Compulsory Sexuality

84 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2013 Last revised: 12 Feb 2014

Date Written: February 11, 2014


Asexuality is an emerging identity category that challenges the common assumption that everyone is defined by some type of sexual attraction. Asexuals — those who report feeling no sexual attraction to others — constitute one percent of the population, according to one prominent study. In recent years, some individuals have begun to identify as asexual and to connect around their experiences interacting with a sexual society. Asexuality has also become a protected classification under the antidiscrimination law of one state and several localities, but legal scholarship has thus far neglected the subject.

This Article introduces asexuality to the legal literature as a category of analysis, an object of empirical study, and a phenomenon of medical science. It then offers a close examination of the growing community of self-identified asexuals. Asexual identity has revealing intersections with the more familiar categories of gender, sexual orientation, and disability, and inspires new models for understanding sexuality.

Thinking about asexuality also sheds light on our legal system. Ours is arguably a sexual law, predicated on the assumption that sex is important. This Article uses asexuality to develop a framework for identifying the ways that law privileges sexuality. Across various fields, these interactions include legal requirements of sexual activity, special carve-outs to shield sexuality from law, legal protections from others’ sexuality, and legal protections for sexual identity. Applying this framework, the Article traces several ways that our sexual law burdens, and occasionally benefits, asexuals. This Article concludes by closely examining asexuality’s prospects for broader inclusion into federal, state, and local antidiscrimination laws.

Suggested Citation

Emens, Elizabeth F., Compulsory Sexuality (February 11, 2014). 66 Stanford Law Review 303 (2014), Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 13-331, Available at SSRN: or

Elizabeth F. Emens (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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