Sex and Harm in the Age of Consent

Sex and Harm in the Age of Consent

Joseph J. Fischel

Exposing the fault lines underlying our regulation of sex

352 Pages, 6 x 9 in

  • Paperback
  • 9780816694761
  • Published: May 15, 2016
  • eBook
  • 9781452951591
  • Published: May 15, 2016


Sex and Harm in the Age of Consent

Joseph J. Fischel

ISBN: 9780816694761

Publication date: May 15th, 2016

352 Pages


8 x 5

"Sex and Harm in the Age of Consent is a strongly original, frequently brilliant, cross-disciplinary study of the limitations of consent for measuring sexual freedom and sexual harm."—Tim Dean, University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign

"Joseph J. Fischel’s Sex and Harm in the Age of Consent offers a breathtakingly queer account of sex, perversion, innocence, and consent. His careful and complex reading of the social and legal meaning of the ‘sexual predator’ boldly challenges the common wisdom about the justifications for and consequences of regulating outlaw sexuality."—Katherine Franke, director, Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, Columbia Law School

"A very well-researched book . . . I applaud the author for the depth and breadth of his scholarship."—PsycCRITIQUES

"A carefully written, intellectually challenging argument... A must read for queer and feminist scholars."—CHOICE

"Through his proposal of autonomy, peremption, and an adolescence not isolated from social and historical contexts of inequality yet distinguishable from childhood, Fischel effectively moves the debate on what constitutes sexual harm well beyond the dichotomy of consent and predation." —PoLAR

"The book is deeply compelling in its capacity to weave a legal archive and a popular culture archive, and in its compelling close-readings of both case law (and policy) and visual culture."—Political Theory

"Sex and Harm in the Age of Consent should be considered required reading for anyone committed to thinking age as a central determinant of sexuality in consensual times."—GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies

Sex and Harm in the Age of Consent cautions against the adoption of consent as our primary determinant of sexual freedom. For Joseph J. Fischel, consent is not necessarily always ethically sound. It is, he argues, a moralized fiction, and it churns out figures for its normativity: the predatory sex offender and the innocent child.

Examining the representation of consent in U.S. law and media culture, Fischel contends that the figures of the sex offender and the child are consent’s alibi, its negative space, enabling fictions that allow consent to do the work cut out for it under late modern sexual politics. Engaging legal, queer, feminist, and political theory, case law and statutory law, and media representations, Fischel proposes that we change our adjudicative terms from innocence, consent, and predation to vulnerability, sexual autonomy, and “peremption,” which he defines as the uncontrolled disqualification of possibility. Such a shift in theory, law, and life would be less damaging for young people, more responsive to sexual violence, and better for sex.

Joseph J. Fischel is assistant professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Yale University.

Introduction: Sex and the Ends of Consent
1. “Especially Heinous”: Politics, Predation, Sex Panics
2. Transcendent Homosexuals, Dangerous Sex Offenders
3. Numbers, Sex, Power: Age and Sexual Consent
4. Growing Somewhere? Journeys of Gendered Adolescence
Conclusion: Other Sex Scandals