THE SEX WARS, CONSENT, AND ETHICAL SEX

Madeleine Roger-Lacan, “The Flooded Studio” (2021)

Introduction

This module will cover a lot of ground! First, it will introduce you to the historical debates about sexuality that divided feminists in the 1970s and 80s, often referred to as “the feminist sex wars.” These debates had a lot to do with what types of sex different groups of feminists considered to be ethical and truly consensual. In this part of the module we will touch upon a number of contentious sexual issues, from pornography to BDSM. We will then turn to feminist debates about sex work – one of the issues that divided feminists in the 70s and 80s – first considering some general feminist arguments on this topic and then shifting our focus to the contemporary and Canadian contexts. From here, we will consider the strong understanding of consent that informs Canadian sexual assault law: affirmative consent.

Finally, the most substantive part of the module – including the lecture and the assigned reading – will grapple with another sexual issue that raises complex issues around consent and sexual ethics and has recently divided queer theorists: bestiality, zoophilia, and zoosexuality. Beyond the queer theory debates over whether such interspecies intimacies are queer, we will see that acts that fit the legal definition of bestiality (but that are exempt from bestiality law) are practiced systematically in industrial animal agriculture. This means that far from bestiality being a fringe sexuality impacting few people, it is an issue of concern for anyone who supports the meat and dairy industries. As we will also see in this part of the module, arguments around whether animals can consent or if they are sexually “innocent” and to be protected from sexual abuse resonate and intertwine with arguments about children’s sexuality, a topic we will turn to in the next module.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  • Understand the issues and debates that were at stake in the feminist sex wars
  • Define affirmative consent
  • Explain Canadian sex work legislation and how it can be critiqued from the perspective of sex workers’ rights
  • Describe some of the contemporary debates in queer theory around interspecies sex and intimacies

BIG IDEAS +
LESSON

ASSIGNED RESOURCES

SUMMARY