Youth, sex, sexology – a critical canter

I had to smile. We were toward the end of the conference, seminar, event – “Critical Sexology: Sex on Trial“, which focussed on consent and the policing of sexuality – and wandering off in search of sandwiches i chanced upon an academic acquaintance looking quite bemused.

Not how its done

“Is it just me?”, she asked as i sat down beside her: and i assured her it wasn’t. Because i knew exactly what she meant.

A session had just begun on discuss what sex could look like in our ideal society and whether sexual pleasure can have a political role. A succession of quickfire contributors were attacking questions like “sex after the revolution” and an anarchist perspective on sexuality.

It was, i am sure, easy stuff for a certain sort of popular satirist, as well as the Daily Mail “political-correctness gone mad” brigade, and my academic friend, like myself at that point, was finding the format of the event quite daunting. It wasn’t that she disputed the sense or interest of what was being discussed: rather, the (un)structure of some of the academic contributions and, as she complained, half seriously, half tongue in cheek: “I can’t help thinking: how could i mark this?”

And there, in a nutshell, is the strength and weakness of what seems to be a burgeoning tendency in getting to grips with issues of and around sexuality.

A breath of fresh air

Before anyone switches off – decides that this is just an old fogey putting the boot in (because in part, this IS an age thing) – let me say i loved the event. I loved its energy, diversity, sheer challenge. And that was as evident in the poetry, for which we paused shortly after tea as in its more formal sessions.

I loved that it brought together individuals from every academic discipline – and from none.

I loved the way it illustrated two strands i have increasingly been aware of in respect of conferences on sex and sexuality: and while i think these may be problematic for some, still, i think that the positives in terms of result outweigh most of the difficulties.

The importance of intersectinoality

First off is the growing alliance between groups representing different interests: the consciousness of “intersectionality” – the idea that analyses and issues that affect a variety of different groups, from sex workers to disabled people, from young people with issues over their personal sexuality to women and the lgbt community, have much in common.

How an understanding of the attitudes and structures of power and control that oppress one group is relevant in different ways to the others. That is important and increasingly evident in the way that events of this sort range widely across topics. Very evident, too, in the way that groups are starting to coalesce, co-operate and generally wrok together and understand.

So, where a year or two back there might have been a conference on sex work, another on lgbt rights, and so on, now the cross-fertilisation of issues and ideas is made explicit.

The joys of a multi-disciplinary approach

The second tendency lies in style and approach. If academic study is about publishing papers that fit neatly into peer-reviewed academic journals and tick all the research funding boxes, then a fair-sized chunk of academia is now headed off the rails.

But if, as i believe it is, academic inquiry is about original thinking and insight backed with independent stufy, then Critical Sexology, for all that it was never intended to be just an academic event – was absolutely on the money.

At a recent seminar organised by the ONscenity academic forum, i was both impressed and moved to tears by a memoir that may, at some future point, be presented as PhD: it tackled, from a very personal perspective one individual’s struggle to achieve a balance between different conformities – a childhood push towards being the “good girl”, and an adult pressure to be a good feminist – with her own personal desires that took her in another direction entirely.

How would one mark such a work? I don’t know: but it was a thouand times more insightful and thought-provoking than dozens of doctoral papers it has been by misfortune to review over the last few years.

So, too, with this event, which draws much of its inspiration for the current format from its close association with Mutiny. If you wanted something that fit neatly within expected academic boundaries, chances are you would be disappointed. But if you wanted to learn from the experiences of different groups, to gain insight, and didn’t much care whether that insight came from carefully crafted paper – or radical crochet – this was an incredibly valuable event.

As, in the end, i found it.

More write-up of individual sessions to follow.



5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    This is Chris Ashford’s post referencing yours, and it includes a link to my recent post about the Pornified conf.

    As you can see in the comments I am quite critical of you and your approach. I didn’t mean it to sound that harsh but my points stand. I thought I’d post this here to keep the debate out in the open rather than in various corners of the internet!

    • 2

      janefae said,

      er, you mean “reductive, feminist and misandrist”?

      I’m not bothered. I’ve seen other comment you’ve made about what i, in turn, have written, and i think at some point we’d both benefit from talking.

      My own sense (OK: its biased, since its my own perception of where i sit) is that you yourself have a slightly over-simplified view of what i am about: but since i read a lot of what YOU write and quite like it, either i’m not getting it or maybe i am coming from somewhere not quite where you think i am.

      Of the trio: feminist, yes. So we can agree on that and if to you its a negative and to me its a positive, that’s just perspective.

      “Reductive”, i’d dispute…not least because one of the most over-used phrases i tend to appeal to is “its complicated”. Possibly – i’d have to pick up on where you think i’m simplyifying – it is because i am deliberately simplifying in order to write for a particular audience.

      Or maybe you have just found places where i do simplify and i’d happily confess to so doing. Its, er…complicated. 🙂

      Last up, “misandrist”. Yes. And no.

      If you read my blog, its a journey and, i’ll freely admit, the early part of it involved some highly scary, quite intimidating interactions with guys which, in turn, left me quite anti.

      That is a simplistic perspective (on my part) and i’d absolutely claim that i’ve shifted. Not least, i think that i began transition with a lot of buried hostility towards the male gender. I’d just spent decades suffering agonies by being forced into a role i hated…and i was doing everything to distance myself.

      However, what i am finding now is interesting – not least to myself: its perspective. The ability to look back over my shoulder and, no longer identifying with that gender, being able to appraise it a little more from without.

      And while i think the chances of my fancying guys any time soon are slight, i’m happier with them. Or maybe more discerning.

      Thanks for the heads up: i’m not offended…actually very much respect that you have the guts to be so direct.


      • 3

        Thanks Jane that’s helpful.

        I’ll go back and read some of your stuff to comment more carefully. I think it was probably Guardian articles I noticed the most as they are higher profile. I like your blog and the range of views/people involved.



  2. 4

    Oh, while I remember. This will be predictable but some of your readers won’t know me and may be interested:

    Mark Simpson’s (1994) Male Impersonators, is valuable in the context of this discussion, I think, because it shows ‘masculinity’ and the category of men to be so unstable, changeable and even in places ‘transexual’.

  3. 5

    […] start: this is good, not just for personal reasons but because it begins to seem, as i observed at the Critical Sexology conference back in December, that groups and individuals who have spent the last decade working in isolation are beginning to […]

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