Seidman, S. 2015. The Social Construction of Sexuality.

Seidman, Steven. 2015. The Social Construction of Sexuality, 3rd edition. New York: W.W. Norton

Social factions shape when, with whom, how we engaged in sex – “Social factors determin which desires are sexual and which serve as identities, which desires and identities are acceptable, and what forms of sexual intimacy are considered appropriate” (x) – and thus, which identities and acts are punished, controlled, or considered deviant.

Sexology and Psychoanalysis

Sexology notes that humans are born with sexual nature, sexuality is biological and genetic, physiological and physical, at core of humanness, a drive to human behavior, instinctually heterosexual. Employment of highly scientific approach to sexuality – case studies. However, insidious relationship with eugenics movements, but moved toward creating sexuality as a form of discourse, central to marriage. Contributed to notions of sexual inversion; yet, with Kinsey, promoted wider range and acceptability of sexuality and sexualities. Freud (and psychoanalysis) thought sexual development coincided with stages of psychological development, fraught with opportunities to have abnormality in sexual identity. Instead of procreative, Freud believed that sex had multiple purposes and points of pleasure. Sexuality as a pleasure, but as a source of psychological and social conflict. Sexual abberations are not necessarily abnormal- only abnormal when fixated or too focused on pleasure (or replacing heterosexual intercourse). Learning to manage sex drive as necessary to successful socialization – however, complexes (Oedipal and Electra) come into play when achieving genital stage. Penis envy as an observation of power represented by the phallus. Castration anxiety as a fear of feminization, association with mother, reinforces identification with father.

Sexuality, Marxism, and Feminism

Discipline and control of capitalist marketplace requires labor force (reproduction) – yet, simultaneously desexualizes and mechanizes production (stripping away sexuality, repression). Viewpoint of pleasure as dangerous, nonprocreative sex as a threat to workforce, requiring control. New consumer capitalism, however, presses sexuality at the forefront – selling goods. “If sex can be marketed as pleasure or championed as an authentic form of self-expression or identity, then sex becomes a valuable marketing resource” (16). Use value of sex at odds with its exchange value; however, sex is/not a material object – carries sociocultural meaning, worth. Though ‘liberated,’ this sexuality becomes useless, alienating, obscuring inequality between rich and poor. Attributes feminism’s approach to sexuality as gendering is learned – sexuality as based in gender practices, roles. Adrienne Rich (#3) notes coercion into adoption conventional gender identities, and out of this, the performance of heterosexuality as the ‘proper’ performance of gender – “Individuals become heterosexual not only through positive inducements, such as economic incentives and the cultural romanticizing of heterosexuality, but also through punishments, such as ridicule, harassment, and violence toward gender rebels and non-heterosexuals” (21). Compulsory heterosexuality extends this by creating and sustaining ideologies of sexuality based upon gender and sex divisions, naturalizing heterosexuality. Rich, also, however, claims that lesbianism is not a sexuality or identity, but a choice to create lives around other women – participating in a political rebellion, resisting participation with men. Catherine MacKinnon (#4) where sexuality acts as a product of men’s social and cultural power, and a means to oppress women – the basis of domination, giving power to define and command women’s sexuality, reproduction, and roles within families. Gayle Rubin (#5) – argues that sexuality as connected to gender, but not direct expression of gender – complicates the relationship between these two – sex then is about desires, acts, identities, and politics which are not totally reducible to gender – sexual oppression has power dynamics within systems of sexuality.

Social Constructionism

Ira Reiss – double standard, remarked of how sociocultural factors were important in sexuality. Jeffery Weeks: “Sexuality is not a given, it is a product of negotiation, struggle) (#5) – as well as how homosexuality became a social identity. Victorian lesbianism and Boston marriages – WWII creating intimacy between male soldiers, female homefronters – post-war boom of “gay” towns and political organizations. Foucault – we are not born sexual, but learn to be sexual through common discourses and personal interactions within it – changes of discourse as modifying to normalcy or condemnation; control of people’s sexuality (desires, acts, identities) offers control over other parts of their lives. Foucault differentiating between gay rights and liberation – political and sociocultural rights; instead, we should have a politics against sexuality – sexualizing selves, identities –as if not assigning moral meaning to sexuality would decrease social regulation. Foucault’s shortcomings –does not address sexuality’s variation across age, gender, class, race, etc. and not describing how individuals create sexual identities, are sustained across social institutions, etc. Butler’s (#10) performative theory of gender, as applied to sexuality. Butler critiques gender binarism’s role in normalizing heterosexuality – also impacts gender performance and stigma – lack of internal gender identity, instead our actions are replications of what we see modeled for us in social world – assumption of naturalness of sex/gender obscures social and political forces shaping our sexuality. “A performative approach to sexual identity should not be interpreted as saying that identities are freely chosen or that they are somehow not real because they are produced through a performance. They are quite real as we experience them and int terms of their personal and social consequences. In addition, although they may be performance, they are not freely chosen; a system of compulsory heterosexuality exerts enormous social pressure on each of us to ‘perform’ the appropriate gender and sexual identity. Deviance from gender or sexual norms carries serious risks and dangers, from being denied respect to being the target of harassment or violence” (38 ^subjective definition, objective realities).


