The Legal Regulation of Sexual Relationships

Module code: M3032
Level 6
15 credits in spring semester
Teaching method: Seminar, Workshop
Assessment modes: Essay

This module focuses on the legal regulation of sexual encounters, and requires you to think critically about the values and assumptions that underpin legal responses to a variety of sexual and intimate relationships.

Key questions which orient the module are:

  • What messages do the substantive law and enforcement practices communicate about the nature and value of sexual activity?
  • What are the consequences of the legal regulation of sexual activity in everyday life?

Topics that will be explored include legal definitions of 'sexual activity'; the role of consent in distinguishing sex from sexual violation; sexual activity involving vulnerable people such as children and mentally disordered adults; legal responses to pornography and sex work/prostitution; and legal aspects of same sex relationships.

The module combines elements of criminal, family and mental capacity law, and encourages you to consider the ways that different aspects of legal regulation intersect in particular contexts. For example, you will explore the relationship between criminal law and mental capacity law in relation to the sexual activity of mentally disordered adults.

Discussion and analysis of the substantive law will be informed by a range of relevant theoretical approaches such as feminist theory, intersectionality, masculinity studies and queer theory.

The module will be taught via weekly 2 hour seminars. These will alternate between standard seminars, each focused on a particular substantive topic, and 'workshop' sessions, the majority of which will consist of reading groups on one key text (in order to help you get to grips with some of the more complex theoretical approaches you will need to engage with). One cycle will be devoted to guidance on the assessment.

Module learning outcomes

  • Engage in sophisticated analysis of the key legal provisions that regulate sexual encounters.
  • Critically reflect on the values and assumptions underpinning the legal regulation of sexual encounters.
  • Use relevant theoretical approaches (e.g. feminist theory, masculinity studies and queer theory) as a framework to evaluate law and policy relating to sexual behaviour.
  • Demonstrate advanced independent research skills, including the ability to select and synthesise material from a variety of sources.