Jolly, S., A. Cornwall, K. Hawkins. 2013. Introduction: Women, Sexuality and the Political Power of Pleasure.

Jolly, Susie, Andrea Cornwall, and Kate Hawkins. 2013. “Introduction: Women, Sexuality and the Political Power of Pleasure.” In Women, Sexuality, and the Political Power of Pleasure. Edited by Susie Jolly, Andrea Cornwall, and Kate Hawkins. New York: Zed Books. Pp. 1-27.

Within gender and development, talking about sexual pleasure when other issues (like maternal mortality) seemed to be “more pressing.” However, casting women in development as victims is paralyzing, and reflects small-c conservative values about religion, women’s traditional roles, and chastity. Suppression of sexuality in one field, glorification and commodification of it in another? Feminist sex wars of the 1970s and 1980s (mostly held between US and European scholars) debated the role of pornography as a tool of male violence and domination (Dworkin 1979), but pro-sex feminists viewed it as a type of sexual expression, particularly for those of censured non-heteronormative desires/acts (Rubin 1998). Anti-porn feminists accused of using essentialist notions of women’s sexuality, desire to shame promiscuous and non-normative women; pro-porn was criticized for encouraging a sex culture where anonymity and depersonalization was valued over intimacy. Growth of “raunch culture” (a la Levy) in popular imagery is said to create new norms of sexuality and promote objectification. However, critics of this note that this undermines people’s abilities to assess their own role in objectification, the power of sexuality as a positive force, the creation of space for discussing sexuality and identity (see also Bragg et al 2011, Smith 2010a+b).

Applying sex wars to global South may offer agency – political mobilization and enjoyment through pleasure – to a long narrative of woe and suffering surrounding sexuality (rape as a weapon of war, maternal/infant mortality, HIV-AIDS, development approaches that assert patriarchal power structures). Conservative political contexts and religious imperialism construct a social arena where double standards of sexuality proliferate, and different consequences appear for each gender.

Often, discourses of pleasure and danger are intertwined – by partaking in pleasure, there is offered consequence. Solutions – exploration of desire without creating standards of performance to abide by. Promote sexual education, pornography that practice safer sex techniques (barrier methods, etc.) and mutuality. FGM and Western standards of sexuality – reclamation projects in development have been loath to consult the people they were actually serving.


Bragg, S.D., R Russell Buckingham, and R. Willett. 2011. “Too Much, Too Soon? Children, ‘Sexualisation’ and Consumer Culture.” Sex Education 11(3): 279-292.

Dworkin, A. 1979. Pornography: Men Possessing Women. New York: E.P. Dutton.

Rubin, G.S. 1998. “Thinking Sex: Notes for Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality,” in P.M. Nardi and B.E. Schneider (eds), Social Perspectives in Lesbian and Gay Studies. New York: Routledge.

Smith, C. 2010a. “Review: Papadopoulos, Linda: “Sexualisation of Young People Review,” London: Home Office Publication, February 2010, Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies 7(1): 175-179.

Smith, C. 2010b. “Pornographication: A Discourse for All Seasons.” International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics 6(1): 103-108.


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