A few quick thoughts on the next sexual revolution

  1. In the 1960s a range of political, social, economic and cultural factors intersected to generate a dramatic increase in the range and scope of everyday discourse about sex and sexuality. People begin to think and talk about sex/sexuality with a degree of explicitness and visibility which had heretofore been lacking.
  2. This generates interpenetrating feedback loops (e.g. people start to talk about the fact people are talking about it, it becomes a topic in tv/magazines/newspapers/books, advertisers start to draw on sexual tropes and imagery) which further the increasing explicitness and visibility
  3. Both trends give a new discursive prominence to an earlier existing tradition of academic inquiry, which had itself at points generated much popular discussion (most notably Kinsey). People writing/talking about sex/sexuality seek concepts within and through which to articulate themselves. Both in the media and in everyday life (with the former feeding into the latter).
  4. The gay rights movements leads to an increasing visibility of homosexuality, rendering heterosexuality a widespread object of explicit deliberation for the first time i.e. when people start to recognise that there are others (homosexuals) they start to reflect, to varying degrees, on their own sexuality qua sexuality for the first time. This, as well as ensuing political contests & controversies, feed back into the increasing visibility of sex/sexuality generating a veritable discursive explosion. Other feedback loops (point 2) continue to operate and increase in their intensity, with an ever great centrality of advertising-driven consumer spending to Anglo-American economies & the emergence of lifestyle journalism. Aids places homosexuality (and by extension sexuality, sexual choice and sexual behaviour) at the heart of societal level debates about risk in the 1980s.
  5. As this discursive explosion continues to grow in its intensity, the underlying conceptual structures of sexological thought (at times distorted by their popularisation and through their interaction with other, less significant though still pervasive, modes of thinking and talking about sexuality) become part of how we come to think about sex and sexuality at a society wide level.
  6. The expansion of LGB visibility, as well as the political contests that continue to come with it, furthers this process but they don’t challenge these underlying conceptual structures. Our basic models for thinking abouts sexuality are taxonomic: people are categorised according to their object choice (same / other / both), a function of their ‘sexual orientation’, and influential strands within the LGB movement seek normalisation as a prudent political strategy (“we’re just like you, it’s just we’re attracted to the same sex” etc). This is compounded by the way certain debates play out politically as totemic electoral wedge issues, particularly in the US e.g. gay marriage.
  7. Then the acronym begins to grow (i.e. G -> LG –> LGB –> LGBT –> LGBTUA etc) fuelled by grass roots activism, facilitated in a variety of ways by new communications technologies. The experience of the later terms in the acronym (and others, such as polyamory, which aren’t present) tend to differ from the earlier terms in the acronym (though LG/LGB experience is far from uniform, this claim is about a tendency). Increasingly people’s day to day experiences, their attempts to articulate who they take themselves to be, run up against the conceptual limits that these inherited sexological discursive structures afford. Concepts don’t do justice to what people are trying to express with them so, particularly given the newfound ability to engage in mass mediated communication within such groups, people begin to generate new concepts: new terms, phrases, ideas about who they are and how they live.
  8. This is what I’m terming the ‘next sexual revolution’: the cultural & social emergents from these everyday experiments in living, as well as the conversations which flow from them. As people are draw into dialogue as a result of their commonalities, these dialogues also lead to the generation of new tips which articulate their difference, while at the same time affirming a common identity. The next sexual revolution, currently in its very early stages, is a struggle against the very category of the ‘sexual’, as the network of concepts underpinning it are increasingly deconstructed at the level of everyday life and the dialogues people have about it.

And that’s the fullest statement I’ve yet managed about my hypothesis. The point of the monograph is to prove it, which I increasingly believe I can do through combining (a) engaging with the historical literature in a periodized way from the somewhat idiosyncratic vantage point my asexuality research and my phd research has led me to (b) compiling a matching periodized corpus of popular texts (c) another corpus of academic texts and using the wonderful WMatrix to unpack the transitions I identify with (a) through the excavation of (b) & (c).

Edit to add: did I just inadvertently stumble across my basic chapter plan for when I start writing the book proposal in a few weeks time?

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