On Alan Keyes: Is Homosexual “Sex” Really Sex?


I recently discovered Alan Keyes, the man who Republicans should have chosen to beat Obama instead of McCain and that lady who can see Russia from her house. Keyes is pretty awesome: He is a solid conservative, clear spoken, intelligent, and a man of God. And it gets even better – he’s Catholic. I’m left smitten by this man, though in a totally non-gay way, of course.

Anyways, that brings me to my topic: Is homo “sex” really sex? Check out what Keyes said in a speech from 2004:

Sex itself only exists in relation to procreation. That’s one of the reasons why I sometimes object — and it’s just a theoretical objection, but it’s worth thinking about — to the whole notion that one calls what people of the same sex do “sexual relations.” As a matter of fact, they have precisely turned their back on sexual relations, in order to engage in acts of mutual pleasure that have nothing whatsoever to do with sexuality.



We have these two different understandings of human sexuality: the hedonistic, self-indulgent understanding, the self-interested one; and the one that has procreation at its heart, and that is characterized by the need to acknowledge responsibility and obligation. And just so no one will miss the point: the reason that homosexuality epitomizes the [first] one is that homosexuals are not haunted by the prospect or possibility of procreation — because they’re simply not capable of it. I think this is pretty obvious, isn’t it? And it was understood in human society at one point that if you’re not capable of procreation, marriage doesn’t have anything to do with you, because marriage is about procreation.


Keyes is right. Let me explain why. Aristotle taught us that in knowing a thing, we know its 4 causes. That is, we know its material, efficient, formal, and final cause. Applying this Aristotelean idea, I’d say that the natural ends of our primary sexual organs are pretty obvious – they’re for making babies. Just think about it – you’ll see the point, I’m sure. Let me sketch out some crude biology.

Penises erect when men are aroused. But they don’t erect into triangles or squares, no. Instead, the erect into the sort of shape that suites a vaginal canal and with the rigidness necessary to penetrate a vagina. So we say that the erected penis has a structure and form fit for the vaginal canal and vaginal penetration. Now consider the penetrative act. The insertion of the penis into the vagina and the following thrusts causes some awesome sensations, which then lead to orgasm. Upon orgasm, semen is ejaculated from the penis. That semen contains sperm, which is exactly the sort of thing necessary and sufficient to fertilize the female’s egg. But what’s more, the sperm are able to reach the egg after being ejaculated from the penis, provided that there is no use of contraception. In fact, the egg is that which the sperm cells seem directed toward – they seem swim and race toward the egg, congregating around it, burrowing their heads into it until one of them penetrates the egg, which thus results in fertilization.

Now consider vaginas and such. Vaginal canals are shaped in a form that suites an erected penis. Upon arousal, the vaginal canal lubricates, allowing for easy penetration and thrusts. If the woman is ovulating, her cervical fluid changes: It changes from a substance that is a barrier for sperm to one that protects and nourishes the sperm, which then increases the chances of a sperm reaching her egg. In addition, during times of ovulation, women report a higher interest in sex and better orgasm while men find women more attractive during their ovulating periods (see here). The timing should not be understood as coincidental – the period of time during ovulation is “prime time” for baby making. In fact, there is even evidence to show that women who do not ovulate (via birth control pills) have no peak periods of attractiveness from men while ovulating women do (see here). Thus, male sexual attraction increases during periods of fertility and not otherwise, which, again, suggests a procreative end for sex.

I could go on, but unless you have something against teleology (though you should not – see here), it is evident and commonsensical that our sexual organs have a natural end pointed toward procreation. Penises and vaginas are like keys and locks. In addition, that fact conforms well with the huge disparity between the prevalence rates of heterosexual and homosexual desire. For last time I checked, well over 90% of people had dominantly heterosexual desire. That sort of dominance is expectable if the end of human sexuality is procreation, because only sex between a man and woman can be procreative. In contrast, if human sexuality had some other end, if it were not directed toward procreation, then that sort of dominance seems inexplicable. It would have no known end, no known natural purpose, or at least none that I can conceive as tenable. Hence, this dominance is evidence for the procreative end of human sexual desire, too.

