Unjust Sex vs. Rape

Hypatia 31 (4):746-761 (2016)
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This article returns to a philosophical conundrum that has troubled feminist theory since the topic of sexual violence has been taken seriously, what I call the problem of the “heteronormative sexual continuum”: how sexual assault and hegemonic heterosex are conceptually and politically related. I continue my response to the work of Nicola Gavey, who has argued for the existence of a “gray area” of sexual interactions that are ethically questionable without rising to the category of sexual assault, but whose analysis did not explicitly articulate what these two categories share or what distinguishes them from each other. After summarizing Gavey's position, I summarize my previous articulation of the common ground between instances of sexual assault and examples of sexual interactions in the “gray area.” I then develop a theoretical account of how the two categories differ, arguing that the victim's agency plays different roles in the two types of interactions. Both the fact of that distinction—that we are capable of providing a philosophical account of the difference between sexual interactions that fall into the gray area and those that constitute sexual assault—and its particular content are crucial for the development of a tenable feminist sexual ethics.



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Ann Cahill
Elon College

Citations of this work

Bad Sex and Consent.Elise Woodard - 2022 - In David Boonin (ed.), Handbook of Sexual Ethics. Palgrave. pp. 301--324.
The Ethical Significance of Being an Erotic Object.Caleb Ward & Ellie Anderson - 2022 - In David Boonin (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Sexual Ethics. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 55-71.
Mutuality in Sexual Relationships: a Standard of Ethical Sex?Sharon Lamb, Sam Gable & Doret de Ruyter - 2021 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 24 (1):271-284.
Sexual Autonomy and Sexual Consent.Shaun Miller - 2022 - In David Boonin (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Sexual Ethics. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 247-270.

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The Sexual Contract.Carole Pateman - 1988 - Ethics 100 (3):658-669.
Toward a Feminist Theory of the State.Catharine A. MacKinnon - 1989 - Law and Philosophy 10 (4):447-452.
Sexual perversion.Thomas Nagel - 1969 - Journal of Philosophy 66 (1):5-17.
Recognition, Desire, and Unjust Sex.Ann J. Cahill - 2014 - Hypatia 29 (2):303-319.
Seduction, rape, and coercion.Sarah Conly - 2004 - Ethics 115 (1):96-121.

View all 10 references / Add more references