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Feminist sexology is an offshoot of traditional studies of sexology that focuses on the intersectionality of sex and gender in relation to the sexual lives of women. Feminist sexology shares many principles with the overarching field of sexology; in particular, it does not try to prescribe a certain path or "normality" for women's sexuality, but only observe and note the different and varied ways in which women express their sexuality. It is a young field, but one that is growing rapidly.
Many of the topics that feminist sexologists study include (but are not limited to) reproductive rights, sex work, gay and transgender identities, marriage, pornography and gender roles. Much of the work within feminist sexology has been done within the last few decades, focusing on the movements of sexual liberation in the 1960s and 1970s, the introduction of an easily handled and effective means of contraception, lesbian and transgender visibility, and the stronger waves of women taking charge of their lives. There has been much debate about whether the sexual revolution was really beneficial to women, if a pro-sex attitude can really be achieved within the context of Western society, but as new voices are lifted, layers of interpretation and knowledge can be gathered.
- Lesbianism - Lesbianism is a major theme of feminist sexology. Lesbian society and culture is one that is often over-looked by general society resulting in lesbian women being disregarded and ultimately ignored in public and professional spaces. In the workplace, for example, lesbian women are often still sexualized and forced to play the role of the ‘heterosexual female.’ Feminist theorist Adrienne Rich discusses this type of oppression in her article, “Compulsory Heterosexuality.” Adrienne Rich claims,
“Women endure sexual harassment to keep their jobs and learn to behave in a complaisantly and ingratiatingly heterosexual manner… the woman who too decisively resists sexual overtures in the workplace is accused of being ‘dried-up and sexless, or lesbian.”
The lesbian in society is of utmost importance in that she bears the weight of judgement and oppression on her shoulders for love and the progression of the woman. On page 649 of “Compulsory Heterosexuality” Rich writes,
“Lesbian existence comprises both the breaking of a taboo and the rejection of a compulsory way of life.”
- Prostitution - In Gayle Rubin’s article “Thinking Sex,” Rubin discusses the shift of prostitution from a once socially acceptable occupation to a now isolated and reprimanded occupation in modern-day society. This shift in society perception known as the “modernization of sex.” The modernization of sex in the case of prostitution is defined as; the organization of sex groups such as prostitutes, homoesexuals, sadomasochists, etc. into localized populations. On page 156 of “Thinking Sex” Rubin regards the occupation of prostitution and its place in present-day society,
“Sex work is an occupation… Prostitutes are a criminal sexual population stigmatized on the basis of sexual activity… Prostitutes are the primary prey of vice police.”
Anti-prostitution laws have also surfaced in recent years, dismantling prostitution in local jurisdictions and restricting various forms of sexual commerce. On page 163, Rubin writes how these actions are justified:
“[These actions are] rationalized by portraying them as menaces to health and safety, women and children… or civilization itself. Even when activity is acknowledged to be harmless, it may be banned because it is alleged to ‘lead’ to something ostensibly worse.”
- Children and Sexuality
In her article “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality,” Gayle Rubin states that society teaches children about gender and sex; they know nothing about it when they are born, because gender and sex are socially constructed ideas. Society teaches our children about social norms through actions. This models gender through behavior and children learn to act in a certain way depending if they are male or female.
During the nineteenth century, the idea of masturbation was considered to be a taboo and unhealthy practice. What was thought of as premature sexual interest in a child was strongly discouraged, because sexual excitement of any kind was thought to damage the health and discourage the maturation of a child. In the past, parents have resorted to extreme measures to prevent children from mastubating, such as tying them down to keep from touching themselves or even making permanent surgical changes to their genitals. While these extreme measures have for the most part been abandoned in today’s society, the attitude that the idea of sex is harmful to children still endures.
According to Anne Fausto-Stearling, Infant Genital Surgery is a cosmetic surgery performed on infants who do not fit into a defined gender category (sometimes with or without the parent’s consent). The surgery reshapes their sexual reproductive organs into either male or female gender binaries without considering the child’s wishes or what they may have chosen later in life. This can lead to gender confusion and unhappiness as the child grows, and may even have a biological physical impact on how the child’s reproductive organs develop.
- Sex and Respectability
Gayle Rubin argues that modern society judges sex acts through their theoretical value. She states that “Marital, reproductive heterosexuals are alone at the top erotic pyramid.” This means that because the people engaging in sex are married, heterosexual, and the possibility of reproduction is present, the act of sex has a higher value in accordance with societal norms. Unmarried heterosexual sex is also valued, but not as much. Monogamous, heteronormative lesbian and gay relationships are not quite as respected, but are considered to still be of minimal value. “The most despised sexual castes currently include transsexuals, transvestites, fetishists, sadomasochists, sex workers such as prostitutes and porn models...” Solitary sex acts, or masturbation, are not even considered a part of the hierarchy. These sex acts are ordered in such a way because of their ability to reproduce and create children. “According to this system, sexuality that is ‘good’, ‘normal’, and ‘natural’ should ideally be heterosexual, marital, monogamous, reproductive, and non-commercial.” Anything relating to sex that breaks these societally prescribed rules is considered to be “bad” and “unnatural,” such as homosexuality, fetish objects, the use of pornography, and casual sex, amongst others.