Supposing that I am right on this, we can add to our knowledge about sexuality and our sexual organs, because we know their natural ends. We know that we have sexual inclination or desire so that we interested in having sex with members of the other sex. We also know that we have sexual pleasure and orgasms encourage us to have sex for the end of fertilization – orgasms are a great impetus and expel the sperm from the man. And finally, we know that our sexual organs exist so that we can procreate. Hence, we can say, with good confidence, that human sexuality and our sexual organs are thus naturally directed toward procreation. That is, they all exist for the sake of procreation. Human sexuality and sex are thus procreative by their very nature.

Knowing this, we can infer that no sexual-like act can be properly considered sex if it is essentially non-proceative. Hence, male-male anal penetration is not sex properly considered. Likewise, whatever the hell lesbians do (what do lesbians considered sex?) cannot be considered sex. We can also say that no homosexual act is a proper expression of human sexuality either, for the act and the unity of the persons involved are essentially non-procreative. These actions are sex-like, no doubt, but that’s about all they areThey remain distortions of what human sex and human sexuality actually are. (1) Note that this doesn’t suggest that barren women cannot have sex with men. Such sex is only incidentally non-procreative, not essentially so; their sex remains potentially procreative even if their sex will never result in a pregnancy (see the distinction between act and potency).

So then what are these homosexual acts? Aside from distortions, they are largely what Keyes said: self-indulgent acts for mutual pleasure. This might seem harsh, I know. I regret that. I don’t mean to deny that some homosexual couples feel a love for each other and that their sex-like acts are sometimes taken as an expression of that love. I get that, but their act cannot go beyond the realm of that indulgence for mutual pleasure and affection – it points to nothing beyond that; hence, their act cannot ever be sex properly considered. This is not a mean-spirited statement but something that flows from the proposition that human sexuality has procreation as its natural end. We might not like that conclusion, but if we accept teleology and the aforementioned points, we have little choice but to accept it.

I conclude that we need to stop thinking about sex as exemplified in whatever sex-like act choose to do with our penises and vaginas, and affirm its true nature and end as something existing solely between men and women. Hence, homosexual persons do not have sex with each other, properly speaking.

I recommend conservative thinkers start arguing like this, challenging people to rethink how they conceive sex. Otherwise, sexuality will remain an open bag, one left open to the whims of the precarious and rebellious age.



(1) None of this is to make a moral judgement, of course. I am just saying that these acts do not conform to what human sexuality actually is.


  1. So putting it in terms that actually matter to the “man on the street”: Is casual copulation between male and female with no proceative end thereby in the same category as casual copulation between female and female as far as “perversion of the sexual function” goes? (To really drive the point home we should have in mind female-female copulation when speaking about all the perversion involved in “aberrant same-sex copulatory activities,” since the anti-homo-copulation arguments usually seem to have male-male anal penetrative (and therefore icky and gross) activity in mind and that might influence perceptions of the soundness of these arguments. As for the copulatory or other activities considered sex by lesbians, there is cunnilingus which is hot whatever its procreative value.) Are homosexual men especially deviant in this respect, i.e., no procreative end in the minds of the participants? I assume you wouldn’t say so, so perhaps for your next entry you can clarify and add that casual hetero copulation is also not really sex notwithstanding the complementary genitalia involved.

