Teaching Ethics

ethics and valuesSexuality encompasses a theme frequently and openly dealt with in books, reviews, magazines and other modes of social communication. However, finding resources on sexual ethics and how to effectively teach it can be problematic.  Sexual ethics explores the moral obligation, acceptability and taboo nature of sexual behavior.  Kohlberg found that a person’s ability to deal with moral issues is not formed all at once.  Just as there are stages of growth in physical development, the ability to think morally also develops in stages.

In order to effectively teach sexual ethics effectively, educators must incorporate a worldview framework that respects participants’ cultural heritage and values as well as exploring socioeconomic, spiritual and religious diversity.  Carmody argues that educators need an alternative conception of sexual ethics in order to consider how desire, acts and pleasure could be understood from an ethical perspective.  In order to teach this alternative conception of sexual ethics, acknowledgment and reflection on theoretical foundations is necessary. Educators can accomplish this by encouraging students to explore different ethical framework.  After exploring the different theoretical frameworks, Kolb suggests that participants answer two fundamental questions; on what do we base our ethical standards? How do those standards get applied to specific situations we face?  Ethical theories can provide direction and perspective for ethical decisions.  Once the foundation (ethical framework) is laid, the educator can then assist the students in scaffolding.  The role of the educator then becomes facilitator.

What’s an example of an educational tool that can help do all of that?

Hooking up, online dating, kink, non-monogamy, consent and sexual assault … sexual landscape has changed, therefore educators must be relevant when teaching about sexual ethics.  When teaching ethics, case studies can be a valuable resource. Experts say that when using case studies to teach, it is most effective to use studies to which the students can relate. Case studies create a conflict within the students’ minds.  By choosing a problem to which the students can relate, you create an active learning environment, which is also a successful one.  Narratives, according to Menkel-Meadow allow participants access into the subjective experiences of others, as well as demonstrating the consequences of decision making and action.  Using a small group format may allow participants to assert their opinions more freely than if they were in a class discussion.  Educators can also utilize discussion board with established guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable posts.

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8 responses to “Teaching Ethics

  1. While I agree that using case studies are an invaluable piece of qualitative research for our field, I wonder about how those case studies may create generalizations when it comes to understudied populations. Just because one person in the Kink community have one experience, it’s important not to say that the same would not be true for all in the community. I think you make a great point about incorporating worldview and the cumulative experiences of the people with which we work, because it’s impossible to separate those values. I think it’s important to value one’s supervisor when it comes to molding our ethics as providers.

    • It is interesting that you raise this point about case studies. We utilize these to teach so often within the healthcare field and. among my colleagues, it is widely understood that these cannot be utilized as a generalization, but rather an in-depth exploration into a specific case. However, I do see how this could be problematic in using with a more general audience after having seen the effects of 50 Shades on the American collective conscience in regards to the kink community. Thank you for bringing this up.

    • That’s a really good point I had not thought of. Thank you!

      I also remember doing a “forced choice” activity regarding ethical questions at some point at Widener. The professor posed a question with an ethical dilemma, and students had to pick one of two responses and then defend why they picked that choice. That activity encouraged me to think about all the various factors that influence ethical issues, and how my own thoughts and biases affect my decisions regarding ethical issues.

      • I’m glad that you brought up this forced choice activity. In Christian moral theology, it is argued that the more we make a certain type of decision, the more we become the type of person to make that type of decision (Connors & McCormick, 1998) (http://www.amazon.com/Character-Choices-Community-Christian-Ethics/dp/0809138050). When people are put in situations (via life–forced choices even?) they make decisions. Consequently, the way we make decisions strongly influences our ethical frameworks. My comment, then, is about the foundation and scaffolding part. I think you are very right about laying a good foundation when it comes to forming a great sexual ethic! A thought I have to offer is that there will be many situations in which the scaffolding (facilitated by the instructor) will have little effect because of the forced choices that a student may encounter in their lives outside of the guidance of a professor. It would also seem that a sexual ethic would be strongly influenced by the ethical decisions of other situations (e.g. violence, respect, good judgment, etc.) outside of sexuality/sexual situations.

        Those thoughts added, I think this is a fantastic post and a truly complex dilemma that people have been dealing with for thousands of years. And this article is an important contribution that that discussion. 🙂

  2. I agree. I took an ethics course in this program as well as my last, and I think it is one of the most difficult subjects to learn and teach, because there is no one, perfect black and white answer. Case studies can be helpful tools especially because they use “real-world” scenarios, but they may not apply to every population and every specific sexual situation. Even ethical theories pose issues, because many of them simply give a framework, but those frameworks are not applicable to every situation.

  3. A someone who does’t believe in universal ethics (… and also does;t know a a lot about it), I have a possibly silly question! What if sexual ethics were understood and taught as individualized rather than general and focused around general golden-rule-style points that encourage people not to kill each other? & not scapegoat each other for their own fears/desires. et al.? Like, what if it were ethical for one person to indulge whatever sexual fetish because of their own personal history, within a context of respect, honesty and open communication and for someone else, sexual ethics revolved around full disclosure at all times because of their own personal experiences, etc. Maybe we could teach ethicality as individualized (respectful towards one’s own particularity so as to respect the particularity of others).

    Pretty cool website from Brandeis University on feminist sexual ethics here: http://www.brandeis.edu/projects/fse/

  4. A someone who does’t believe in universal ethics (… and also doesn’t know a lot about it), I have a possibly silly question! What if sexual ethics were understood and taught as individualized rather than general and focused around general golden-rule-style points that encourage people not to kill each other? & not scapegoat each other for their own fears/desires. et al.? Like, what if it were ethical for one person to indulge whatever sexual fetish because of their own personal history, within a context of respect, honesty and open communication and for someone else, sexual ethics revolved around full disclosure at all times because of their own personal experiences, etc. Maybe we could teach ethicality as individualized (respectful towards one’s own particularity so as to respect the particularity of others).

    Pretty cool website from Brandeis University on feminist sexual ethics here: http://www.brandeis.edu/projects/fse/

  5. The topic of ethics is so broad and I know it is very difficult to try to generalize it. Coming from a different country and now living a different experience from a different culture, I know that ethics are related to the culture that you are studying. Thanks for starting this dicussion

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