Let's face it: without sex we're very likely to end up screwing someone else in any number of unpleasant, non-sexual ways. Ever wondered whether the history of Iraq might have been different in the last four years if George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had gotten laid, but good? Besides, none of us would even be here without sex!
All right so the matter of principle is not so much whether, but how one should have sex. The commandment puts forth two conditions that I suspect are universally necessary for ethical purposes:
- We must engage in mutual pleasure giving as well as receiving.
- We must take responsibility for the consequences, such as pregnancy and disease.
In the first, your pleasure is equated to the pleasure of another. You have a legitimate claim to receive pleasure and there is nothing wrong with desiring sexual pleasure and obtaining it; but the consequence of that is the duty to be concerned with and desirous of giving pleasure -- which is a pleasure all its own.
In other words, sex is not just for you: it's for you and the other person -- who is a person, not a toy (except, obviously, in the case of masturbation with toys, about which ... later). This also excludes all forms of sex for power (this is the definition of rape), money, or anything other than giving and receiving of pleasure.
There's something about us mammals that is relieved and assuaged in the feeling of full frontal nudity, skin to skin, with someone we chose to so so voluntarily -- nay, eagerly. This is why masturbation with toys falls short, except in times of necessity, other than to provide temporary release -- in a sense, it's not really sex.
Secondly, sex is a path to reproduction and a way to get diseases and even a way to express particular feelings about another, to the point of sometimes being called "making love." When we have sex we risk becoming parents, becoming ill and even dying, or becoming sentimentally entangled with another person.
We can be called upon to give a response -- in other words, responsibility -- for our action, by stepping up to motherhood or fatherhood, which is usually a role that lasts a lifetime. We can be faced with giving or receiving a terrible disease -- and telling all others who may be or have been exposed to us in similar ways, "get checked for X because I have it."
Last but not least, I've been told there are hormones similar to those that induce bonding between parents and children. These are stimulated with sex to the point that all sex has some emotional and psychological consequence.
None of this draws a straight line to the altar, nor to deciding whether to have or abort a child, nor does it cure a single disease or broken heart. The point of responsibility is not some formal piece of paper or law nor a textbook answer. Responsibility is needed because, precisely, we live in an uncertain world.
In such a world we must answer to ourselves and our fellows, especially those with whom we have sex, for our actions.
(1) PS to George, this is the ninth (there are ten).