Consent, Legitimation, and Dysphoria

34 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2020

See all articles by Robin L. West

Robin L. West

Georgetown University Law Center

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Date Written: January 2020


Ideals of consent and consensuality are rapidly displacing ideals of legality as the demarcation of lawful from unlawful, legitimate from illegitimate, and good from bad.  This is a particularly pronounced trend in the areas of sexual and reproductive rights and ethics.  Consensual sex has almost completely displaced marital sex as the demarcation of not only criminal from laudatory sex but also good from bad sex.  Likewise, the consensuality of a pregnancy is increasingly the demarcation of a celebrated rather than mourned pregnancy, rather than its marital province.  This development is justly celebrated as a breakthrough in women's rights and equality, but it carries costs.  This essay develops some of the limits and perils of an over‐reliance on consent and consensuality as the primary criterion of the morality of sex and reproduction.  Consent is not always a trustworthy guide to wellbeing, for both general reasons, and reasons specific to sexual and reproductive life.

Suggested Citation

West, Robin L., Consent, Legitimation, and Dysphoria (January 2020). The Modern Law Review, Vol. 83, Issue 1, pp. 1-34, 2020, Available at SSRN: or

Robin L. West (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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