The right of sexual autonomy occupies a central place in our constitutional scheme of individual liberties. Consensual sexual relations, including fornication, adultery, and sodomy, now presumptively lie beyond the reach of law’s regulatory power. But as this chapter shows, there is one long-standing law banning consensual sexual relations that remains solidly on the books in every state: the prohibition on adult incest. The subject of adult incest opens the door to a psychoanalytic perspective on the right of sexual autonomy and the modern laws regulating sexual choice. The chapter explores how powerful unconscious forces deriving from the parties’ close familial relationship render the “choice” to have sex a potentially tragic illusion. Similar kinds of unconscious coercion can happen in other contexts as well. For example, the therapist-patient relationship also involves forms of unconscious coercion not known to the parties themselves, and deserving of some regulation. Understanding in close detail the unconscious dynamics in adult incest and the therapist-patient relationship can illuminate less obvious forms of sexual coercion in more common types of professional relationships. A psychoanalytic perspective has a crucial role to play in defining the range and meaning of sexual autonomy as a fundamental right in our constitutional culture.
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