A Phenomenological Approach to Sexual Consent

Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 8 (2) (2022)
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Rather than as a giving of permission to someone to transgress one’s bodily boundaries, I argue for defining sexual consent as feeling-with one’s sexual partner. Dominant approaches to consent within feminist philosophy have failed to capture the intercorporeal character of erotic consciousness by treating it as a form of giving permission, as is evident in the debate between attitudinal and performative theories of consent. Building on the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Ann Cahill, Linda Martín Alcoff, and others, I argue that taking consent to be an intercorporeal and dynamic coexistence of desiring bodies opens up new ways of thinking about the role of consent in sexual ethics. I suggest that phenomenology’s theories of embodied consciousness, operative intentionality, and the direct perception of others provide a better groundwork for conceptualizing the role of ambiguity and subtle power dynamics in sexual encounters than attitudinal or performative accounts of consent. I also defend my view against Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa’s argument for doing away with the concept of consent in sexual ethics due to consent's stubborn and infelicitous presupposition of permission-giving.



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Ellie Anderson
Pomona College

References found in this work

Being and nothingness.Jean-Paul Sartre - 1956 - Avenel, N.J.: Random House.
The Sexual Contract.Carole Pateman - 1988 - Polity Press.
The Nature of Sympathy.Max Scheler - 1954 - Transaction Publishers.
Direct perception in the intersubjective context.Shaun Gallagher - 2008 - Consciousness and Cognition 17 (2):535-543.

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