The feature-based view, however, might pass the buck: either “sexual arousal” means what we usually mean by “sexual desire” (the examples of sexual arousal-erections, lubricated vaginas-might serve equally well as examples of sexual desire), or it does not. If the former, we would still need a definition of “sexual arousal”, much like we needed a definition of “sexual desire”. If the latter, we would need an account of what “sexual arousal” is, because now it does not mean what we thought it meant: if it is not the same as sexual desire, what exactly is it? Referring back to erections and lubricated vaginas will not do, because we may ask, “Why aren’t they states of sexual desire?” So defining “sexual desire” in terms of sexual arousal might be convincing only if we can understand “sexual arousal” independently of “sexual desire” (Halwani 2018b: 170–171).
The objections to the object-based views merit scrutiny. Second, although the couple in the example want to have sex from procreative motives, this might not show that their sexual desire (if it exists in this case) is not for pleasure. People can have sex from nonsexual motives (most prostitutes), but once we postulate the motive of sexual desire, the motive of pleasure is present. People’s intentions for nonsexual goals in a sex act cannot wave away the desire for pleasure; sexual desire has an independence that cannot be (metaphysically) wiped away by intentions or nonsexual motives (see Dent 1984: ch. 2; see also Hamilton 2001: ch. 9; Webber 2009).
Although pessimism and optimism have moral implications – some of which are addressed below – they are based in the nature of sexual desire. 44], and, among contemporary philosophers of sex Alan Soble, whose views in “Sexual Use” [2013b; 2017b] imply with some certainty that he is also a pessimist). Pessimism is opposed by optimism, which views sexual desire as generally benign and as bringing people together (it commands a large majority of the philosophers of sex, including Bertrand Russell 1929: passim; Irving Singer 2001: passim; and Martha Nussbaum 1995, 1998), though it recognizes that it can be morally problematic (Morgan 2003a). The issue, then, between the pessimists and the optimists concerns not whether sexual desire can be morally problematic, but whether it is so by its nature (Soble, with Halwani 2017: 5–8).
Sexual pessimism can be deep. One version is that sexual desire is for another’s body “as an organic totality in situation with consciousness at the horizon” (Sartre 1943 [ 1956: 502]). Sexual desire aims to capture a person in their entirety through their body. To do so, the agent must also make him or herself pure flesh by allowing sexual desire to “clog” his or her consciousness (Sartre 1943 [1956: 504]). Thus, “I make myself flesh in the presence of the Other in order to appropriate the Other’s flesh” (Sartre 1943 [1956: 506]). Another version of deep pessimism considers sexual desire to be for the sexual parts or body of another person, not the person’s “work and services” (Kant 1930 [1963: 163]; see also 1797: 6:424–6:427; we discuss below the moral implications of this view). Sexual desire sets aside another’s humanity and targets their flesh. This does not mean that in desiring Y, X would be as happy with Y’s corpse or with Y unconscious as with Y alive (as Shrage and Stewart [2015: 6] claim); for X, Y-dead is not at all equally preferable to Y-alive. It also does not mean that during sex X treats Y as an object with no desires or interests of Y’s own. Instead, X treats those interests as merely instrumental to the satisfaction of X’s sexual desires (Halwani 2018b: ch. 8, Soble 2013b, 2017b; see also Herman 1993; O’Neill 1985; Papadaki 2007). A phenomenology of sexual desire seems to support the above views, according to which in sexually desiring Y, X is attracted to the bodily, physical attributes of Y.