SEXUAL BEHAVIOR, POLITICS, AND COMMUNITIES
“The time has come to think about sex. To some, sexuality may seem to be an unimportant topic, a frivolous diversion from the more critical problems of poverty, war, disease, racism, famine, or nuclear annihilation. But it is precisely at times such as these, when we live with the possibility of unthinkable destruction, that people are likely to become dangerously crazy about sexuality.”
These are of course Gayle Rubin’s powerful and declarative words, stemming from her provocative and seminal essay, “Thinking Sex.” Although hard to believe, we are nearing the thirtieth anniversary of this essay. Have far have we come since 1984, the year this essay was published? Where do we stand today when it comes to erotic persecution and social justice for sexual minorities in this country? If one were to (re)read Rubin and then take an inventory of our state of affairs when it comes to sex—which this essay forces you to do—I presume most of us would feel deeply troubled. If we take a look at our nation’s political “leadership,” consider our country’s schizophrenic attitudes when it comes to sex—where real discussions about sex are still considered taboo and dangerous for our youth, and take stock of the pervasive and daily assaults—both physical and verbal—levied at sexual minorities and our GLBT communities, it seems, from this angle, that not much has changed. This is not for lack of trying. The forces in this country—GLBT advocates, sexual rights activists, scholars working for GLBT rights and the recognition of all gender variant peoples—working to rectify these wrongs and fight for sexual equality are numerous, vocal, and brave.
In “Thinking Sex” Rubin was stressing at that time how desperately we needed a “radical theory of sex/uality,” one grounded in empiricism and theoretical acumen. Rubin understood how vital sex research (and the field of sexology) was to generating this radical theory of sex she was calling for. Such research adds to our understanding when it comes to human sexuality and thus illuminates the very fabrications that undergird our hegemonic and bigoted value system—a system which equates sex with danger and where erotic tastes falling outside the prescribed norms are treated as pathological. In short, sex research reveals our erotic variety as well as the sheer untidiness of sex. Rubin is thus also describing how critical sexuality scholars and activists are in this fight against erotic persecution and the oppression of sexual minorities.
As Sheff, former chair of this division, stated in the previous SBPC Division Statement, SBPC members “do not see sexuality or sexual (or gender) variation as a problem.” Not only do we see variation as part and parcel of human sexuality, but moreover, we recognize the centrality of sexuality in human social formations and how the domain of sexuality infuses and shapes our everyday lives. Sexuality touches everything and connects with and to our other core identities—such as race, class, dis/ability, age and so on. It shapes who we are, how we see the world and what we choose not to see. Unfortunately, there are still far too few of us who see the significance of sexuality research, and far too many of us—as scholars, instructors, administrators, graduate students, and undergraduates—without the necessary support needed to engage the scholarly interests in sex we may have. Depending on who we are (since we will be the target of suspicion) and where we are in our academic journey (e.g., tenured/non-tenured), sex is often side-lined for safer topics. Certainly, some things have improved since the publication of “Thinking Sex.” The field of sexuality studies now comprises a wide range of academic fields (history, sociology, literature, philosophy and so on) and journal outlets for sexuality studies have proliferated, many of which now flourish in their own prestige (which bears its own problems). But sex research remains an underfunded area of critical inquiry, and certain “types” of sex research continue to be marginalized (unless explored from a medicalized frame)—such as work dealing with sexual practices and those sexual communities far outside the charmed circle.
This SBPC division and the work we do are integral to the field of Sociology because we acknowledge sexuality and all that comes with it. We recognize how crucial sex research is in its ability to further our understanding of human sexuality, as well as its role in working to ameliorate our deep-seated bigotry. Understanding how important this work is, we will keep fighting for sexual/erotic justice—a society that appreciates sexual variety. We will know a better society has arrived when, while (re)reading Rubin, the society she describes will look and feel little like our own.
Division mission statement last edited in 2011 by Corie Hammers, Macalester College, Sexual Behavior, Politics, and Communities Division Chair, 2010-2012