Caroline J. Simon, Ph.D.

Caroline J. Simon Ph.D.

Bringing Sex Into Focus

Don't Be Seduced! Six Crucial Warning Signs

Seduction seeks sex whether or not it harms the seduced.

Posted Feb 16, 2012

Even though "flirtation" and "seduction" are often used synonymously in everyday talk, there is an important ethical distinction between them. Flirtation issues an invitation and leaves its acceptance up to the other person. Seduction sets out to get a "yes" whether or not sex compromises the welfare and sexual autonomy of the seduced.

It is no accident that the root meaning of "seduce" is "separate" or lead away. Those who are seduced are led away from the values central to their own sense of integrity.

Sam is excited to be making good money waiting tables. After working there about a month, he's become a sort of mascot among the experienced wait-staff, almost all females several years older than he is. They've taken him under their wing and encouraged him when he made beginner mistakes. They got a good laugh over Sam's accidentally spilling ice water down a customer's back and then charming the customer enough with his apology to secure a generous tip.

One waitress, Lola, has started showing Sam a different kind of attention. She leans in close when talking; touching him on his arm or chest. She gives him admiring complements about his build. She caresses his back when they passed on the way back and forth from the kitchen. Sam's simultaneously flattered and uncomfortable.

photo by Chris Willis

Is Lola a flirt or a seductress?  What more would you want to know in order to answer that question?  Is age relevant?  If Sam is 16 and Lola is 28, for example? Does it matter whether Lola gets a charge out of making Sam uncomfortable?  It certainly matters what Lola is after: whether she's looking for distraction, a hook up, a relationship, or winning a bet. Most relevantly, it matters how she takes into account who Sam is and what Sam cares about.

Here is a check list for seduction:

  1. There is mutual consent to all activities.
  2. The pursuer wants to get to know the pursued in order to obtain consent.
  3. Deception or calculated ambiguity is used to obtain consent.
  4. The pursuer is indifferent to the welfare of the pursued.
  5. The pursuer's motives in the pursuit are personal pleasure or an ego-boost.
  6. The pursued person consents to sexual activities which he or she was averse to engaging in or which are at odds with his or her principles or priorities.
  7. The pursued person would not consent to all the activities engaged in unless he or she were deceived or manipulated.

The first item is on the list because valid consent distinguishes seduction from rape (see Rape Redined). Consent is also part of what makes the situation enjoyable for the seducer. Being able to get a "yes" where others would meet continued resistance is what makes the seduction an ego-enhancing experience for the seducer.

If seduction leads to consensual sex, then why is seduction problematic?  Because the other six characteristics of seduction are ethical red flags. Seducers show a negligent or callous disregard for the central good of those whom they pursue.  The seducer sets out to procure consent to sexual activity without caring whether sex will compromise elements which are integral to the other's values and sense of self. For more on this, see "One Seducer's Awakening."

Seduction may look "romantic" but it is really all about self-centered power. The incidious corrosiveness of seduction is hightened by the seducer's 'defence': "Afterall it was consensual."


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