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Accusations of “sexual creepiness” appear to be on the rise. Why is this so, and are such accusations morally problematic? In this essay I will follow legal scholar Heidi Matthews in arguing that sexual creepiness is in tension with liberal and progressive moral commitments. Liberals and progressives may, as Matthews does, maintain a principled stance and reject creepiness as a category, just as they do sluttiness. But the costs of abandoning sexual creepiness may be high, and these costs should be tallied before creepiness norms are expunged. Empirical findings about what gets accused of being creepy suggest that creepiness norms may have been recruited to establish important social equilibria. It is plausible that recent technology, intersecting with the collapse of traditional courtship norms and higher percentages of unattached men, has resulted in a deluge of sexual proposition aimed at young women and fewer desirable mates for unattached older women. I advance the hypothesis that creepiness norms have been largely repurposed to control male sexual advances: first, by discouraging substandard male suitors from approaching young women who are unlikely to be interested in them (“prefiltration”), and second, by deflecting eligible older men away from young women and towards older women (“redirection”). The ethical question liberals and progressives must wrestle with is whether these benefits justify the moral costs.



Dan Demetriou is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota, Morris. An ethicist and social-political philosopher, he is the co-editor of Honor in the Modern World (Lexington/Rowman and Littlefield, 2016) and has recent and forthcoming work in the areas of sex ethics, monument ethics, gun rights, and migration ethics.