I first encountered the work of Rachel Hills in 2012, when she interviewed me for an essay in the Atlantic exploring asexuality. The conversation itself was incredibly stimulating and the ensuing piece of work was the best thing I’ve read about asexuality in the media. I’ve been waiting since then for her book, The Sex Myth, with high expectations of what it will include. It doesn’t disappoint. It’s an engaging and thoughtful overview of what Rachel calls “the gap between our fantasies and realities”. The lived space of ambivalence and anxiety in which so many of us dwell, so much of the time, yet which often resists articulation in a sexual culture that offers us an expansive array of ways to talk about sex acts but far fewer to talk about what sexuality itself means to us.
My own interest in this topic stems in large part from my research on asexuality. More specifically, I remember my bewilderment at the clear patterning that could be seen in how those who weren’t asexual had responded to attempts by participants in my research to explain their asexuality to those around them. The same responses came up time and time again: there must be something wrong with your hormones, you’re just a late bloomer, you must have been abused as a child, maybe you just haven’t met the right person yet. Asexuality often proves incomprehensible, at least initially, to non-asexual people: how can someone live without sex? Yet so many do, for significant swathes of the life course, if not as a permanent feature of existence. This prima facie incomprehensibility of asexuality reveals features of a broader sexual culture which often escape notice, at least if we inhabit them unproblematically much of the time.
Throughout The Sex Myth, Rachel’s concern is to understand those experiences when people don’t inhabit this sexual culture unproblematically. As she puts it, “The Sex Myth fades into the background when we are secure in our choices” but “It is when our footing is less solid that it is most powerful”. The uncertainties and stumblings, the private anxieties and unspoken agonies, so often attached to a part of life which is publicly proclaimed to be an unparalleled locus of human fulfilment. She’s a considerate interviewer and engaging writer, never failing to produce a readable pen portrait which nonetheless offers important insights into the wider themes of the book. The prevailing impression I was left with by the book was that everyone suffers under the sex myth, as the space in which one can just be contracts in the face of a creeping pathologization that perpetually leads people to ask “am I normal?” I particularly enjoyed her discussion of the politics of kink to this end. She deftly unravels how our neo-libertine culture often imposes unspoken limits on those drawn to kink and places further burdens on those who lack interest in it.
It’s reminded me of what had once been my post-doc plans: continuing my interest in a/sexuality studies by exploring the lived experience of sexuality for other groups for whom sexual normativity creates profound problems. But maybe looking at outlier cases misses the point, even if it could prove methodologically productive. What really interests me are the everyday experiences, private moments of quiet shame for failing to live up to a standard one might neither assent to nor fully understand. I’d like to excavate this baggage, understand it better conceptually but also explore the new vocabularies to talk about sexuality and intimacy which I’m familiar with from the asexual community but which can also be found elsewhere. Anxiety pervades contemporary sexuality and I’ve yet to encounter a convincing reason why this needs to be the case.
I’m looking forward to this event on Friday. It’s been ages since I’ve talked about a/sexuality!
Sexuality and Gender Conference & Official Launch of the Palgrave Handbook of the Psychology of Sexuality and Gender
The Open University Camden, 1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London NW1 8NP
Friday November 27th 2015 9.30am until 7pm
The authors and editors of the Palgrave Handbook of the Psychology of Sexuality and Gender welcome you to the conference and official book launch. Each author will speak for twenty minutes on the cutting edge research and theory contained within their chapter, followed by ten minutes for questions from the audience.
Lunch is not provided, however local shops and supermarkets will be able to provide almost anything you would like.
Attendance is free, but registration beforehand via Christina Richards (email@example.com) is required. Do book early as space is limited and the editors’ last conference and book launch was over-subscribed.
Produced by Sam Broadley. It was fun! It provoked one of my now periodic bouts of “wow, I’d forgotten how totally fascinating sexuality is”. I really must go back to sexuality studies at some point.
Having been arguing for years that (non-a)sexuality remains weirdly undefined, it’s easy for me to see the interest in the study of heterosexuality. On the other hand, it’s hard not to wince at phrases like “queer heterosexualities”, “straight queer subjectivities” and “queer aspiring straight” even though I entirely see what they’re getting at and it’s a conversation I find extremely interesting.
heterosexuality beyond the heteronormal
Call for Papers on the 3rd European Geographies of Sexualities Conference, Rome, 16-18 September 2015
Valerie De Craene and Maarten Loopmans, University of Leuven, Belgium
In recent years, geographers have paid increasing attention to heterosexuality, underlining the multiplicity of heterosexual identities and performances. Normative heterosexuality has been described as “a highly unstable, default characterization for people who have not marked themselves or been marked by others as homosexual. (…) The resulting class of heterosexuals is a default class, home to those who have not fallen out of it” (Halley, 1993, p 83, 85).
This session aims to critically reflect on and explore possibilities for a queer analysis of heterosexuality. We follow the line of argument that queer should not be reduced to sexual preference (cfr. “Queer is more than short hand for LGBT” (Browne, 2006, p. 886); Thomas, 2000), nor should it (only) imply an expression of “an affiliation with antihomophobic politics” (Butler, 1993, p. 230). If we understand queer as resistance to regimes of the normal (Warner, 1993), we can critically engage with heterosexuality within and beyond the heteronormal through a queer lens. It offers possibilities for a queer analysis of processes of inclusion and exclusion, of deconstruction and (re)production of heterosexual desire, behavior, identities, practices.
Such straight queer aspiration has a clear political ambition. As Thomas (2000) puts it, straight disloyalty to straight identity is “to assist in working the weaknesses in the heterosexual norm, to inhabit the practice of heterosexuality’s rearticulation and inhibit its hegemonic dominance” (p. 31). Indeed, the repeated subverting, parodying and challenging of heteronormativities, might actually help to change dominant ‘scripts’ (Butler, 2000). Taking a position of a queer aspiring straight should always be handled with care, bearing in mind the privileged position one speaks from, and therefore always requires a complicated negotiation of a straight critic’s subject position (Schlichter, 2004).
As such, recent geographic research on non-heteronormative heterosexualities has emphasized the biopolitical regulatory urge which has set aside non-heteronormative heterosexualities as a discursive and spatial antipode for the construction of heteronormality. In such discourse, a moral geography is constructed segregating certain performances of heterosexuality as “incompatible with family occupation” (Hubbard and Prior 2013, p. 145). The policing and control of heterosexualities outside the norm, such as adult entertainment, is exposed as functional to the biopolitical regulation of the wider population (Howell, 2004; Brown & Knopp, 2010; Evered & Evered, 2013).
Simultaneously, micro-spatial studies have emphasized everyday spatial performativities (Gregson and Rose, 2000) to demonstrate how heteronormativity is at the same time challenged and reproduced through the repeated construction and performance of also straight queer subjectivities (Faier, 2014; Silvey, 2010). Moreover, geographers have emphasized how performances and places are mutually constitutive and intrinsically related; performances take and make place simultaneously and both are constitutive to sexual identities. Performances in one place and time cannot be understood in isolation from experiences and performances in other places and times.
The overall aim of this session is to develop a better theoretical understanding of heterosexuality beyond the heteronormal and to explore its various guises empirically and theoretically. We encourage a wide variety of contributions, on topics such as (but not limited to):
– How do new media and digital social networks favour the expression of different forms of heterosexuality?
– Queer spatial performances of heterosexuality
– Exploring heterotopia from where to challenge heteronormativities
– Queering heterosexuality from the rural to the urban
– Spaces of queer heterosexualities from transactional sex to Durex Play
Proposals (max. 250 words) can be submitted by email until April 28, 2015 to:
Valerie.Decraene@ees.kuleuven.be and Maarten.Loopmans@ees.kuleuven.be.
If I had any more conference funding left then I’d be going to this. The early bird post-doc rate is admirably cheap:
A Critical Moment: Sex/Gender Research at the Intersection of Culture, Brain, & Behavior
October 23-24, 2015 – Early Registration is Now Open
UCLA, Los Angeles, California
Confirmed Keynote Speaker is Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling, Nancy Duke Lewis Professor Emerita of Biology and Gender Studies, Brown University, and author of the pioneering books, Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World (2012) and Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (2000).
Foundational Talks will place sex and gender within larger historical (Sarah Richardson, Harvard University), biological (Art Arnold, UCLA), and cultural (Gilbert Herdt, California Institute for Integral Studies) contexts, highlighted by a vibrant panel discussion with these speakers and Alice Wexler, UCLA.
Topical Sessions covering the Humanities and Sciences, with several more speakers:
*Evolutionary and Cultural Contexts of Sex/Gender Differences in Brain and Behavior (Donald Pfaff, James Rilling, Kathy Huang, Michael Peletz)
*Toward a Culture-Brain-Behavioral Understanding of Partnerships, Marriage, Sexual Orientations, Desires, and Practices (Daniel Fessler, Sari van Anders, Lisa Diamond, Tom Boellstorff)
*What Counts as Adequate Function? (Melissa Hines, Hillard Kaplan, Marcia Inhorn, Carol Worthman)
*Sex/Gender and Systems of Power (Matthew Gutmann, Carol Worthman)
*Film: Bitter Honey (Robert Lemelson)
Panel discussions and question/answer sessions with the audience throughout this 2-day event. We have 19 confirmed speakers, with more names to be added soon.
Discover the latest findings on sex/gender, from an interdisciplinary perspective. All at UCLA this October 23-24, 2015.
Take advantage of the lower cost EARLY Registration fees and REGISTER NOW. Our last two conferences sold out before the end of Early registration.
EARLY REGISTRATION (lower cost) ENDS June 30, 2015 (mere months away!)
