Remembering My Hat

15th May 2012

Sexual Cultures conference: Revisiting Rubin panel

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 12:08

The main thing I was doing at the Sexual Cultures conference at Brunel was running a panel called ‘Revisiting Rubin’s charmed circle’

Here’s the abstract we submitted:


Rubin’s concept of the charmed circle (1984) marked off ‘good, normal, natural, blessed sexuality’ from ‘bad, abnormal, unnatural, damned sexuality’. In this panel, contributors revisit and rethink the charmed circle in a contemporaryUKcontext through a range of empirical studies. They critically examine the ways in which changing sexual practices, identities and intimacies create new social tolerances and intolerances, focusing particularly on the ways in which constructions of sex, sexualities and intimacies are employed strategically in different moments and settings. Responding to the criticisms of Rubin’s work for its lack of attention to intersectionality, contributors examine how distinctions and boundaries between good and bad sex are negotiated and policed differently for differently positioned individuals and groups. This includes consideration of how such distinctions may serve to exclude some people from full sexual citizenship but also act to forge dissident sexual identities and enhance sexual practices themselves.


What is (normal) sex?

Meg Barker

A unifying feature of virtually all clients attending sex therapy is the intense desire to be ‘normal’. Indeed, having ‘normal’ sex is frequently privileged – by such clients and by people more generally – over sex being pleasurable or fulfilling. What is considered to be normal is very much located within the current cultural context as perpetuated in mainstream media and popular discourse. As authors such as Rubin have pointed out, this is strongly rooted in psychiatric and psychological definitions of functional and dysfunctional, normal and abnormal, sex. This presentation begins a process of consideration of what alternative understandings of sex might look like, drawing on various groups and communities, which is continued by the other presenters in this panel. It is suggested that an expanded understanding of sex as multiple and in process may be more beneficial in terms of therapy and more widely.


What is good sex… for young people?

Ester McGeeney

In her 1984 essay, Thinking Sex, Rubin argued that most religious, psychiatric, popular and political discourses on sex maintain an ‘imaginary line’ between good and bad sex that enforces sexual hierarchies and limits sexual pluralism. Drawing on data from a recent study of young peoples’ understandings and experiences of sexual pleasure, this paper will examine the ways in which young people construct imaginary lines between good and bad sex and consider what these constructions mean in the context of young peoples’ sexual lives, relationships and practices. Through adopting an intersectional approach I will examine the ways in which young peoples’ understandings of good and bad sex are shaped by age, gender, class, race and sexuality and consider how these structural factors operate within young people’s lives to both limit and enable the ‘sexual pluralism’ and ‘democratic morality’ that Rubin advocates.


What is good sex … in later life?

Rebecca Jones

Thinking about Rubin’s charmed circle in terms of older people’s sexual practices reveals some interesting inversions in which types of sex are privileged. While traditionally older people have been expected not to be sexually active at all, nowadays there are new pressures to remain sexually active as part of a wider project of ‘successful’ ageing. For some older people, this may demand using ‘unnatural’ technologies such as Viagra or hormone replacements. For others, it may entail redefining what constitutes good sex or reasserting the undesirability of sex in later life. When older people form new partnerships in later life, living ‘in sin’ may be the morally preferred option. Procreative sex by older people is usually framed as bad and unnatural, as can be seen in the anxieties around post-menopausal child-bearing. In this paper I discuss commonalities and differences between differently (sexually) positioned older people, drawing on a range of empirical studies.


Describing the Circle: A descriptive exploration of trans and sexuality

Christina Richards

Trans people have historically been situated at the nexus of gender and sexuality in both the empirical literature from diverse traditions and mainstream popular culture. This situation has taken place, in part, through the co-option of trans voices by scholars and others, who have tended towards a homogenization of experience, identity and practice which is not necessarily reflective of the actual realities of trans people.  This has tended to position trans people as being outside the ‘charmed circle’ of acceptable sexualities, while at the same time suggesting that they are inauthentically endeavouring to inhabit the safe spaces within the inner reaches.

Consequently this paper will present data drawn from trans people’s own narratives and descriptions about their sexualities. In addition mainstream pornography which situates trans people as both subjects and objects will be presented, and an attempt will be made to disentangle sex, sexuality and gender within these discourses.


The panel went well, I think. It was certainly very well attended and we had some really interesting questions and comments from the audience.

Next stop for me is writing my paper up. I have a self-imposed-with-no-real-sanction deadline of submitting it ‘by the end of July’ and a ‘will embarrass me if I fail to meet it’ deadline of having a first draft by the 25th June, since the OU’s Feminist Reading Group is going to comment on it at our beginning of July meeting. Deadlines are the only way I ever get round to writing anything.


10th May 2012

Conference notes: Sexual Cultures, Brunel, 20th-22nd April 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 11:23
Tags: , , , ,

Some more than usually raw notes taken at a conference. The conference was ‘Sexual cultures’, organised by the Onscenity network. I was only able to attend one day, the 21st. In this post, I’ll just put the first keynote, since I took the most notes on this, being freshest at the beginning of the day. Others to follow.

Martin Barker Keynote

Prof  of film and television studies at the Universityof East Anglia

Going to the dark side: Rethinking the issue of sexual fantasy

(cc) Ludie Cochrane

Or, New title:  The unspeakable issue: pornography and sexual fantasy

All the main languages for talking about porn don’t allow you to talk about pleasure.

Based on Pornography Research Online. Proj which aims not to assume porn is a problem.

Online survey, quantitive. Asked people to categorise themselves as porn users – how imp is it to you? Why?  How frequent? Porn history etc. 5,500 responses, 1.5 million words

68% men, 32% women. Younger women using porn much more than older. Generational shift going on. 70% heterosexual

Asked to tell ‘your most exciting story’. History of okayness of women talking about fantasies of forced sex, going back to Nancy Friday but not for men talking about women being raped. They have data on this – difficult to talk about.

Theories of fantasy:

  • ‘wildness’ emph Leitenberg and Henning – brain as imp a sexual organ as genital
  •  Freudian approaches, stored-up childhood stresses and  lacks. Assosciations with pathology. Fantasy as problem-resolution

Porn users do use the term ‘fantasy’ significantly. It is about fantasy. The fantasy paradox

Public complaints about too much sex ‘leaving nothing to the imagination’ .. yet porn is the source and focus of fantasy.

Not all talk is about porn is about fantasy some is just:

  • seeing and loving bodies
  • learning techniques
  • as a route to arousals – just engages my body, not to do with mind and fantasy

Women talked about men more than fantasy [not sure I typed this right. Should it say women talked about fantasy more than men? That seems entirely plausible]. May be because it’s harder for women to use porn as so much is premised on male gaze.

More younger people than older talked about fantasy [this would seem to contradict the above, since it’s generally all young people shown in porn]

How many respondents ticked both to see ‘things I might do’ and  also ‘things I shouldn’t do = 64. i.e. a very small proportion. The people that anti-porn campaigners are worried about – it gives people ideas that they then play out. They are the respondents with Highest association with mentioning ‘fantasy’ and disproportionately women – 48% when are only 38?% women. So really it doesn’t look as if porn encourages people to actually do bad things.

Standard ideas about fantasy which this report doesn’t support

  • fantasy is uncontrolled
  • childish and immature
  • erronsous, unsupportable beliefs
  • fey, otherworldliness
  • [another one that I missed!]

What is does do is function as:

  • magnifying glass – intensification
  • mirror to self, surprised at my own reaction, self-inspection
  • emporium – supermarket of sex ‘didn’t know you you could do that!’ disgust is as important as attraction – definitely don’t want to do that!
  • journey, timing of body reactions
  • other self. What if I was in this scenario? What if I wasn’t me?

Fantasy as dangerous, illicit realms. Rape, degredation fantasies. Difficult to talk about. Doesn’t feel he yet has a good handle on this.

What terminology should you use ‘porn user’ sometimes fine. But ‘use’ porn. Sometimes not appropriate.

  • It’s an engagement – engager?
  • Explorer? Quite apt. B ring home a souvenir.
  • Player? Suggests active engagement.
  • Connoisseur – making quality judgements

Methodological issue – only asked about gender as M or F. What about trans? Difficulty when trying to reach quite mainstream people – puts them off if you have more than 2 genders. [Hmmmm, difficult issue].

8th May 2012

CfP: Ethnicity, mental health and learning disability in an age of austerity

A really interesting-looking conference, which is being organised by one of our PhD students:





This one day interdisciplinary conference seeks to re-ignite debates about the lived consequences of the category of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) in statutory services. Using mental health (MH) and Learning Disability (LD) as reference points the conference will explore fresh understandings and theorisations for how BME plays out within the care/control function of the state. Conference organisers acknowledge that ‘Learning Disability’ is contested by advocacy groups; however it is employed here to reflect its use in statutory services.

The conference is hosted by the Faculty of Health and Social Care (The Open University) and the Race and Ethnicity Study Group (British Sociological Association).


Notwithstanding recent advancements, there remains a disjuncture between theory and praxis in the sociology literature on ethnicity. While it is now accepted that ethnicity is an ontologically unstable category (Alexander 2006), writers arguably over-emphasise ethnicity qua ethnicity at the expense of material and psychic consequences of ethnic categorisations (Carter and Fenton, 2011). However there is long-standing evidence that the category BME has consequences for lived experience in statutory services where the state’s care/control function is thrown into sharp focus. Consequently although less likely to receive welfare services, BMEs are over-represented in the coercive aspects of ‘caring’ services. In MH and LD for instance, some BME groups are less likely to access preventative services but more likely to be detained for involuntary treatment (Mir et al, 2001; Care Quality Commission and National Mental Health Development Unit, 2011). Thus ‘[p]aradoxically, they receive the MH services they don’t want, but not the ones they do or might want’ (Keating and Robertson, 2004, p446). While the applied literature has helpfully evidenced these inequalities, it struggles to satisfactorily operationalise ethnicity to reflect current substantive understandings of fluidity (Nazroo, 2011; Salway et al 2009, 2011). The present age of austerity is likely to exacerbate longstanding inequalities, hence the timely need to refocus on the sociological processes which lead to embodiment of social categories such as BME, MH, and LD.

We welcome papers that address the following themes:

• What sociological theories are useful in explaining/could explain the disproportionate representation of BME in MH and LD services?

• What are the possibilities, limitations and challenges of using ethnic categorisations to describe and explain inequalities in the provision of statutory services? Is an integrative (or intersectional) approach more useful?

• Interrogating the category of BME: Although widely used in applied studies, BME is rarely explored critically. What is the history of the category; whose interests does it serve?

• Spaces of care/control: ‘Space’ could be geographical, virtual, material, and mental – how is care/control operationalised; what are the mechanisms?

• How can the gap between theory and practice be reduced? Is it an issue of dissemination? If so, how can this be bridged?

Godfred Boahen

PhD student

Faculty of Health and Social Care

The Open University

Walton Hall

Milton Keynes



Create a free website or blog at