Elevate Difference

Sex Appeal: Six Ethical Principles for the 21st Century

Sex Appeal flows in an intuitive series of ideas and expresses thoughts that may be obvious, but seem to be seldom practiced. The six logical principles regarding sex for our era outlined in Paul Abramson’s book are not only interesting, but vital to a peaceful coexistence.

If you tried to make a personal guideline for sex using the golden rule, you might get a summation of Abramson’s leading principals: do no harm, celebrate sex, be careful, know yourself, speak up and speak out, and throw no stones. Doing no harm, according to the author, reaches beyond avoiding sexual violence and demands honesty between sexual partners. Abramson encourages readers to be honest with their partners about their history and their expectations. What better way to avoid the spread of STIs and the cliche (but true) image of teenage girls everywhere crying into their pillows, “But he said he loved me.” Every chapter in the book refers back to this idea and seems to spin on an axis around it.

To disarm readers who may assume Abramson is an advocate of having no sex, the author has included an entire chapter encouraging readers to celebrate the act. He argues, though, that the catch to celebrating sex may mean abstaining. For some, that could mean waiting until a certain age, or for others, avoiding it within a certain relationship. The author argues that to really enjoy the amazing experience of intercourse, one has to be mature enough to handle it, which, of course, brings us back to “do no harm,” but also leads into the next idea.

Be careful. When it comes to sex, you don’t even need your mom to tell you this one. Until people are practicing “do no harm” like it’s their job, orgasming comes second to playing safe. So in addition to not hurting others, we don’t hurt ourselves, and the best way to do that is to know ourselves.

“Speak Up and Speak Out” as well as “Throw No Stones” both pull out of the genitals and move into the brain. There’s a lot to understand about sex, Abramson points out, that goes beyond how to do it. These two chapters discuss fairness, protecting oneself and others, ways to avoid or deal with sexual abuse, and harnessing judgment and stigmas around sex—especially as they’re expressed in the US.

While it’s unlikely to happen, the book should probably be part of the curriculum of every high school sex ed class. Occasionally, explanations seem to drag on and some analogies comparing sex to soccer go just a little too far, but the points are valid, clear, and important. Much of what Abramson discusses in this short book may seem blatant to a sexually active adult, but to a young person, the insights (or at least the lessons attached to them) could be huge.

Written by: Tatiana Ryckman, April 29th 2010

It's sweeping generalizations such as "men's objectification of women has damanged [sic] sexual relations" that give 70's-style feminism its sex-negative, chip-on-the-shoulder reputation, and the first commenter's remarks seem to come right out of the playbook of negative feminist stereotypes. Way to go.

More generalizations: "the problem with most books..." seems consistent with your views on the problems with most sex, and both are misguided. This isn't a review of "most books," it's a review of one book in particular, which you seem amply willing to jump to conclusions about ("Abrahamson [sic] views intercourse ad [sic] sex and everything else as "side dishes") despite clearly not having read it. And so broadly characterizing sexual relations as being "damaged" by patriarchy ultimately only serves to ascribe more power to the patriarchy than it actually has.

The patriarchy hasn't harmed any of the sex I've had; I've actually enjoyed the fuck out of myself. Maybe that's because I don't ever have sex with the patriarchy; I have sex with individual human beings.

I suppose you are right in saying that there are men whose objectification of women has damaged sexual relations -- with ME, that is. Because if they treat me like an object, I won't have sex with them. As a sexually empowered feminist, and I take offense at your insistence on characterizing my sexual relations as "damaged." You haven't even met me.

My advice to you: don't read "most books"-- read individual books of your own choosing. Don't have sex with "the patriarchy" -- have sex with individual humans of your own choosing. I promise, not all of them will objectify you... unless you let them.

Seems like "do no harm, celebrate sex, be careful, know yourself, speak up and speak out, and throw no stones" works regardless of orientation or politics. except for folks who have a "hit me with stones" fetish.


I'm constantly impressed by FR's readers' and writers' ability to think critically about feminist issues and articulate progressive ideas. I especially appreciate that you were willing to bring up a number of important topics regarding women and sex, and some flaws in my review.

Abrahamson does not address all of the topics you mentioned specifically, however, I don't feel it's fair to chastise the author for not bringing up these issues because it's not what the book was about. Sex Appeal was not intended to be directly feminist and (generally speaking) discusses sex in a very general way. That said, it's also not anti-feminist. Abrahamson does an excellent job of maintaining gender neutrality in a way that is uplifting and empowering for both women and men. The book focuses primarily on respecting one's sexual partner(s) so we can all have better relationships, and the author in no way belittles, slights, or short-changes women in his book.

The general nature of the text is why I recommend the book for teenagers who don't yet understand the enormous responsibility of sex, and not adults who are more aware of the repercussions of their actions. In summation, Abrahamson's book is, admittedly, not the book you've enquired about here, but that doesn't mean it's bad or without purpose. I certainly hope the book you're looking for exists and that I have the opportunity to read it, possibly even share it with others here on Feminist Review.

Again, I appreciate your comments and am honored to be writing for such a thoughtful and educated audience.

Tatiana Ryckman

Thanks for your comment, Anon. We've forwarded it to the author of the review.

Does Abrahamson talk about how patriarchy harms sex? Hey, this website is called feminist review and it is fair to expect a good feminist analysis. But all I see is a review more worthy of a mass media newspaper than an in-depth feminist website.

The problem with most books about sex is that they assume that the male is the norm of humanity and view intercourse as more "sexual" than outercourse. They use male-centric language like foreplay and penetration instead of more egalitarian terms like outercourse and enclosure (or engulfment).

Intercourse is not the be-all-end-all of a woman' sexuality and it should not be the be-all-end-all of ANYONE'S sexuality. However, it seems that Abrahamson views intercourse ad sex and everything else as "side dishes."

Does Abrahamson talk about men's responsibility for birth control, does he talk about how men's objectification of women has damanged sexual relations, does he talk about a woman's right to sexual leadership?

I am disappointed in this review.