Consensual Sexual Dysphoria: A Challenge for Campus Life

Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 66, pp. 804-821, 2017

19 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2017

See all articles by Robin L. West

Robin L. West

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: 2017


This article ultimately suggests one way to address the problem of nonconsensual sex, assault, and rape on college campuses, but it does so by focusing on a topic that our conversations about nonconsensual sex have often marginalized: harms occasioned by consensual but unwanted sex. I argue that the party who does not physically desire, does not emotionally welcome, and does not take pleasure in sex, has sometimes been harmed by that sex by virtue of its unwelcomeness, and that the harm is serious enough that we need to attend to it. Further, the harms caused by this sex are not simply psychological or emotional; they are political. I label this political harm “consensual sexual dysphoria”– the alienation and profound discomfort within one’s body caused by the sufferance of unwanted, undesired, unpleasurable and unwelcome – albeit consensual – sex that, over time, undermines one’s equality in a social and legal world that presupposes the moral as well as legal sufficiency of consent as a measure of subjective wellbeing.

I further argue that the ubiquity of consensual but unwanted sex – caused in part by the casual “transactionalization” of sex – may have contributed to the rise of all forms of sexual assault, including nonconsensual sex and rape, on college campuses as well as off. Therefore, if we want to address the causes of the spike in the number of accusations of unwanted sex, as well as simply respond with disciplinary actions when these accusations are made, we should perhaps attend to the apparent ubiquity of unwanted consensual sex: by attending to the latter, and its causes, we may actually drive down the number of assaultive sexual crimes on campus as well as off. And to address the underlying problem of consensual but unwanted sex, we need to rethink our understanding of the moral goodness of sex. Consent alone is not a sufficient condition. Instead, the moral goodness of sex requires mutual desire, mutual welcomeness, and mutual pleasure.

Keywords: civil rights, college, college campus, Title IX, rape, sexual assault, equal education, equal opportunity

JEL Classification: K00, K30, K39

Suggested Citation

West, Robin L., Consensual Sexual Dysphoria: A Challenge for Campus Life (2017). Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 66, pp. 804-821, 2017, Available at SSRN:

Robin L. West (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

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