Is it Wrong to Misinform a Person by not Announcing a Deal-Breaker?
In this essay, I will argue that It is not always seriously wrong to misinform a person into sex by not announcing a deal breaker. The seriousness of the wrong depends on what the deal-breaker is. There are situations where a deal breaker does not have to be revealed to the opposing end. If the deal breaker does not harm both parties during and after sex, it is not morally wrong to not announce a deal breaker. In the first section, I will introduce the consequentialist position that supports the ethical argument of this thesis. In the second section, I will consider an internal and external objection to this argument. The internal objection is another consequentialist view that states that there are greater negative consequences to not announcing any deal breaker. The external objection is a deontological view that argues that deceiving another person’s autonomy is always wrong, no matter the consequences are. In the third section, I will refute both the internal and external objections against the thesis. Refuting the objections will resolve two types of objections that the thesis might be argued against.
Section 1: the consequentialist argument
We must first make an assumption clear. There are certainly many instances where it is morally wrong to misinform a person on a deal breaker before having sex. If, however, the deal-breaker poses no risk to both parties during and after sex, it is not wrong to misinform the other person on the deal breaker. I am taking a consequentialist position. The morality of right or wrong is determined by the consequence of the conduct. Going back to the assumption, if the deal breaker poses no risk for both parties, and the person does not reveal the deal-breaker, sex between the two individuals will have the same consequence as an instance where there are no deal-breakers. Both parties will enjoy the consequences of their actions without any setback, since the deal-breaker did not pose any consequential risk in the first place.
In fact, not only is it not wrong to deceive someone into sex when there is no risk of harm, but I will also argue that, from a consequentialist point of view, it is better if there is deception since it creates more well-being. What would happen if one party announced a harmless deal breaker before having sex? The other party might decide not to have sex. In this case, their expectation and desire were to have sex with each other. This is consequentially harmful for both parties. In some cases, they might advance to having sex, but the satisfaction they get from the experience might decrease because they now feel uncomfortable. The information of the deal-breaker brings potential risks that harms the enjoyment of both parties, while the action of misinformation proposes no risks to the enjoyment of both parties.
Here is an example to illustrate my argument. Let’s consider a case where male A has an HIV disease that is non-infectious. The HIV does not affect his physical appearance or performance. He is no different than a regular man without HIV. He is attracted to female B, a regular healthy female. They go on a date. They have a great time and want to have sex with each other. Person A, knowing that they both want to have sex and his HIV has no potential damage to Person B in any way possible, decides not to announce it. They have sex and are happy with the outcome. This is a case where Person A did not commit a morally wrong action by not announcing his HIV, since the consequence was good for both parties. If, for instance, Person A announced his HIV, this puts the positive outcome at risk. There is a potential that Person B will not care, and the outcome will be the same, but it is not worth announcing the HIV. There are many possibilities where the outcome is inferior to not announcing the disease.
Section 2: objections
There are two objections to the consequentialist view that I have argued. The first one I will consider is from the same ethical perspective. Another consequentialist view evaluates the consequence differently. Both arguments agree on the ethical principle that the consequence is the basis of right and wrong. The objection states that by misinforming on a deal breaker and having sex, the immediate outcome is not the same as a regular sexual encounter. Going back to our case, the positive outcome would not be as straightforward as assumed. The action of lying has a negative impact on mental state, no matter what the lie is. Person A is aware that he misinformed Person B on a deal breaker. This might have a negative effect on his mental state. A damaged mental state affects sexual performance, which is why the consequence is not the same as a regular encounter. Person A would not perform in his natural condition, which would decrease the enjoyment of both Person A and Person B.
The second objection against the thesis comes from a different ethical perspective. It is a deontological argument. Deontological ethics argues that the action of right and wrong depends on the rule associated with the action. The objection against the thesis is pretty straightforward: it is always wrong to misinform someone on a deal-breaker. It has nothing to do with the consequence of the misinformation. Even if both parties have the greatest consequence possible by the misinformation, it is still morally wrong. Respecting human autonomy is the only morally right way to make decisions. If the one person’s autonomy is deceived, the decision by one person will be distorted. Any action that distorts someone’s autonomy will always be a morally wrong action. The purpose of the distortion does not matter, because what is valued is the pure respect to everyone’s right to make autonomous decisions. In our case, person A has a decision to make; either distort person B’s autonomy to have sex or respect person B’s autonomy for a likely worse outcome. To make the morally right action, person A should not hesitate to announce his HIV. Respecting person B’s autonomy should be the moral priority of person A. Considering the consequences only comes after announcing his HIV. If person A prioritizes consequences over person B’s right to autonomous decision-making, then he is already on a morally wrong path. There are no moral exceptions to this principle.
Section 3: response to objections
I will address these two objections to my thesis. The first one is the consequential argument that misinformation is morally wrong because it the action of lying leads to a worse consequence. This argument applies a direct logical connection to lying with a disappointing sexual performance. Lying does not always mean that someone’s mental state will be worse off. The effect of lying on mental state depends on the context. If one person had to lie in order to save their parents, they would probably be in a good mental state after lying. We cannot draw a causal connection between lying and a worse mental state. When it comes to our case, it is not true that misinforming person B about a harmless disease is the same thing as a blunt lie. Person A knows that person B is not in any mental or physical danger by not revealing the deal breaker. Even if we accept the argument that lying leads to a worse mental state, it is not true that a bad mental state leads to a disappointing sexual performance. Mental state is just one factor in sex, and it is not stable. A bad physical state, such as a broken leg, cannot be fixed during and after sex, but mental state can go from bad to good during and after sex. Regardless, the fact is that both parties are there to have a sex. That is the consequence they want to achieve. If person A announces the HIV, the consequence will likely be worse off than the misinformed consequence. The consequentialist objection suggests informing person B leads to a better consequence, but this cannot be true since both parties do not achieve the consequence they desired.
The second one is the deontological argument that states deception is always wrong, no matter what the consequences are. But what is deception? Many people engage in forms of meta-deception, such as changing their natural actions for sex. Many forms of deception often get unrecognized. The problem with the deontological argument is that it is nearly impossible to make a definition for deception is. Everyone can develop their subjective view of deception and justify their ends. In our case, if person A is a deontologist, and defines deception as not acting naturally, he might argue that he did not deceive person B into sex because he acted naturally. In his subjective view, the HIV has nothing to do with deception. If that is his view of deception, he did not commit a morally wrong action by misinforming person B about his HIV. The ambiguity of what deception is makes it difficult to detect what morally right actions are. The only observable phenomenon is the outcome for both people that had sex. Person A did not announce the deal breaker, but both of them are unharmed and happy. The seriousness of the misinformation is completely related to what the deal-breaker is.
Neil C. Manson. “How Not to Think about the Ethics of Deceiving into Sex.” University of Chicago, January 2017.
Hugh Lazenby and Jason Gabriel. “PERMISSIBLE SECRETS.” Oxford University Press, 2017.