Recognition, Desire, and Unjust Sex

Hypatia 29 (2):303-319 (2014)
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In this article I will revisit the question of what I term the continuum of heteronormative sexual interactions, that is, the idea that purportedly ethically acceptable heterosexual interactions are conceptually, ethically, and politically associated with instances of sexual violence. Spurred by recent work by psychologist Nicola , I conclude that some of my earlier critiques of Catharine MacKinnon's theoretical linkages between sexual violence and normative heterosex are wanting. In addition, neither MacKinnon's theory nor my critique of it seem up to the task of providing an ethical account of the examples of “unjust sex” that Gavey has described. I come to the conclusion that an ethical analysis of sexual interactions requires a focus on sexual desire, but that desire cannot take on the by now heavily criticized role of consent. Rather than looking for the presence or absence of sexual desire prior to sexual encounters as a kind of ethical certification of them, we ought instead to focus on the efficacy of that sexual desire, that is, its ability (or lack thereof) to shape an encounter in substantial and meaningful ways



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Ann Cahill
Elon College

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