Is there a Right to Sex?
Sun Lee

08 May 2018

Most of us would think that straight men who demand the right to sex are motivated by a patriarchal sense of entitlement. Indeed, the claim that people have a right to sex can be a dangerous ideology, one that is used to justify rape and other hate crimes against women. One paradigmatic example of this was Elliot Rodger's killing spree back in 2014 when he shot multiple people, most of them women, because he was angry at women for refusing to sleep with him.

As a reaction against this claim and its misogynistic implications, we may naturally argue that nobody is entitled to sex with others. In other words, we may say that people have different preferences for sexual partners, and nobody should claim some injustice simply because they are not other people's preferred sexual partner.

In this article from the London Review of Books, Amia Srinivasan explores how this counter reaction to the right to sex, one we may think is quite reasonable and feminist-friendly, also can buttress gendered sexual preferences that are extremely problematic. For instance, out of respect for personal preferences, we refuse to confront the prevalence of rape fantasy, the fetishization of East Asian women, and the purported undesirability of black women, asian men, trans people, and the disabled, among others. 

How should we naviagate the thin line between defending personal preferences in the bedroom and pointing out desires that have been formed by problematic biases and notions about gender, race, body image, etc? Srinivasan attempts to answer this hard question. Read the article here:





Comments (5)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, May 8, 2018 -- 12:41 PM

A right to sex? That is a

A right to sex? That is a thorny question, but I'll try to keep it simple. If there is such a 'right', (and I do not think the status function[see: John Searle] fits the notion), then it is a right only in the sense that it must be earned. If we wish to have a wealthy lifestyle, then we must figure out how to earn sufficient income to realize that lifestyle. If we wish to gain the trust and/or friendship of someone or some group of someones, again, we must earn that trust or friendship. Trust, friendship and, yes, money can all figure into whether we can cultivate a sexual relationship (assuming we are physically capable of doing so). But sex is not LIKE rights, obligations, authorizations or the many other status functions Searle has discussed in his books. One more example: Do we have a right to money? Not unless we earn it!

UndecideableTheorem's picture


Tuesday, May 8, 2018 -- 1:33 PM

" In the very best cases, the

" In the very best cases, the cases that perhaps ground our best hope, desire can cut against what politics has chosen for us, and choose for itself."

At first blush, this seems like a liberating, even inspiring, idea. But it runs into the same incoherence as contra-causal free will. What does it mean for our desire to choose its own ends? Won't our desire ALWAYS be determined by a constellation of political, biological, psychological factors? What else COULD it determine it? You might reply, "nothing", but that wouldn't be desire *choosing* for itself; it would be desire predicated on a dice roll.

Jmkelly's picture


Thursday, May 10, 2018 -- 4:22 PM

Since Roosevelt we've been

Since Roosevelt we've been fond of asserting "rights" that make some folks grit their teeth: to shelter, food, health care.... Libertarians and Ayn Rand fans argue that asserting such rights legitimates forcing others to satisfy the needs they cover. Most of us reject this interpretation, instead relying on market inducements: the right to health care is (imperfectly) satisfied by Medicare and Medicaid, under which providers are not forced but paid to provide care. (This may mean only that the force is a step or two removed, since a Medicaid-supported paycheck may be the only thing keeping a roof over the provider's head--but let's not add a layer of economics to the debate over free will; that way madness lies.)
Anyway, if a right to sex means I have to right to march up to anyone and demand sex, it's monstrous and absurd. But if it means I can get a government voucher to pay a professional who freely chooses to provide sex (or as freely as a health care provider with a mortgage and a student loan), who could complain?

Gerald Fnord's picture

Gerald Fnord

Sunday, May 13, 2018 -- 11:19 AM

I think that what afflicts

I think that what afflicts most of these men is not the lack of sex but the lack of status and dignity in the rest of their lives. Notice how often the people in the media's reaction to them is, rather than 'What bad ideas!' instead 'What a bunch of total losers unworthy of sex.'. Noöne has a right to sex, but neither should the lack of opportunity to do sex be constructed as a complete and final judgement on a person, and the occasion of their being made to feel worthless.

…and it would be a good idea to achieve a world in which all were treated with respect at work, at school, within the family…so that involuntary celibacy were a problem, not the capstone of a constructed worthlessness.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Thursday, September 9, 2021 -- 6:36 PM

This essay was included in

This essay was included in Amia Srinivasan's 2021 book as the title essay in her book "The Right to Sex". For about a month it looked like Amia was going to do a show on PT as well but that is canceled. Hopefully, she will come back at some point. I listened to her interview on the Ezra Klein podcast and she sounds very reasonable. Most of my concerns about overreach are unfounded given that discussion. The book didn't read nearly as forgivingly.

Dr. Srinivasan is a non-essentialist with regard to gender. Though she harkens back to 2nd wave feminists who share her concerns for patriarchal oppression, she doe not refer to essentialist 2nd wave voices that indulge a different feminine experience. I can't see my way to open a discussion of sexual desire with masculine incel violence. I'm not sure if incel is even a thing worth analysis.

I also take exception to her use of the term f#$k. Louis CK can do this but condemnations of CK or John Hockenberry or even Trump with this term lower the analytical bar. Not that I don't use this term often myself, each time, it is pluperfect imperfection. The only exception might be her first essay in this book in which she excoriates CK and other patriarchal abusers and uses it for its shock value that doesn't really seem to be shocking enough.

The essay following "The Right to Sex" is an answer to many of my and others' criticisms. It is called "Coda The Politics of Desire" (I don't have the book in front of me, I could be wrong on that and other things as usual.)

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