Bad Sex and Consent

In David Boonin (ed.), Handbook of Sexual Ethics. Palgrave. pp. 301--324 (2022)
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It is widely accepted that consent is a normative power. For instance, consent can make an impermissible act permissible. In the words of Heidi Hurd, it “turns a trespass into a dinner party... an invasion of privacy into an intimate moment.” In this chapter, I argue against the assumption that consent has such robust powers for moral transformation. In particular, I argue that there is a wide range of sex that harms or wrongs victims despite being consensual. Moreover, these cases are not limited to those where con- sent is vitiated by background conditions. I start by calling this category of consensual sex Bad Sex. I then distinguish subspecies of this category, including psychological pressure, social coercion, and epistemically unsafe sex. I end by responding to an objection on which we should treat at least some subspecies of Bad Sex as rape. Though this alternative proposal is often motivated by ameliorative and strategic considerations, I argue that such considerations actually count against collapsing the categories of Bad Sex and rape.

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Elise Woodard
King's College London


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