Critical Sexology Seminar
Feminist Encounters with Evolutionary PsychologyGuest-Organized by Rachel O’Neill, King’s College London.Friday 30 January 2015, 2-6pm
Room G.80, Franklin-Wilkins Building
King’s College London (Waterloo Campus)
Prof. Deborah Cameron, University of Oxford: “Evolution, language and the battle of the sexes: A feminist linguist encounters evolutionary psychology”
Dr. Celia Roberts, Lancaster University: “Evolution, early puberty and the half-lives of childhood trauma: A feminist encounter”
Laura Garcia-Favaro, City University: “The ‘truth’ cannot be sexist?: Postfeminist biologism in transnational technologies of mediated intimacy”This seminar will examine the social life of evolutionary psychology from feminist perspectives, bringing into focus the historical, cultural, and political continuities between evolutionary psychology and contemporary postfeminism. Discussions facilitated at this event will explore questions such as: In what ways do evolutionary narratives contribute to the naturalisation of sexual difference that has become a pervasive feature of postfeminist media culture? How, in particular, do evolutionary and biological logics manifest within and across sites of mediated intimacy, from Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus to Fifty Shades of Grey? Further, how might narratives from evolutionary psychology serve to consolidate the market-orientated approaches to sex and relationships being elaborated under contemporary capitalism? Can the persistence of evolutionary psychology as a framework for understanding social life be mapped onto the broader conjuncture of neoliberalism? Are there unexamined continuities between evolutionary psychology and neoliberal rationalities, particularly with regard discourses of individualism, hierarchy, and meritocracy? Finally, how can feminists negotiate the double complexity of evolutionary psychology as both an academic field and a repository of popular narratives of gender and sexuality as they attempt to challenge relations of inequality and oppression?
For maps and directions to the King’s Waterloo campus please see: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/campuslife/campuses/waterloo/Waterloo.aspx
For more information about the Critical Sexology seminar series go to: http://www.criticalsexology.org.uk/wp/ There is no need to register your intention to attend with the organizers.
Sexuality activists/academics – do consider submitting to this and please pass it on.
Due to the huge interest in the Sexual Cultures 2: Academia Meets Activism conference, we have extended the Call for Papers to 15 January 2015. Please circulate widely and forward to individuals/networks who might be interested.
April 8-10 2015 University of Sunderland London Campus, South Quay, London, UK
This conference, co-hosted by the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland, and the Onscenity Research Network will take place on April 8-10 2015 at the University of Sunderland London Campus, London, UK
The conference will host several keynote panels, bringing together key academics and activists on the topics of:
- Sex and disability
- Trans* and non-binary activism
- Sex worker and stripper activism
- Youth, race and sexuality
Panellists will include: Andrea Cornwall, Kat Gupta, Kate Hardy, Laura Harvey, Alex Iantaffi, Jade Fernandez, Tuppy Owens, Emma Renold, Jessica Ringrose, Nabil Shaban, Jay Stewart.
The overriding theme of the conference is the bringing together of academia with activism. Submissions are particularly welcomed from: academics who are also activists, activists who are also academics, academic/activists on the inside and outside of conventional academia, and academics and activists who are working together on projects relating to sexual cultures.
The key themes of the conference are:
Many of the most important and current debates around sexual identities, practices and cultures in recent years have cohered around intersectionality. Sex is an area in which we particularly see intersections playing out between various forms and systems of oppression discrimination. For example, key debates concern the possibilities for consensual sex and agency within multiple intersecting structures of oppression; the ways in which ‘sexualization’ operates – and is discussed – in gendered, classed, and raced ways; which bodies and identities are considered to have the potential to be sexual or not, and which are regarded as intrinsically hypersexual or pathologically sexual. Papers in this strand will explore intersectional elements of sexual identity, practice, experience and culture, the ways in which academics and/or activists are engaging and intervening in these areas (online and offline), and the key points of tension and conflict that are emerging around these issues.
Sex advice and education is a key area of concern in relation to sexual cultures. Sex advice and sex education are arenas in which cultural conceptualisations of sex are reproduced and perpetuated, as well as being potential sites for the resisting of dominant cultural understandings and offering alternative possibilities. Sex advice and education occur across various media and diverse professional contexts, including – for example – self-help books, problem pages, websites, online forums, news reporting, TV documentaries, and pornography, as well as school sex ed, youth work, sexual health clinics, sex therapy, sex coaching and sex work. Papers in this strand will explore the kinds ways in which intimacies are being mediated through various forms of sex advice and education, as well as considering the ways in which activists and/or academics are engaging and intervening in these areas (online and offline, in policy and in practice) and the forms of sex advice and education that are emerging from these engagements and interventions.
Sex and technology
Technologies of all kinds have been central to the ways in which sex is understood and experienced in contemporary societies. We are interested in papers that explore evolving technologies in the presentation of sex through print, photography, film and video to todays online and mobile media; the ways that technologies are increasingly integrated into everyday sex lives; the expansion of sex technologies in toy, doll, machine and robot manufacture, the marketing of drugs such as Viagra and cosmetic technologies such as body modification and genital surgery for enhancing sex; the expansion of sex work and recreation online; sex 2.0 practices, regimes and environments such as porn tubes, sex chat rooms and worlds like Second Life; and the shifting relations between bodies and machines in the present and in predictions of futuresex.
