Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Dangerous Liaisons: The Pragmatics of Sexual Negotiation [Special Issue]

Topics: Moral Philosophy, Philosophy of language, Theoretical philosophy
Keywords: Consent, Invitations, Proposals, Refusal, Requests, Sexual contexts, Speech acts


The debate about speech acts in sexual contexts has been dominated by discussions of consent and refusal, two illocutions strictly connected to definitions of sexual assault and rape, which constitutes a crucial step in fighting male sexual violence against women. Many authors have recently claimed that this emphasis has a distorting and harmful impact on our understanding of sexual communication—for it highlights only its negative aspects (mostly how to avoid unwanted sex). Moreover, an account in terms of consent and refusal seems to presuppose a default asymmetrical scenario, with men actively requesting sexual activities and women passively consenting or refusing. The aim of my paper is to assess the different speech-act accounts modelling communication in sexual contexts. I will first summarize the philosophical discussion on consent and refusal in sexual contexts and underline its connections with the debate on hate speech. I will then explore the model of initiations of sex in terms of requests and requests for permission, and analyse the asymmetry and benefit objections. I will present the models in terms of invitations, gift offers, and proposals, advocated by Kukla 2018, Gardner 2018 and Caponetto 2021b for their collaborative nature: invitations and proposals are illocutions presenting the sexual activity as beneficial for both parties and framing sex as a joint activity. My main goal is to criticize such Collaborative Models: I will show that conceiving of initiations of sex in terms of invitations, offers and proposals does not remove but rather actually masks the asymmetry.

This paper is devoted to a particular conversational context, the context of sexual negotiation, and to the asymmetries and distortions characterising it. This analysis has not only theoretical significance for the contextual dependence debate, but also legal and social import, and a close connection to philosophical discussions on hate speech. The label “sexual negotiation” has no romantic connotation, signalling that we are dealing with…


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