When Sex and Power Collide: An Argument for Critical Sexuality Studies

Breanne Fahs, Sara I. McClelland

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

29 Scopus citations

Abstract

Attentive to the collision of sex and power, we add momentum to the ongoing development of the subfield of critical sexuality studies. We argue that this body of work is defined by its critical orientation toward the study of sexuality, along with a clear allegiance to critical modalities of thought, particularly feminist thought. Critical sexuality studies takes its cues from several other critical moments in related fields, including critical psychology, critical race theory, critical public health, and critical youth studies. Across these varied critical stances is a shared investment in examining how power and privilege operate, understanding the role of historical and epistemological violence in research, and generating new models and paradigms to guide empirical and theoretical research. With this guiding framework, we propose three central characteristics of critical sexuality studies: (a) conceptual analysis, with particular attention to how we define key terms and conceptually organize our research (e.g., attraction, sexually active, consent, agency, embodiment, sexual subjectivity); (b) attention to the material qualities of abject bodies, particularly bodies that are ignored, overlooked, or pushed out of bounds (e.g., viscous bodies, fat bodies, bodies in pain); and (c) heteronormativity and heterosexual privilege, particularly how assumptions about heterosexuality and heteronormativity circulate in sexuality research. Through these three critical practices, we argue that critical sexuality studies showcases how sex and power collide and recognizes (and tries to subvert) the various power imbalances that are deployed and replicated in sex research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)392-416
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Sex Research
Volume53
Issue number4-5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 3 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Psychology(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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