Pleasure and Justice

Becca Rothfield in Boston Review:

One of the least interesting things a woman can do vis-à-vis sex is consent to it—yet lately, we seem to have less to say about female erotics than we do about male abuses.

On the one hand, it is not hard to understand why consent and its absence are at the forefront of mainstream conversation. A focus on rape and assault is warranted in a culture where sexual crimes are so tragically common: one in every six women in the United States is the victim of rape or attempted rape, and 81 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment.

Still, hollow consent, unaccompanied by inner aching, is at least as ubiquitous as sexual coercion. Sex that is merely consensual is about as rousing as food that is merely edible, as drab as a cake without icing. Even in our era of ostensible liberation, women face emotional and social pressures, both externally imposed and uneasily internalized, to appease men at the cost of their own enjoyment. Heterosexual women are forever licensing liaisons that don’t excite them—perhaps because they have despaired of discovering anything as exotic as an exciting man, or because it no longer even occurs to them to insist on their own excitement, or because capitulation to unexciting men is so exhaustingly expected of them and so universally glorified in popular depictions of romance. As the formidable Oxford philosopher Amia Srinivasan writes in her debut essay collection, The Right to Sex, her female students regularly report that they regard their erotic lives as “at once inevitable and insufficient.” In short, the young women in Srinivasan’s classes are resigned to sex that is consensual but underwhelming.

More here.