In recent years sex work has become a potent site for the discussion of labour, commerce and sexual ethics, attracting increased academic attention and public concern. Papers in this strand of the conference will seek to develop our understanding of commercial sex, focus on conceptualizing emerging types of sexual labour, and explore the place of sex work of all kinds in contemporary society. They will ask how an investigation of contemporary forms of sex work and sex as work may shed new light on the study of cultural production, industry, commerce, and notions of commodification and labour. We are also seeking papers which are interested in exploring the connections between work and leisure, work and pleasure, sex work as forms of body and affective labour, and the ethics and politics of sexual labour.
We invite proposals for the following:
Panels, roundtable discussions, and workshops of up to four presenters/facilitators (1 hour)
Papers/interactive events (20 minutes)
Short Ignite papers (5 minutes/20 slides)
We particularly welcome proposals for non-standard types of presentation which question the academic/activist distinction, such as fish bowl discussions, pecha kucha, creative methods workshops, and interactive workshops.
All presenters are requested to make their material accessible to an audience which will include academics, activists, practitioners and community members.
Deadline for the submission of proposals is January 15 2015.
For all individual papers please submit a 150 word abstract and 150 word biographical note. Please indicate which key theme of the conference your paper belongs to.
For panels, workshops and roundtable sessions please submit a 600-800 overview and set of abstracts with 150 word biographical notes. Please indicate which key theme of the conference you want your panel to be considered for.
All submissions should be addressed to sexualcultures2[at]sunderland[dot]ac[dot]uk
In her The Reflexive Imperative, Margaret Archer presents an idea she terms the necessity of selection: the necessity of selecting from the options available to us. These options are always structurally and culturally circumscribed, albeit to wildly varying degrees, however they remain options. The nature of our ‘selections’ vary wildly but they are always a matter of discriminating between possibilities. If we accept that selection in this sense is an unavoidable challenge we encounter biographically then we can begin to look for trends in how this challenge is met or evaded. For instance I think ‘everythingism’ is a (privileged) attempt to evade the necessity of selection and reading the comments on the original Guardian article gives an entirely anecdotal basis for speculating that it is a trend. This interesting article about Millennials and Sex perhaps suggests another trend in how people are coming to evade the necessity of selection:
Instead, Kristina hopes to graduate and spend a few more years playing the field before getting married. In the process, she says, she hopes she never has to go on an actual date. “I’m obsessed with wedding crap, like I Pin wedding stuff all the time, and I love [celebrity-wedding planner] David Tutera and Say Yes to the Dress. Like, I’m obsessed with the idea of getting married, but I want to skip the dating part and just know who I’m going to marry.” She believes hookup culture might actually make this possible for her generation. “We’ll be so experienced in all the people that we don’t want, when we find the person who we do want, it’s just going to happen.”
I think the ‘necessity of selection’ is a very useful concept to help make sense of this approach to intimate life. To reject the ‘necessity of selection’ in this sphere would be to reject the underlying premise of long term monogamous partnership as stated here (though this would in turn intensify the necessity of selection in other aspects of her life). However she is “obsessed with the idea of getting married”: she intends to select in this way but hopes to avoid the difficulty of selection by embracing variety prior to this. I guess what I’m interested in here is the way in which any middle ground between ‘playing the field’ and ‘getting married’ drops out of the picture. My point is not that there’s something intrinsically necessary about this ‘middle ground’ but rather that the preoccupation with the commitment of marriage sits uneasily with a desire to “just know who I’m going to marry”. What’s lost are the ambiguities, uncertainties and fallibility that are entailed by any such commitment: a present refusal of selection is juxtaposed to a future embrace of selection. Obviously this is just a quote from a magazine article but I’ve been thinking about this recently in relation to emerging adulthood and how realist sociology can help explain some of the tendencies that have been identified in terms of the romantic and sexual lives of millennials. I think the necessity of selection could be a very useful concept to make sense of these trends, rooted as it is in a broader theory of social change, however I’m still at a very early stage of thinking this through. This is how Margaret Archer describes the process of selection in the face of variety in The Reflexive Imperative:
Relationally, each ‘invitation’ to a new experience produces a response from the subject, via the experiment taking place between them, one registered in terms of satisfaction or dissatisfaction (which may come close to reflex-rejection where fear or repugnance are concerned). What is of supreme importance, even though it may be misjudged, misevaluated and not be sustained, is the subject’s discovery that a previously unknown experience ‘matters to me’. This is the beginning of practical reasoning about how one should live because it furnishes the potential raw materials, which may or may not be mutually compatible and thus have no guarantee of being retained. […] Discernment is messy, incomplete and provisional for eighteen-year-olds. Nevertheless, what caring means remains constant, even if the ‘list’ of their concerns undergoes additions and deletion as well as accommodation and subordination. (Archer 2012: 104)
One of the themes I discussed in my PhD data was the manner in which young adults embrace variety in an attempt to equip themselves to select from variety. Obviously they don’t use this terminology to describe or think about their own behaviour. The behavioural trajectories I mean are commonly referred to with phrases like “working out what I want”, “finding out what matters to me”, “working out who I am”. The most obvious manifestation of it is the inclination to move contexts in the absence of any specific intentions: desperately seeking something ‘new’ without being able to articulate what it is they’re looking for. If we expose ourselves to variety, exploring different possibilities of what to do and who to be, it becomes easier to actually select from these possibilities in the manner necessary to shape a life. That at least is the plan. In practice, it can have the opposite effect, as these patterns of movement have implications for the spatial distribution of variety and the embrace of variety can multiply awareness of the available options (or confront them with unavailable options) even as it better equips an individual to choose from them (or entrenches awareness of the constraints upon their choice). I’d like to work with a very specific theme, like sexual & romantic partnering, in order to help flesh out this analysis because at present it’s still much woolier than I would like it to be. This would also help refine the concepts of necessity of selection and the need to shape a life in terms of one very specific aspect of that life:
Because no one can simply continue adding to their list of concerns ad infinitum since they have insufficient time to attend to them all and would discover some conflict, generating dissatisfaction (for example, it is almost impossible to be an avid gardener and to be travelling for six months of the year). Consequentially, complementarity between concerns is sought and not as some abstract idea or strain towards consistency, but because it is desirable in itself. It is what protects that which matters to us most by ensuing it is well served and that concerns of lesser importance are not allowed to detract from it. (Archer 2012: 108-109)
If we accept this account then we can see the ‘sexual revolution’ as constituting a decoupling of sex from commitment. Can we read the emergence of asexuality as a parallel decoupling of commitment from sex?
