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.


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: