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Defining and Regulating the Boundaries of Sex and Sexuality

Hodson, N., Earp, B., Townley, L. ORCID: 0000-0002-0897-1990 & Bewley, S. (2019). Defining and Regulating the Boundaries of Sex and Sexuality. Medical Law Review, 27(4), pp. 541-522. doi:


Sex and sexuality are contentious concepts, blending the deeply personal with the profoundly political. Sex, a biological classification of human and other mammalian and non-mammalian bodies, has extensive sociopolitical and cultural baggage beyond its putative function of referring to (and drawing divisions on the basis of) clusters of reproduction-related bodily features. Sexuality, by which we mean the whole landscape of one’s sexual desires and activities, has also been decoupled from reproduction in various ways over the last half century or more. In this editorial we highlight some of the peripheries of sex as a category, including the embodiment of persons with a diversity of sexrelated physical characteristics, as well as those who may seek to change such characteristics (for example, as a component of gender identity-affirming care). We then articulate a view of sexuality that integrates biological and psychosocial aspects, noting the complex interplay of these factors in human sexual experience. Finally, we suggest that law has a role to play in sex and sexuality and that it should aim to steer a path between (1) untethered individualism in how these concepts and categories are manifested in the public sphere, and (2) dogmatic conservatism, masquerading as realism, that artificially and oppressively constrains such manifestations. We focus on the UK context to frame our discussion.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article published in Medical Law Review following peer review. The version of record Hodson, N., Earp, B., Townley, L. and Bewley, S. (2019). Defining and Regulating the Boundaries of Sex and Sexuality. Medical Law Review, and is available online at:
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
K Law
Departments: The City Law School > Professional Programmes
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