“The really big change in sexual practices among young Americans occurred with the Baby Boomer generation, that is the move toward premarital sex,” says Elizabeth Armstrong, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who studies sexuality. This change was followed by “the move in the Sixties and the Seventies to having sex before a relationship was really fully committed. That big move happened with the parents of the people who are now in college, basically.” And those college kids are now pushing the trend further to today’s standard in which commitment and emotional connection of any sort are both unnecessary precursors to sex.
This looks worthwhile:
Early Career Researcher Conference
Gender, sexuality and young people: After No Outsiders Date: 9th December, 2014, 10..00am – 16.30pm
Venue: University of York, Berrick Saul Building, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD
This interdisciplinary conference aims to bring together Early Career Researchers whose work explores issues around gender, sexuality, and young people. It is intended to be a friendly forum in which Early Career Researchers can feel supported to present their initial findings and discuss their project design or ethical issues. It additionally aims to support the writing of abstracts for individual papers and to identify themes for symposia at next year’s BERA annual conference which will be held in Belfast.
Abstracts of no longer than 250 words should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 7th November 2014. Lunch, coffee and light refreshments will be served on the day.
Topics for discussion might include, but are not limited to:
– Gendered and sexual diversity in schools
– Experiences of LGBT young people
– Sex and Relationships education and policy
– Childhood and heteronormativity
Up to 16 participants (BERA members) will be reimbursed up to £15 each upon presentation of travel receipts (priority given to unfunded PhD students and then on a first-come, first-serve basis). Non-members will be reimbursed up to £10 (unfunded PhD students and then on a first-come, first-serve basis).
Book your place at the event online below: www.bera.ac.uk/events
This looks like a great idea. Despite having decided I don’t want to do asexuality research anymore, I’m rather tempted to have a serious go at setting out my idea about the historical emergence of the sexual assumption in the hope I can get some corpus linguists interested in helping me investigate it:
We are Mandy, Katharina and Federica writing on behalf of RiGLS, the research group in gender, language and sexuality at Lancaster University (UK), founded by Dr Jane Sunderland. For more information on RiGLS, please visit our page: http://www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/groups/rigls/index.htm
We would like invite researchers interested in sexuality and/or gender in conjunction with language and/or a linguistic approach to come to any number of our sessions and/or to give a talk themself.
The sessions usually take place on Wednesdays, from 2 to 3.30pm (within term-time). Please find attached our programme for the current term.
Please do not hesitate to contact us with a suggestion for a talk in the future. We would be happy to accommodate your needs in terms of time and day of the week.
The Department of Linguistics and English Language is a very vibrant one in terms of both teaching and research and we are only one among many research groups active in the department. You can have a look at all the Research Groups here: http://www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/research/index.htm. We also at times team up with some of these groups to provide joint talks, for example this term with UCREL (Computer Corpus Research on Language) and LIP (Language, Identity and Power) on automatically detecting gender bias in media coverage (http://www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/groups/lip/current.htm).
Interdisciplinary work in general is very welcome. We also encourage presentations on work in progress. One of our aims is to facilitate constructive criticism and exchange of expertise between researchers in the wide field of gender, language and sexuality.
We have a small fund available to help with external speakers’ expenses such as train journeys within the UK.
If you are interested in giving a talk at RiGLS or you would like to come to a talk and would like further information please get in touch with us:
Mandy Yu: email@example.com
Katharina Wind: firstname.lastname@example.org
Federica Formato: email@example.com
We also have a facebook page “RiGLS” and our Twitter account is @RiGLS.
We hope to hear from you.
