Raymond Belliotti’s (1993) Sexual Morality in Five Tiers, or SMIFT, is a complicated system on the issue of sexual morality. In basic terms, SMIFT is based on the subjective realities of individuals, so to use SMIFT as a tool to evaluate the given scenario of a man who may or may not have crossed social taboos concerning his sexual behaviors takes much more investigation into the work of Belliotti before applying SMIRT in what would seem to remain an issue that that is contentious and highly subjective. The case in question occurred in 1995 and involves 71-year-old Bill Goodwin, who, along with his wife Dotty, had hosted parties at their home for purposes of “partner-swapping,” meaning other people would visit the Goodwin’s for purposes of having sex with each other (Moehringer, 1995). These activities eventually infuriated a neighbor who wrote the Costa Mesa, California Mayor to complain that the party-goers were taking their activities onto the neighborhood street while littering the area with condoms. Further complicating the issue is that Dotty was suffering from breast cancer and, while still on her death bed at home, the revelry continued; and even occurred immediately after Dotty was laid to rest (Moehringer, 1995).

Your 20% discount here!

Use your promo and get a custom paper on
SMIFT and the Challenge of Assessing Sex Morals

Order Now
Promocode: SAMPLES20

But, in order to apply SMIRT it is first necessary to dwell deeper into Belliotti’s (1993) alternative philosophical framework concerning sexual morality, which begins with his identification of six common errors which he claims exemplifies moral theory and then explains how they apply to sexual ethics. The first involves reductionism which, at its core, reduces something that is complex into a single aspect. It could be stated that in the above scenario involving Goodwin, the situation is fixated on Goodwin, regardless of their being various others involved in the situation. By expanding the scope of the situation to include his wife, the party-goers, the neighbor and the Mayor, a different picture emerges, one that involves taking into account each perspective on the issue of sexual morality; a situation that is, more or less, the solution to the first issue as per Belliotti (1993). The second mistake relates to abstractness, which is a way in which to generalize morality and in the given scenario it means that the perspective of each party involved is not brought to account. Moral judgement is primarily based on the unknowns thus assumptions, and the solution for this is to make an attempt to understand each perspective rather than to over-generalize (Belliotti, 1993).

The third common mistake is referred as ahistoricism, which in this case disregards the historical context of sexual morality for which Belliotti (1993) argues is a form of moral imperialism or conventionalism. Because the scope of the case involving Goodwin, et al. has been broadened a different picture begins to emerge. All those involved in partner-swapping activities become victims of a sexual morality the neighbor might believe remains the same regardless of social change or perspectives concerning sexual behaviors. But this too is based on an assumption that the neighbor’s underlying reason for allegedly having concocted the story is based upon the belief that sexual morality is an unchanging constant regardless of social change. The fourth mistake, isolationism, is rather confusing given the scenario. While the neighbor appears to be making unsubstantiated allegations she or he not only focuses on the party-goers but also may be the affected third party. Viewed the other way around, the Goodwin’s and their friends become the isolationists, because they are alleged to have not considered their neighbors, nor community standards on the subject of sexual morality.

The next common mistake is rigidity, which in the case scenario refers the fallacies of thought arguably of the neighbor and those involved in couple-swapping. The neighbor views sexual morality through a black and white lenses while the party-goers are alleged to have no filter at all. This would infer that neither side accounts for what may be right or wrong based upon a continuum of morality (Belliotti, 1993). There remains the issue of assimilation, which rests squarely on the shoulders of Goodwin, his wife, and their friends because they are alleged to have ignored cultural norms as they may regard sex and sexual behavior. The alleged activities appear to disregard the social meaning of sex and sexual morality (Bellotti, 1993). Before proceeding with using the analysis portion of SMIRT it seems necessary to report that Goodwin and his friends were exonerated of the allegations which had been lobbied against them by a neighbor (Moehringer & Hamashige, 1995). However, the outcome of this particular case should not change SMIRT results. However, an issue that must be considered is the health condition of Dotty Goodwin, who appears to have been in attendance during the parties while bed-ridden and awaiting her impending death. After stating the key facts as they pertain to both news reports, the following assessment was determined using the SMIRT as somewhat of a guide. But in doing so, it must be stressed that all actors in the given story are being accounted for.

The first tier relates to a libertarian agreement (LA) for which Belliotti (1993) argues has to do with values related to freedom and autonomy. While not sufficient for moral sex, there still must be some type of an agreement that has taken place, and in the case of the report it would appear that the neighbor would never have sanctioned the behavior, regardless of the allegations being proven unsubstantiated (Moehringer & Hamashige, 1995). Dotty freely entered into the agreement prior to her health worsening, but there is no indication that she continued to sanction the activities once she was bedridden. If not, then Dotty was forced to bear witness to something that she otherwise had not wished to endure prior to her death. Bill Goodwin, as well as the other party-goers continued their libertarian agreement, and the key to whether LA becomes an element of moral sex remains the issue of Dotty, and because the allegations of the neighbor were determined to be unfounded, his or her issues regarding the activities do not pertain to this tier.

Next are moral considerations (MA), which appear to include rules and duties applied in a moral sense with our interactions with others but are usually tempered by concerns about consequences (Belliotti, 1993). Because the allegations were proven to be untrue it would appear that Bill had at least paid some consideration to the perspective of others. The activities remained within the confines of the house (perhaps the backyard as well), while initiating some measures to ensure the safety of his visitors. Yet, he fails to consider the morals of his neighbors and allowing the parties to continue while Dotty laid in bed would engender at least a great deal of misgiving. The neighbor seems completely rigid in the effort to curtail the activities, thus his or her moral is fixed and does not account for the changes taking place in society. The decision by city administrators to allow the parties to continue, as reported by Moehringer & Hamashige (1995) does not sanction the activities but rather is reflective of the neighbor’s attitude as the Mayor expressed a great deal of disgust concerning the party-goer’s behaviors.

Lastly, are third-party effects (Belliotti, 1993). As understood, it would appear that the outrage expressed by the neighbor, as well as those involved with the case on the city level, have no bearing on the morality of the party-goers. Bill’s response to the allegations are also of little consequence in this regard, with the exception that they may have caused a similar level of distress that was experienced by the neighbor. In essence, this was quid pro quo. The concern here remains with the outlier, Dotty, but there is no indication of whether she continued to sanction the get-togethers after becoming bedridden. Thus, when considering Dotty, a great deal of projection emerges that assumes or imagines that she may have preferred not to bear witness to the group exploits and living out her days in a restful and quiet way. It is quite difficult to apply the tiers, or to assess the situation in an objective manner. The reason for this may relate to the common mistakes we all appear to make when considering sex morals.

  • Belliotti, R. A. (1993). Toward synthesis: Sexuality morality in five tiers. In Good sex: Perspectives on sexual ethics (pp. 175-227). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.
  • Moehringer, J. R. (1995, May 1). Grandfather’s sex parties investigated: Subculture: Costa Mesa may seek to stop partner-swapping get-togethers. Host Bill Goodwin, 71, denies breaking any laws. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/1995-05-01/news/mn-61022_1_bill-goodwin
  • Moehringer, J. R., & Hamashige, H. (1995, May 6). Man’s sex parties broke no law, city finds: Investigation: Costa Mesa officials, discovering little support for a neighbor’s complaint of debauchery, reluctantly give Bill Goodwin the OK to carry on. ‘I’m so proud,’ says the 71-year-old of his victory. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/1995-05-06/local/me-63113_1_bill-goodwin