Mon | Jul 23, 2018

Sex ‘rights’ driven by sentiment

Published:Friday | June 5, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The Gleaner's editorials, since at least 2011, have been quite consistent in taking an ambivalent position on homosexual sex based on the very popular and apparently impregnable premise of "what consenting adults do in private".

As I urged in a piece chiding a Gleaner editorial in 2011, "Can one be really socially responsible but ambivalent about consensual homosexual sex, consensual adultery, consensual incest, consensual sadomasochistic sex given the relational implications of such acts beyond even the health costs of dealing with AIDS and other STIs? Has the editor given thought to the social cost of pregnancies deemed 'unwanted' by putative parents, and especially the impact of absentee father figures on the lives of our young men?"

All and sundry invoke the epithet 'human rights' to justify all manner of strange demands or wishes, but folk rarely appreciate the fundamental twofold problem concerning human rights which lawyer and theologian Prof John Warwick Montgomery describes as 1) defining human rights and 2) justifying human rights (see his 1986 book Human Rights & Human Dignity, pages 63-103).

Philosophers Antony Flew and Alan Gewirth also wrestled somewhat with this twofold problem in the Georgia Law Review 13:4, 1979. In his essay 'The Basis and Content of Human Rights' Gewirth says, "If, for example, we know that for one person A to have a right to something X is for A to be entitled to X and also for some other person or persons to have a correlative duty to provide X for A as his due ... still this does not tell us whether or why A is entitled to X ..." (p.1143)


Truths about rights


Flew, in his essay 'What is a Right?', contends on page 1,122, "The first conceptual truth about rights is that they are entitlements which must possess some kind of objectivity. The second is that they are entitlements which have to be grounded in - which is not to say deduced from - some fact or facts about their bearers ... ."

The traditional three generations of human rights as categorised by French jurist Karel Vasak are civil and political freedoms (first generation); economic, social, and cultural rights (second generation); and the more nebulous 'solidarity or global village' rights (third generation) like the right to humanitarian disaster relief and the right to benefit from the 'common heritage of mankind' (see Montgomery, pages 26-28).

With that backdrop, even as a thought experiment, I have grave difficulties seeing how anyone could seriously argue for any species of sex act as a human right. Worse, how anyone could argue for risky, unhealthy sexual behaviour - behaviour that is conducive to the spread of deadly diseases and the shortening of life-spans because

it is potentially or inherently unhealthy - as a human right.

Under which of the traditional three generations of human rights would the claimed right to risky sexual behaviour fall?

I'll simply summarise the kind of risky sexual behaviour I have in mind here as anonymous, unprotected, promiscuous anal intercourse (AUPAI).


public-health concern


Medical and epidemiological journals document such inter-course as being of serious personal and public-health concern because it is so popular among male homosexuals (see the New England Journal of Medicine 309, 1983, 576-82; HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report, Vol. 13, No. 1 (midyear 2001), 33; International Journal of Epidemiology, 26 (1997), 657; Washington Blade, 2nd June 2000 (available at; and Sprigg and Daley, Getting it Straight (Washington, DC: Family Research Council, 2004), 75-86).

It is a flagrant dereliction of duty to neighbour and a disregard of community responsibility to engage in AUPAI. No one can claim a right to such behaviour because no one has any duty to provide for AUPAI or to assist those who desire AUPAI or even to refrain from interfering with male homosexuals having AUPAI.

All members of the genus and species called Homo sapiens have bona fide human rights owing to their essential being as humans but, none of us has any unquestionable right to risky and unhealthy sexual behaviour.

- The Rev Clinton Chisholm is a theologian. Email feedback to