Consent to sexual interactions

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 19 (2):107-127 (2019)


The way in which consent to sexual interactions is understood in the US is undergoing a transformation. Many universities, sometimes at the behest of lawmakers, are moving to adopt ‘affirmative consent’ policies, which define consent in terms of affirmative behavior that goes beyond mere silence or lack of resistance. Although these policies are a move in the right direction, I argue that their content has not been properly understood. In particular, the circumstances in which nonverbal behavior may communicate consent are more limited than might be apparent. And even though these circumstances can be abstractly identified, it is difficult to give people adequate guidance about when some of them obtain. Moreover, I argue that no matter how the allowance for nonverbal behavior is construed, affirmative consent policies unnecessarily prohibit interactions that people may have reason to engage in. I propose an alternative policy that remedies these problems with the affirmative consent policies that are currently being implemented. And I note that the justification for this alternative policy does not turn on any special features of the university setting. Instead, the account I give suggests grounds for reforming the law as well.

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Japa Pallikkathayil
University of Pittsburgh

References found in this work

Yes Means Yes: Consent as Communication.Tom Dougherty - 2015 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 43 (3):224-253.
Coercion.Alan Wertheimer - 1990 - Princeton University Press.
The Moral Magic of Consent: Heidi M. Hurd.Heidi M. Hurd - 1996 - Legal Theory 2 (2):121-146.
Understanding, Communication, and Consent.Joseph Millum & Danielle Bromwich - 2018 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 5:45-68.

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Citations of this work

Presupposition and Consent.Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa - 2020 - Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 6 (4):Article 4.

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