Sex is a strange beast: it is at once a private, intimate affair and a social, public issue. Who we have sex with, how we feel when we do, and how we have sex are all matters of legal, political, psychological and biomedical concern. ‘Deviant’ forms of sex – think for instance sex work, pornography, or kink – are especially vulnerable to pathologization. Some (certainly not all) forms of feminist theory and practice have been crucial in combatting the public stigma that attaches to ‘deviant’ sexual practices. Especially in queer thought regarding kink and BDSM, these arguments have tended to focus on the trope of ‘two freely consenting adults’ in whose affairs the state cannot intervene. But what does ‘freely’ mean, and what does it mean to ‘consent to’ sexual acts? In this lecture, I want to disentangle two different conceptions of consent, and argue in favour of a notion of consent that takes seriously the joys of kinky sex while it at the same time is sensitive to the power relationships and social settings in which it plays out.

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