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This question is one posed regularly and often dismissed both by anti sex work campaigners and also by some women and men who presume that the question is somehow a justification for a mythical male sex drive that is insatiable. Their assumption presumably being that women do not have sexual desire. This presumption itself is especially strange considering many of those same women argue female autonomy and agency. There seems in their argument a nod to the myth of the woman as a docile recipient of male lust. This oddity aside however, the question itself is perplexing.
When we talk about rights we inevitably mean rights recognised within law. The problem however is that laws are always subjective and often arbitrary, reflecting the desires, more often than not, of government rather than the general public. Law is also modish, encapsulating the political and social angsts of the legislators of a particular time and place.
The law in the UK has over the centuries interfered with our sexual freedom in often minute detail. The law for example once forbid anal sex, and still persists in often arbitrarily and subjectively deciding what sexual practices we can perform and what sexual images we can look at. What was illegal in the 1950s, ie homosexuality, for example, is now recognised as equal in law with heterosexuality, while what was once legal, the right for a man to have sex with his wife whenever he wished, is now illegal. The law relatively recently decided that consent, quite rightly, must take legal precedence over, in this case, a husbands sexual satisfaction.
In this way what is a “right” today may not be tomorrow. So if the government decided that sex was a “Human Right” then it would be. A right of course does not imply that a person has to oblige themselves of that right, but it would, in this case recognise in law that a human being had a right to a consensual sexual act with another consenting adult.
The question, should the right to sex be recognised in legislation in many senses is however superfluous because sex exists outside jurisdiction and despite the best efforts of law enforcement is virtually ungovernable. Controlling human sexuality will remain a dream until legislators find the means to control not only the human mind but also the human body. No doubt that time will come. But in the meantime sex remains an intrinsic part of our DNA. Our bodies, even if we are asexual, are never the less sexual, in that they have the capacity to reproduce, to have sex. Sex defines humanity in the most intimate terms in virtually every human interaction. We can as humans choose to live without sex, and indeed society can choose to deny some people access to sex. Catholic priests for example choose to be celibate and yet their writings tell us that celibacy is the most difficult expression of their vocation, and one which they find hard to keep. The human body, even if the human mind chooses to do without sex, inevitably acts autonomously from the brain or the arbitrary rules of law, to declare its right to sex.
Inevitably the question is raised “What about the disabled, do they especially have a right to sex, if their disabilities make it difficult to form relationships or to meet people for consensual casual sex.”
Cruelly some people insist that the disabled man or woman must either remain sexless or somehow form a loving relationship. Having worked with disabled people this attitude especially makes me angry for three reasons.
1 Forming a “love” relationship for for many severely disabled is next to impossible (but of course nothing is impossible). Also many people who are bed bound or have terminal illnesses, for very good reasons, choose not to even try to form any long term relationship.
2 Sex, as a pleasure, as a release of often frustrated mental and physical desire, as the expression of simple joy in human interaction, the enjoyment of another’s body, is for me and for many men and women, disabled or not, enough in itself. Love is another human emotion altogether and should not be confused with sex which is essentially a biological reproductive reality of our human experience which also happens to be pleasurable.
3 As a society we pretend to care to the physical well being of the disabled. We provide for their bodies, washing, dressing, healing, and yet we care less for their minds or for their natural human desire for sexual release. That’s considered just dirty.
However to avoid the trolls that will no doubt shout “ablest” if you discuss disability and sexual desire, I will reference much of the above to be also true of all of humanity.
In conclusion. I believe that in many instances it would be useful to have access to sexual happiness recognised as a “right” in law . Not least because I think happiness itself is something society should strive for for all its citizens. Do I think it will happen? No. There are too many who fear sex and too many who would censor sexual happiness, especially if it were sex of which “they” disapproved. Does lack of recognition legally make sex less of a right? Ultimately no. Sex and the pursuit of sexual happiness is something humans will always strive for, and if the law prevents it, they will find ways to circumvent those laws. Would recognising “sex” as a right not cause problems over providing access? No, because the law places consent as paramount in any sexual interaction and quite rightly so. And ultimately consensual sex between consenting adults should always be beyond the control of the law.
The right to sex or no right to sex debate will no doubt continue. But these are my view. Opinions are of course welcome to what is an interesting discussion.