Sexuality and Culture

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 3–17 | Cite as

On the limits of sexual ethics: The phenomenology of autassassinophilia

  • Lisa Downing


Contemporary liberal discourse advocates tolerance of a diversity of sexual orientations and behaviors, provided that the principle of informed consent can be shown to have been respected. Borrowing an extreme test case used by the sexologist John Money—the reciprocally chosen lust murder pact—this theoretical article examines the limits of liberal ideology for sexual ethics. Using as its illustrative material the case of Sharon Lopatka, a Maryland woman who instigated her own sexual murder in 1996, it demonstrates that the phenomenon of being murdered for pleasure problematizes commonplace assumptions about the legitimacy to consent. The discussion recalls and refreshes existing debates in feminism and the politics of sadomasochism and reads them alongside the rhetoric surrounding the ethics of medically assisted suicide. Consenting to murder for pleasure is revealed as a formulation that exceeds the terms of informed consent as it is currently understood and thereby constitutes an ethical and logical aporia. In a final section, the phenomenology of consensual murder is explored via a reading of the dynamics of sexual activity and passivity in philosophical accounts by Jean-Paul Sartre and Martha Nussbaum, and a fictional text by Muriel Spark.


Assisted Suicide Liberal Ideology Sexual Ethic Contemporary Reading Moral Absolutism 
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Copyright information

© Springer 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa Downing
    • 1
  1. 1.Queen MaryUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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