“All these hierarchies of sexual value – religious, psychiatric, and popular – function in much the same ways as do ideological systems of racism, ethnocentrism, and religious chauvinism. They rationalize the well-being of the sexually privileged and the adversity of the sexual rabble.”
- Anne Fausto-Sterling - Fausto-Sterling, with a background in biology, has written several books on the subject of how gender interacts and is shaped by biology, society and culture. In her book, Sexing the Body, she takes a close look on how the definition of our sex and gender as a species by the society relegates our sexual identities and actions. She also tackles these subjects in her other works, including her books Myths of Gender and Love, Power and Knowledge (which she co-wrote with Hilary Rose.)
- Gayle Rubin - Rubin, a cultural anthropologist, focuses on many subjects, notably prostitution, pornography, sadomasochism and sexual subcultures. She has been a strong voice in the "pro-sex" arena of sexology, debating strongly the intersection of sexual identity and societal structure in the 1980s, during which it was dubbed the "Feminist Sex Wars." She also worked with Patrick Califia studying the gay leather scene.
- Annie Sprinkle
- Sheila Jeffreys
- Biddy Martin
- Linda Grant
- Judith Halberstam
- Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy
- Madeline Davis
- Jane Wadsworth
- Luce Irigaray
- Anne McClintock
- Leonore Tiefer
- Alice Schwarzer
Three Main Points
- Male power
Under the patriarchal culture of sexual desire, women are suppressed to express their true feeling about sexual behaviors. Women’s fear of desire keeps them quiet and justify society’s belief that men have the power and authority in the relationships. Women are not allowed to express their sexual needs and against masturbation. “Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within,” states Audre Lorde. For Lorde, “the erotic” is not just sexuality; it is the power for people to love and be passionate about what they do in life. She sees “the erotic” as “power” because she believes that if women have erotic “power”, they can have voice and be themselves in their lives. Moreover, the concept of compulsory heterosexuality makes the society believes that lesbian's sexuality is out of the norm. Men believe that lesbians would defeat their power so they force heterosexuality as a default sexual orientation and disdain lesbians to make coming out difficult. Lesbianism is a threat to male supremacy because it destroys the myth about female inferiority, weakness, passivity.
- Sexual Violence
Sexual assault, rape and domestic sexual violence are serious issues in our society. Each year, for 35 of every 1,000 college women, those life-changing events will include a sexual assault. Many people blame sexual harassment and rape on women for staying outside at night, wearing short skirts, or flirting. The society put the faults on women’s behaviors, trying to make them feel bad. When women start thinking themselves as “trouble makers”, they remain silence. Moreover, many victims are afraid of embarrassing their families and believe that rape victims rarely get justice, instead they will be scolded. Even though all women face this oppression, yet women of color are more vulnerable to sexual assault than white women. The Jezebel stereotype portrayes women of colors as “unrapeable”.
- Jezebel: People see African American women as promiscuous, seductive and hypersexual. They believe that black women should be responsible for being sexual assault. The society justifies rape as a crime that only happens to women who asked for it.
- Control of Body
Many women around the world, especially in Africa and Asia, are the victims of sex trafficking, sex slavery, child labor, genital mutilation or cutting and sterilization. Those women neither have controls of their own bodies nor freedom to speak for themselves. The documentary, based on the book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, focuses on this issues in six different countries. It talks about what sexual oppression women are facing in these places, how the government ignores and justifies the issues, and what organizations are working to fight for these victims.
- Feminist views on sexuality
- Gender Studies
- sex-positive feminism
- Queer Studies
- Queer Theory
- Rubin, Gayle (1975). "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex". In Rayna R Reiter. Toward an Anthropology of Women. New York: Monthly Review Press. ISBN 0853453721.
- Gayle Rubin. “Feminist Puritanism”, in Robert A. Nye ed., Sexuality, Oxford, Oxford University Press (1999). ISBN 0192880195
- Anne Fausto-Sterling. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, 1st ed., Basic Books (2000).
- Linda Grant. “What Sexual Revolution?”, in Robert A. Nye ed., Sexuality, Oxford, Oxford University Press (1999).
- Sheila Jeffreys. “The Sexual Revolution Was For Men”, in Robert A. Nye ed., Sexuality, Oxford, Oxford University Press (1999).
- Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis. “Lesbian Generations”, in Robert A. Nye ed., Sexuality, Oxford, Oxford University Press (1999).
- Anne Johnson and Jane Wadsworth. “The Evolution of Sexual Practices”, in Robert A. Nye ed., Sexuality, Oxford, Oxford University Press (1999).
- Anne McClintock. “Female-Friendly Porn”, in Robert A. Nye ed., Sexuality, Oxford, Oxford University Press (1999).
- Judith Halberstam. Female Masculinity. Duke University Press (1998).
- Luce Irigaray. Speculum of the Other Woman. Trans. Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, (1985).
- Jill M.Wood & Others. “Women's Sexual Desire: A Feminist Critique” Pennsylvania University.
- Naomi B. McCormick. “Feminism and Sexology.”
- Leonore Tiefer's official page
- Lorde, Audre. The Uses of the Erotic. Kore Press, Jan. 2000.
- Bunch, Charlotte. Lesbians in Revolt. 1972.
- Fisher, Bonnie S., Francis T. Cullen, and Michael G. Turner. The Sexual Victimization of College Women. National Institute of Justice, Dec. 2000.