Disability, sex rights and the scope of sexual exclusion

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Abstract

In response to three papers about sex and disability published in this journal, I offer a critique of existing arguments and a suggestion about how the debate should be reframed going forward. Jacob M. Appel argues that disabled individuals have a right to sex and should receive a special exemption to the general prohibition of prostitution. Ezio Di Nucci and Frej Klem Thomsen separately argue contra Appel that an appeal to sex rights cannot justify such an exemption. I argue that Appel’s argument fails, but not (solely) for the reasons Di Nucci and Thomsen propose, as they have missed the most pressing objection to Appel’s argument: Appel falsely presumes that we never have good reasons to restrict someone’s sexual liberty rights. More importantly, there is a major flaw in the way that all three authors frame their positive accounts. They focus on disability as a proxy for sexual exclusion, when these categories should be pulled apart: some are sexually excluded who are not disabled, while some who are disabled are not sexually excluded. I conclude that it would be less socially harmful and more productive to focus directly on sexual exclusion per se rather than on disability as a proxy for sexual exclusion.

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