The RiGLS coordinators
This article by a sexual health therapist appeared on an Australian news website a few days ago. It cautions against identification as asexual on the grounds that it precludes ‘further exploration’. We are told that “sexuality is as normal as breathing” and that those deliberating about their possible asexuality should “do some exploring, take your time” because “there is no need to give yourself a label, embrace an identity or feel the necessity to join a community”. But there is a need and what the author fails to realise is how arguments such as this contribute to it by propping up a sense of asexuality as being broken.
There’s an interesting tension at the heart of the argument being made. On the one hand, it is asserted that it is “not possible to be without sexuality” and that “sexuality is as normal as breathing”. On the other hand, we are told that “conditions like sex-phobia and sexual aversion disorder (SAD) do exist”. This is what I mean by the sexual assumption: universality and uniformity are imputed to sexual attraction such that contrary cases are seen as deviations to be explained away as pathological. So the initial statement that “sexuality is as normal as breathing” comes to seem somewhat more complicated. I’d never heard of ‘sexual aversion disorder’ before. This is what I found through a quick google search:
To understand sexual aversion disorder, one should first understand that there are circumstances in which it is normal for people to lose interest in sexual activity. The reader can then compare these situations to the loss of desire associated with serious sexual disorders, including sexual aversion disorder.
There are a number of reasons that people lose interest in sexual intercourse. It is normal to experience a loss of desire during menopause; directly after the birth of a child; before or during menstruation; during recovery from an illness or surgery; and during such major or stressful life changes as death of a loved one, job loss, retirement, or divorce. These are considered normal causes for fluctuations in sexual desire and are generally temporary. Changing roles, such as becoming a parent for the first time or making a career change have also been found to cause loss of desire. Not having enough time for oneself or to be alone with one’s partner may also contribute to normal and naturally reversible loss of desire. Loss of privacy resulting from moving a dependent elderly parent into one’s home is a common cause of loss of desire in middle-aged couples. Depression, fatigue , or stress also contribute to lessening of sexual interest.
For something ‘as normal as breathing’ (what does this even mean?) there seem to be an awful lot of conditions in which people don’t experience interest in sexual activity. As this link goes on to explain, SAD “represents a much stronger dislike of and active avoidance of sexual activity than the normal ups and downs in desire described above” (my emphasis). When we look at such a ‘condition’ in terms of the boundaries they draw, with a degree of precision which belies the supposed omnipresence of something akin a continual process we rely upon to live, it becomes interesting to see how this diagnostic category overlaps with others that perform a similar function:
One disorder similar in many aspects to sexual aversion disorder is hypoactive sexual disorder. Many of the signs, such as avoiding sexual contact in a variety of ways, are similar. The primary difference between the two disorders is that a patient with hypoactive sexual disorder is not interested in sex at all and does not have sexual fantasies of any variety. A patient with sexual aversion disorder, by comparison, may have normal sexual fantasies, and even function normally with some partners, although not with a specific partner. Also, a patient with hyposexual disorder will not enjoy or desire any anticipation in sexual activities including kissing and caressing. Some, though not all, people with sexual aversion disorder do enjoy sexual foreplay until the point of genital contact.
Sexual aversion disorder and hypoactive sexual disorder are both considered to be caused mainly by psychological factors and to manifest psychological symptoms. Another disorder that can have some similar symptoms is female sexual arousal disorder (FSAD). FSAD refers to a woman’s recurrent inability to achieve or maintain an adequate lubrication-swelling response during sexual activity. Lack of lubrication is a physical problem that may have either physical or psychological causes. Women with FSAD find intercourse uncomfortable or even painful. As a result of the physical discomfort, the woman often will avoid intercourse and sexual activity with her partner that may lead to intercourse. Although FSAD is a disorder with physical symptoms as well as psychological ones, it is easily confused with sexual aversion disorder because it may manifest as a problem of interest or desire.
You don’t have to be a foucauldian to see the inherently political aspect to categories like this being deployed. What I find so frustrating about articles like the one that provoked this post is how disingenuously they’re couched – the author advocates freedom from categories (“there is no need to give yourself a label”) while in fact implicitly advocating their own pseudo-scientific ones. The reason why “there is no need to give yourself a label” is because the label in question either refers to something that doesn’t exist (sex is as natural as breathing, remember?) or to some pathological factor which needs to be treated in order to restore you to normality.
In the last few years my interest in asexuality has shifted from a concern with the experience of asexual people to a preoccupation with why those who aren’t asexual find it as confusing as they do. This can seem to be a confusingly niche interest, or at least I occasionally worry that it might come across that way. It emerged from one recurrent theme in the many personal stories I encountered in my research: the incomprehension with which most asexual people have at times found their asexuality greeted. What makes the notion so hard to grasp? I’ve written about this at length in the past and I don’t think I have anything new to add to the discussion at this point.