Sexuality is not an identity in all societies – in some, just an act. In 19th century, heterosexuality was thought to be procreative instinct, not just sexual attraction, not an identity. First appeared in medical literature of 1890s – divorces desire from reproduction, attributed to the crisis in gender roles at turn of the century – division of labor (caretaking/breadwinning) disrupted by gender political and social reform – ‘masculinizing’ of women, etc. Heterosexuality worked to reinforce difference between genders, ensuring social order in time of change. Homophobia and homophobic acts work to stigmatize homosexuality, as well as reinforce one’s membership in heterosexual identity – homosocial acts that work to denigrate (women) work also to reinforce membership in heterosexuality.

GLB Politics in US

“Every society has a system of sexual stratification. Sexual politics is about the making and contesting of these sexual hierarchies (#1). Struggles occur around the distribution of respect, social benefits, and material privileges across the spectrum of sexuality” (55). Punishment of behaviors, not of persons. However, by WWI deviant identity of homosexuality – increased fears of gender disruption, marriage, sexual disease cast homosexuals as a menace. 1950s brought homosexual and lesbian into self-designation. Media and political stigmatization worked to criminalize homosexuality in light of cold war crises. 1960s and 70s transformed sexual identities into political ones in the light of civil and protest movements, not only aiding positivity in GL identities, but noting how homophobia damages heterosexuals as well – yet, still remained mainly white, male, elite movements. Queer politics about recognizing difference within movements, pursuing alliances with other progressive movements – “The goal of a queer movement would be to remove our bodies and sexualities from a network of normalizing social controls and to create a culture friendly to sexual variation” (72-73). Real bisexual politics did not emerge until 1970s, taking root in 1990s – where GL movements and straights would not recognize or organize in bisexual interests for fear of political liability or stigmatization.

Revolt Against Sexual Identity

Not all cultures have sexuality as an identity, but still relegate to sex acts; nor, do they have intensive communities built around sexuality, merely networks. Some regional sexualities refuse to have identities of difference adopted or pressed onto them – often in relation to offering of equal rights and treatment within a society. Addresses metrosexuality as emerging in the 1990s – offers “a different model of heterosexual manhood. He is not only career oriented and ambitious but also deliberate and competent in matters of fashion and stylistic choices, and he may be proud of his skills as a cook and home decorator” (84). Egalitarian relationships and friendships with women, embraces homosexual friendships – may not identify as feminist or gay rights-oriented, but feels uncomfortable in situations of sexism or homophobia. Critiqued as a consumerist masculinity – yet, praises the comfortableness of metrosexuals being viewed as sex objects, and “projecting a deliberately fashioned sense of sex appeal” (85). Queering challenges notion of normalized homosexual identity – “a position of criticism” against gender and sexual identities, encouraged blurring of boundaries of normalcy. “Queer, then, is a revolt against the idea of the normal, and it is a defense of a culture that is comfortable with sexual and gender ambiguity and ambivalence” (87). Myriad of titles and identities that explode bisexuality and trans- identities, adding on genderqueerness – “less an identity than a standpoint defined by the rejection of the idea that people must be classified as either female or male” (97).

Cultures of Intimacy

States that current culture is postmarital – no longer needed to navigate intimacies, though preferred (^disagree – marriage confers privilege, recognition, economic and social breaks). In 1800s-1860s – marriage about kinship, reproduction, and household division of labor, not about sexuality. Homosociality was deeply encouraged and enmeshed because of strict separation of spheres. 1880s-1950s- fear of loosening SOS and gendered moral order – illegalization of previously legal interracial marriages. Loosening impacts of government in politics of intimacy – (however, this is not necessarily the case in US – increasing stringency on birth control, reproductive access, etc.)

Cyber Intimacies

Publicization of private intimacies – scandals, Facebook ‘drama’, etc. despite decreasing co-present intimacies. ***use this chapter for QUALS question on community building online – technology creates new media to cope with when building digital and on-ground intimacies, as a facilitation to “secret intimacies”

Youth Struggles

Dating culture replaced by hook-up culture in most middle-class colleges; movement away from linear relationship construction, instead experimentation, delays of marriage, and parenthood without marriage. However, hookup culture is not indigenous to modern college, but was prevalent in GLB communities historically. Family creation and parenthood as class-based – desiring independence, egalitarianism, but at the same time, not willing to change current/traditional gender roles to correspond with parenting demands; respect and love, multi-partner and blended families

State within Bedrooms

“The state criminalizes certain desires, acts, and identities; it disenfranchises specific practices and the individuals who engage in them; it regulates which sexual selves gain entry into the nation and which are refused; it monitors media representations through authorizing federal agencies to set standards for public talk and images; and with the force of law the state has sanctioned the exclusively heterosexual character of marriage” (169). Delegalization of abortion and prostitution in Victorian era, promotion of eugenics (compulsory sterilization) of feeble and sexual immorals – expansion of government control of sexuality – illegalization and legalization of community standards of obscenity, birth control accessibility and use, abortion, etc. – marital and date rape, laws that penalized homosexuality in variant ways – legalization of sodomy, adoptions, partnerships, nondiscrimination in work, etc. Interracial marriage and sex met with anti-miscegenation rules.

The Gay American

Heterosexuality in Panic

Porn Wars


Sex Work

Gay Marriage


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