyes unclouded by bias to see what responsibility this will give  the human race no matter how we decide to proceed.



Blyth, E., Frith, L., & Crawshaw, M. (2008). Ethical objections to sex selection for

nonmedical reasons. Ethics, Bioscience and Life, 3(1), 41-45.

Jesudason, S., Yeung, M., & Shen, E. (n.d.). Taking a stand: Tools for action on sex

selection. Generations Ahead. Retrieved February 27, 2015.

Kalfoglou, A., Kammersell, M., Philpott, S., & Dahl, E. (2013). Ethical arguments for

and against sperm sorting for non-medical sex selection: A review. Reproductive

          BioMedicine Online, 26(3), 231-239.

Malpani, A. (2002). Why shouldn’t couples be free to choose the sex of their baby?

          Reproductive Health Matters 10(19), 192-193.


Blog 1: Is Sexual Orientation Biologically Based?

It is difficult to critically evaluate both sides of the quandary regarding the origins of sexual orientation if it is framed as either biological or “a choice,” as the argument often tends to arise in media and emotional debates. If, however, the latter position is reframed as environmental, then this becomes an issue not of right or wrong, but of nature versus nurture. Is sexual preference derived from biological processes or does it come via our surroundings? When the debate is viewed in this manner, it becomes an issue of what is shaping our orientation, and the course of its development. We will make greater strides in understanding sexual orientation and how it is formed if we do not fight between what is right and wrong for a human to do or be, but rather, we look through a lens of curious ambivalence, searching for truth through a dearth of perspectives. From evolution and societal structures to minuscule, powerful genes and individual experiences, sexual behavior is a rich kaleidoscope if we can be open to viewing more than our own contributing pigments.

There are many biological theories, studies, and data that have been put forth about the basis for sexual orientation. However, biology is a wide field, which may include many factors that are not directly connected to the biological makeup of a single person (for example, prenatal hormones fit under biology, but they are an external influencing factor rather than a genetic component of the child). For the sake of simplicity, I will focus on specifically genetic arguments.

Firstly, there are studies that have shown similarities in the chromosomal structures of homosexual males. Hamer, Hu, Magnuson, Hu, & Pattatucci, found in a 1993 analysis of over 100 families of homosexual men found heightened same-sex orientation rates in male cousins and maternal uncles of the subjects, but not on the paternal side, suggesting potential sex-linked transmission (p. 321). A smaller sample of 40 families containing two gay brothers showed the brothers to have a high instance of the same DNA markers on a region of the long arm of the sex chromosome, Xq28 (Hamer et al., 1990, p. 321). This X-specific marker may be X-linked, a genetic distinction that would pass down through the maternal line and which can explain at least one subtype of homosexuality genetically, according to the results of this study (Hamer et al., 1990, p. 323).

Another biological explanation of the formation of sexual orientation is also related to family. According to an extensive review paper from 1998 by Pillard and Bailey, one familial study found much higher rates of nonheterosexual (2-6 on the Kinsey scale) men who had another nonheterosexual brother than the rates among those of heterosexual (0-1 on the Kinsey scale) brothers with a nonheterosexual brother (p. 4); this study combined with other like studies gave a rate that was 2-5 times higher, and nonheterosexual women seem to have more nonheterosexual sisters than heterosexual women at more variable rates (p. 5). Several twin studies as well have found that between monozygotic, dizygotic, and adopted siblings, monozygotic twins had the highest concordant percentage of nonheterosexual orientation; in one study of male siblings reared in the same household, 52% of sampled monozygotic twins were concordant for nonheterosexuality, dizygotic twins showed a more modest concordance (22%), and even fewer adopted siblings shared nonheterosexual orientation (11%) (Pillard & Bailey, 1998, p. 5). This suggests that genetics play a significant factor in the formation of sexual orientation independent of environment.

Environmental theories of sexual orientation are also numerous, but have fallen out of favor in the past few years, as sexual orientation is popularly polarized to be either innate and unchangeable, or a conscious decision. Still, there are many differences in the way individuals develop based on their personal experiences, the way that they are raised, and the culture in which they grow up, so many theorists are still searching for the impact these factors have on sexuality.

One theory that showed up consistently in my research on the environmental side of the argument is called “Exotic Becomes Erotic.” This developmental theory by Bem, published in 1996, does not exclude biological variables, but rather places them in a place of differing importance: these variables help to code for childhood temperaments (p. 320). These temperaments predispose the child to enjoy certain types of activities, which could be male-typical (like rough-housing and competitive sports), or female-typical (such as socializing or hopscotch); this leads gender-conforming children to feel unlike their opposite-sex peers, and gender-nonconforming children to feel unlike their same-sex peers (Bem, 1996, p. 331). In both cases, perception of dissimilar peers as exotic produces high nonspecific autonomic arousal, which later in life will transform into attraction even if in childhood it is not consciously felt (Bem, 1996, p. 331). According to Bem (1996), other studies have shown gender-nonconformity in childhood to be a strong predictor of sexual orientation development later in life, with gay men for instance much more likely than straight men to report that they did not enjoy male-type activities and mainly had female friends as children (p. 331). The course of this theory may be altered or supplanted by conditioning or social learning, which can happen as orientation shifts over the course of life; some bisexual respondents, for example, added same-sex erotic attraction to their established heterosexuality after adolescence (Bem, 1996, p. 330).

Another study in favor of the environmental side of this debate is an enormous correlational analysis study compiled from a national cohort of 2 million Danes aged 18-49 over the course of at least thirty years (heterosexual marriage studied since 1970, and homosexual marriage studied from the time it became legal in Denmark, 1989) (Frisch & Hviid, 2006, p. 533). This study was conducted in order to examine childhood family correlates of homosexual and heterosexual marriage, and provides prospective, population-based evidence that childhood family experiences have substantial impact on homosexual and heterosexual human mating behaviors (Frisch & Hviid, 2006, p. 533). Rates of marriage were found to be different across the “urban-rural gradient,” with people born in small towns having much higher rates of heterosexual marriage than the rates in cities, and people born in cities having higher rates of homosexual marriage than the rates in small towns (Frisch & Hviid, 2006, p. 543). Parental ages at childbirth were linked inversely to the tendency to marry heterosexually, while homosexual marriage tendency increased with parental age; parental stability showed significant correlations as well, with heterosexual marriage rates being consistently reduced when there were unstable parental relationships (unknown father, divorce, et cetera), whereas homosexual marriage rates were positively linked to unstable parental relationships (Frisch & Hviid, 2006, p. 545).

When I began researching both sides of this debate, biological sources proliferated. It was much more difficult to find solid environmental arguments. However, once I found several of the latter, they seemed to stand up better under scrutiny. One reason for this is that both of the biological arguments hold true mainly for men, and both focus on the niche of men with brothers. Although their findings of genetic markers and heritable linkages are compelling and warrant further research, the results are curious more than they are conclusive, with small sample sizes and still not much more than correlational results. It could be argued that the Denmark study shows correlates for marriage, not orientation. While technically true, sexual orientation and marriage are both labels we give to a set of intimate behaviors that fit into our defined societal norms. This study still does not offer causation (and it does not claim to), but has a power of huge numbers of respondents and is also somewhat longitudinal, offering both breadth and depth. The Bem theory offers parsimony that follows the trajectory of child development into sexuality. He also does not claim that his theory is a hard and fast rule, but it follows the model of our gender divided society, and he brings in research from other studies to support it. Sexual orientation likely has essential biological and environmental components that combine into our interactions and attractions to other people. From what I read, the environmental position has a solid toehold if more research can be done and can be prolific if it combines with the wealth of data that biology is increasingly presenting.



Bem, D. (1996). Exotic becomes erotic: A developmental theory of sexual orientation.                        Psychological Review, 103(2), 320-335.

Frisch, M., & Hviid, A. (2006). Childhood family correlates of heterosexual and                                        homosexual marriages: a national cohort study of two million Danes. Archives of                     Sexual Behavior, 35(5), 533-547.

Hamer, D., Hu, S., Magnuson, V., Hu, N., & Pattatucci, A. (1993). A linkage between DNA                     markers on the X chromosome and male sexual orientation. Science, 261(5119), 321-               327.

Pillard, R., & Bailey, J. (1998). Human sexual orientation has a heritable component.                         Human Biology, 70(2), 1-11.


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