What’s more important is how this incomprehension can lead people to act. This inability to grasp asexuality as a concept can bring otherwise well meaning people to act in deeply hurtful and marginalising ways. It can leave those who are far from well meaning acting in even more unpleasant ways than they might otherwise. What these actions usually have in common is a failure to believe asexuality exists as a possibility and a concomitant tendency to explain it away. Offering asexuality as an account of themselves, asexual people are instead told that it can’t exist… it must be their hormones, psychological damage, repressed child abuse. Don’t they know that sex is natural? Don’t they realise that sexuality is an integral aspect of the human condition? Perhaps they’re just a late bloomer? Or maybe they haven’t met the right person yet? In terms of the broader cultural frameworks within which we think and talk about sexuality, some of these reactions are entirely comprehensible to me (and this is why I find the reaction of non-asexuals to asexuality so interesting from a sociological standpoint). But they’re often deeply hurtful and what frustrates me is how unnecessary the hurt caused is. What we need is some sort of accessible introduction to asexuality, providing a readable overview of the many ways in which these reactions (and their underlying assumptions) are mistaken. Thankfully we now have one, with the publication of Julie Sondra Decker’s The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality.
Written by a well known and respected figure within the asexual community, Decker’s book benefits from a personal familiarity with the issues concerned that lends an air of implicit authority that the author manages skilfully throughout. The tone is just right for a book of this sort: friendly and conversational yet also authoritative and precise. It begins with a personal story which illustrates the first-hand experiences Decker brings to the book, which is intended as a “starting point for people interested in asexuality”. It begins with an ‘Asexuality 101’ that introduces the basics in a way satisfying to the reader yet also firmly repudiating some of the most common miscomprehensions that one might bring to a book such as this. It then moves on to the varying experience of those who identify as asexual, introducing the potentially confusing panoply of terms which have proliferated within the asexual community but skilfully showing how these are grounded in specific kinds of experience. The next section, unsurprisingly my favourite given the nature of my own interest in the subject, addresses the (many) myths surrounding asexuality. The final sections offer practical advice to those who are asexual (or questioning whether they may be) and to those who know someone who is asexual (or suspect that they might be). The book then concludes with a helpful compendium of resources that the reader can use to explore further.
This is a long overdue book, offering the general purpose introduction to the subject which has heretofore been lacking. It is an essential addition to any academic reading list that encompasses asexuality and should be required reading for any therapists with an interest in sexuality. It provides a sense of what it is like to be asexual that can sometimes be missing from academic work and engages with the literature while nonetheless refusing to be constrained by it. It is also immensely readable, providing an authoritative overview that sign posts the reader who is keen to explore further. I can’t recommend The Invisible Orientation highly enough and hope it has a wide readership. Given how effectively it critiques the myths surrounding asexuality, helping those who are not asexual themselves better understand something that can at first be deeply confusing, it is a book with the potential to make a positive difference to many people’s lives and help combat what the author describes as the “insidious form of exclusion” that asexual people continue to experience.
This looks good:
Link to the Journal Issue:
List of Contents:
2) Floya Anthias: The Intersections of Class, Gender, Sexuality and ‘Race’: The Political Economy of Gendered Violence (pp 153-171)
3) Susie Jacobs: Gender, Land and Sexuality: Exploring Connections (pp 173-190)
4) Encarnación Gutiérrez-Rodríguez: The Precarity of Feminisation (pp 191-202)
5) Christian Klesse: Poly Economics—Capitalism, Class, and Polyamory (pp 203-220)
6) Ana Victoria Portocarrero Lacayo: Service Is Not Servitude: Links Between Capitalism and Feminist Liberal Conceptions of Pleasure—Case Studies from Nicaragua (pp 221-239)
7) Jon Binnie: “Neoliberalism, Class, Gender and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Politics in Poland” (pp. 241-257)
8) Kimberly Kay Hoang: Vietnam Rising Dragon: Contesting Dominant Western Masculinities in Ho Chi Minh City’s Global Sex Industry (pp 259-271)
The special issue is based on a workshop “Gender, Sexuality and Political Economy”, which took place 24–25 May 2011 at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. We organised this workshop to create a space to bring work on gender and sexuality in dialogue. The workshop, which was sponsored by MMU’s Institute of Humanities and Social Science Research, explored possible complementarities and overlaps (or else, contradictions or noncompatibilities) between approaches within feminism, gender studies, transgender studies, lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer studies, with the aim of strengthening our understanding of the current conditions for collaborative agency and coalitional struggles and for more egalitarian social change(s). Contributions addressed questions linked to gendered and sexual positionings and gendered labour in the context of economic crisis and growing social class divisions in different locations. They also explored the construction of gendered and sexual subjectivities and politics in the context of specific welfare, migration and consumption regimes in a range of geographical settings. Other discussions included links between economic factors (for example poverty, deregulation, neoliberal programmes) and intimate and sexual practices and shifting identities. We are pleased now to be able to present some of the research contributions which were first presented at this workshop. The papers chosen for this special issue include keynote presentations from the workshop, a selection of papers presented and some specially commissioned work. The special issue has been designed to reinforce the “gendering” and “queering” of debates on political economy and to infuse work on gender and sexuality with class and economic perspectives.
This looks like a very important & worthwhile project:
Queer Futures is a national study exploring the self-harm and suicidal feelings of young LGBTQ people
Lancaster University is leading a £300,000 study aimed at reducing self-harm and suicide among young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or questioning.