    Anyway, it would be a little strange to use the term “sexual” only in application to (missionary position only?) procreative mutual-genital-rubbing activities. “Sexual” and “sex” have numerous connotations and often refer to psychic states such as desire, thoughts, etc. We already well know the genitalia got their shape, function and so on; now, if only you can translate that to the whole of the human psyche as it relates to sex. There’s more there in the human psyche when it comes to sex than mere genital arousal. In some couplings it’s also a physical expression of love (which is not involved in the “natural telos” of sex as you’re construing it). There’s also this which you approvingly quote from Keyes:

    “We have these two different understandings of human sexuality: the hedonistic, self-indulgent understanding, the self-interested one; and the one that has procreation at its heart, and that is characterized by the need to acknowledge responsibility and obligation. ”

    So it looks like he is saying quite unambiguously that only the understanding of sexuality with procreation at its heart can be characterized by the need to acknowledge responsibility and obligation. How far do you think he would get with that among, say, academically trained ethical philosophers? He’d definitely need a lot more argument than what he’s given. And, no, it’s not at all clear how such a claim is either true or justified. Indeed, it looks like he’s set up a false or undefended dichotomy between “self-interested pursuit of pleasure” on the one hand and responsibility and obligation on the other. Try pulling that one on Rand!

    • There is also the question of whether any copulatory act other than penile-vaginal intercourse without contraception should be considered sex on the supposed teleological view. I can see a Catholic-style argument to the effect that causal copulation with no procreative end in mind is still sex (it is essential to the definition of sex in this argument that it be penile-vaginal), but once you start introducing artifacts like condoms I don’t know where the arguments lead exactly. I’m tempted to say that on this supposed teleological view a penetrative act involving a condom could be no more than a sex-like act (the phrase Hulk uses above) but not an act of sex proper.

      Supposedly all this is supposed to tie into human flourishing, somehow. There’s human well-being or eudaimonia or self-actualizing, and then there’s biological functions with teloi. How do these things intersect? Strange as it may seem I would be a lot more interested in what someone like Aquinas says about our telos (as a whole, not merely some part of us) being realized in communion with the divine via intellectual activity (which doesn’t rule out said activity leading to reasoning about teloi of our parts…). At the same time I also think there is a clear, definite, unambiguous, etc. need for a eudaimonic/virtue theory about how to conduct the sexual aspect of our lives. (Aristotle, Plato and others of almost their caliber would agree with that I think.) What I’m more skeptical about is whether the Catholic Church has made all the correct formulations in that area. There’s concupiscence of the flesh and then there’s the appropriate channeling of that, and it’s not at all clear how this should lead to singling out homosex for special consideration given the widely observed variation in human sexual (roughly, in this context: genital-arousal) attractions.

      What’s more, let’s say that we end up in agreement that homosex isn’t really sex properly speaking. Then what? You can speak in that context of “misapplication of the natural function” but what does that entail prescription-wise? (Is there a plausible moral theory based on functions per se? And what is “the human function” if something other than flourishing plausibly characterized? And (how) would something other than this be plausible as the aim of ethical conduct?) It would be *similar to* using a hammer for a purpose other than to hammer nails with, but it would be *different* in that human sexual experience is integral to psychological well-being whereas no such consideration applies to hammers and nails. There is also the point raised in the first comment at http://www.philosophyetc.net/2011/05/whats-wrong-with-what-is-marriage.html , as follows:

      “You can argue until you’re blue in the face that the penis and vagina have a function, but insofar as that’s consistent with the further claim that the other pairings of parts have functions, I don’t see how you can get from the claim that a penis and a vagina have a function to the important claim that it’s wrong to use the penis without a vagina or a vagina without a penis. Didn’t Aquinas point out the stupidity of this sort of argument when he noted that it doesn’t follow from the fact that a function of the hand is to use instruments that it is wrong to walk on them? Doesn’t anyone read the classics anymore?”

    • (and, yes, I’m aware that we are keeping in mind the distinction between “misuse or misapplication of function” and its being *wrong* to use something other than for its original function. The premise of the OP/Keyes is that there is a misuse or misapplication or nonapplication of the sexual function in the case of homosex, but it’s not implied that this is wrong. But that move does appear to be very much a part of the usual lines of argument condemning homosex.)

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