International research has shown that LGBTQ adolescents and young adults can be four to seven times more likely to self-harm or have suicidal feelings compared to their heterosexual peers. They are also more likely to experience homelessness, or drug or alcohol problems. Queer Futures is a two-year project funded by the Department of Health and is being led by Dr Elizabeth McDermott and Dr Victoria Rawlings of Lancaster University with Dr Liz Hughes of the University of York.
Dr McDermott said: “It is only very recently that the UK Suicide Prevention Strategy has recognised that LGBTQ people have a higher risk of suicide and self-harm. We are very pleased that the Department of Health are funding the research which will provide the evidence, which is currently missing, to tackle the problem at a national level.
LGBTQ young people can feel marginalised in a variety of settings such as school, work, sporting environments, religious institutions or social groups because of discrimination against their gender identity or sexuality. They may also experience rejection from their families. These experiences may put them at increased risk of self-harm and suicide. The Queer Futures study aims to provide health professionals and services with information about how to help LGBTQ people aged 16-25 who are feeling distressed.
Dr Rawlings said: “Our research aims to understand the factors that cause distress for some young LGBTQ people by listening to their opinions and experiences. This will help to explain why some young LGBTQ people in England take risks with their personal safety, harm themselves or think about suicide. We hope our findings will identify what types of services and support can help young LGBTQ people in distress.”
Queer Futures is currently seeking participants. See www.queerfutures.co.uk or alternatively find the project on Twitter (@QueerFutures) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/QFutures).
I’d completely forgotten that he tells the story of asexuality on House. I must remember to include this if I do end up writing this chapter.
Conference: Older Care Home Residents and Sexuality/Intimacy.
The Older People’s Understandings of Sexuality (OPuS) research group, (Manchester and Bradford Universities), is organizing a FREE half-day conference on older care home residents and sexuality/intimacy. The event will take place 2pm – 5pm, Monday 14 July 2014, conference room G.036B, Jean Macfarlane building, University of Manchester. Lunch will be available from 1pm. The room will be laid out cabaret style to encourage participation and discussion. But don’t expect any Liza Minnelli-style high-kicking – no budget (or talent) for that.
The event will share results of consultative research by interviews with residents and focus groups with care home staff (in the Northwest and West Yorkshire). It will focus on the significance of doing any such research, how it should be done and good practice in consulting on a sensitive issue with a seldom heard group of people. We will also consult with conference participants on how to carry our ideas forward in any future national research on older people and intimacy/sexuality. The event will involve speakers from the research group and care homes. It is open to ANYONE but should interest academics, residents, relatives, care home staff and private providers, nursing and social work practitioners, and statutory and voluntary sector organizations and staff.
To enquire/book a FREE place, contact Dr Paul Simpson, University of Manchester 0161 306 6881 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. N.B. there is a limit of 50 places – first-come-first-served. The deadline for registration is 1 July 2014.
Routledge Journals Publishes Porn Studies
March 2014 – Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group) publish the first double issue of Porn Studies, the premier dedicated, international, peer-reviewed journal tocritically explore those cultural products and services designated as pornographic and their cultural, economic, historical, institutional, legal and social contexts. Porn Studies is edited by Professor Feona Attwood of Middlesex University and Professor Clarissa Smith of the University of Sunderland and supported by an international editorialboard including: Constance Penley, Brian McNair, Lynn Comella, Martin Barker, Susanna Paasonen and Alan McKee.
Professor Gerard Goggin, University of Sydney comments on the journal’s inaugural issues:
“Finally we have a journal that brings together the urgently needed research, theories, and debates to make sense of an important aspect of social and cultural life. The breadth, depth, and richness of its packed first issue confirms its promise as a platform, not only for understanding pornography – but as a space for new, adventurous, genuinely cosmopolitan rethinking of many of the things about identity, bodies, power, belonging, media, and contemporary reality that we take-for-granted, but still know too little about.”
In their introduction to the first, doubleissue of the journal Attwood and Smith outlined why this new journal is needed: “Perhaps one of the most important reasons for Porn Studies is the very topicality of pornography; we believe it is the right time to launch this journal because the subject is so politically and emotionally charged. Pornography has a public presence as an object of concern and as a metaphor used to designate the boundaries of the public space.
Articles by leading scholars identify some of the leading themes in pornography research today:
Utilising data from more than 5000responses to an online questionnaire, Martin Barker’s ‘The “Problem” of Sexual Fantasies’ explores understandings of the relations between pornography and sexual imaginaries.
Fears about what children might belearning from pornography have been centre stage for some time, in ‘Porn and Sex Education, Porn as Sex Education’, Kath Albury addresses those concerns and their intersections with other issues around young people’s sexual practices, sexual self-representation and sexual knowledge.
In ‘Studying Porn Cultures’ Lynn Comella suggests a ‘porn studies-in-action’ and exhorts researchers to ‘leave the confines of our offices, and spend time in the places where pornography is made, distributed and consumed, discussed and debated, taught and adjudicated’.
Read these and more free online until 31 May 2014.
Further endorsements for Porn Studies: http://bit.ly/PornStudiesEndorsements
A selection of call for papers for issues of Porn Studies can be found here: