Peer Reviewed Articles and Chapters
This article explores the relationship between contemporary asexual lives and compulsory sexuality, or the privileging of sexuality and the marginalizing of nonsexuality. Drawing on 30 in-depth interviews, I identify four ways the asexually identified individuals in this study saw themselves as affected by compulsory sexuality: pathologization, isolation, unwanted sex and relationship conflict, and the denial of epistemic authority. I also identify five ways these asexually identified individuals disrupted compulsory sexuality: adopting a language of difference and capacity to describe asexuality; deemphasizing the importance of sexuality in human life; developing new types of nonsexual relationships; constituting asexuality as a sexual orientation or identity; and engaging in community building and outreach. I argue that some of these practices offer only a limited disruption of compulsory sexuality, but some of these practices pose a radical challenge to sexual norms by calling into question the widespread assumption that sexuality is a necessary part of human flourishing.
2015. What Does Asexuality Teach Us About Sexual Disinterest? Recommendations for Health Professionals Based on a Qualitative Study with Asexually-Identified People. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. [Epub ahead of print]
This article draws on qualitative in-depth interviews with thirty asexually-identified individuals living in the United States in order to contribute to our understanding of when low sexual desire should be treated as a medical or mental health issue and when it should be treated as a benign sexual variation. The article discusses five findings of relevance to health professionals: first, the line between a desire disorder and asexuality is not clear cut; second, asexually-identified individuals may experience distress, so distress alone does not separate a desire disorder from asexuality; third, asexually-identified individuals may face sexual pressure from a partner or may have difficulty negotiating sexual activity with a partner; fourth, asexuality does not need to be distressing, rather it can be experienced as a fulfilling form of sexuality; and, fifth, many asexually-identified individuals believe in the usefulness of low sexual desire as a diagnostic category and support medical and mental health professionals in their efforts to develop treatments for sexual desire disorders. Based on these five findings, this article offers four concrete suggestions for health professionals working with clients with low sexual desire, whether or not those clients identify as asexual.
Partially in response to the recent articulation of asexual identities and communities, scholars have begun to use the term compulsory sexuality to describe the assumption that all people are sexual and to describe the social norms and practices that both marginalize various forms of nonsexuality and compel people to experience themselves as desiring subjects, take up sexual identities, and engage in sexual activity. This article examines the development of the concept of compulsory sexuality and evaluates its usefulness for understanding certain aspects of contemporary Western sexual norms. I argue that when used judiciously, the concept of compulsory sexuality can connect existing areas of research and inspire new scholarship, can highlight how norms of sexual interest and disinterest regulate the behavior of all people, and can encourage scholars to avoid an easy equation of sexual activity with liberation.
2014. Asexuality and Disability: Mutual Negation in Adams v. Rice and New Directions for Coalition Building. Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives. Megan Milks and Karli June Cerankowski, editors. Routledge.
Abstract: This paper examines how two activist projects centered on sexuality – the effort by disability activists to “redefine people with disabilities as sexual citizens” (Siebers 2008) and the effort by asexual activists to gain visibility for asexuality as a sexual identity – have engaged in reciprocal exclusionary processes. I briefly examine the historical factors that have contributed to this mutual repudiation, including the unwanted ascription of asexuality to many sexual people with disabilities and the medicalization and pathologization of asexual people. I then use a case study to explore this process of mutual repudiation as it played out in a specific encounter. In 2008, in the case Adams v. Rice, a court defined sexual activity as a “major life activity” according to the criteria of disability rights law. The reaction to this decision by asexual activists was largely negative, while the reaction to the decision by disability activists was generally positive. I show that in their reaction to this court decision, some asexual activists invalidated disability identities while some disability activists invalidated asexual identities. I argue that such a process of mutual disavowal elides the potentially productive intersections of asexuality with disability and further marginalizes people with disabilities who also identify as asexual. I conclude by offering some suggestions for how disability and asexual activists and theorists might begin to negotiate a common agenda for sexual justice, or, at the very least, avoid stigmatizing each other in their ongoing quests for recognition.
Abstract: Adding to a small but growing feminist literature, this article critically examines popular, contemporary American sex manuals from a feminist social constructionist perspective, focusing specifically on how these manuals construct gender and sexual norms. With notable exceptions, the majority of these manuals are geared toward white, heterosexual, middle-class, able-bodied, and cisgendered audiences. We argue that in addition to positioning sexual activity as a biological, essential (albeit gendered) human need, and as the ultimate path to individual fulfillment and empowerment, a new rationale for the importance of sex (and working on sexual improvement) is now prominent in contemporary sex manuals. Reflecting the ‘‘healthicization’’ of sex in the post-Viagra era, authors frame frequent pleasurable sexual activity as an important factor in the maintenance of health and wellness, an argument that gives further weight to the importance of ‘‘sex work’’ as a fundamental aspect of particularly women’s work in heterosexual relationships. These findings are in keeping with a growing body of literature that highlights the rise of the ‘‘sex as health’’ discourse as well as literature examining the growing pressure to master, improve, and work on sex.
Abstract: This article examines representations of lesbian nonsexuality in the film The Kids Are All Right and in responses to the film by feminist and queer scholars. In some moments, the film offers a limited endorsement of lesbian nonsexuality, placing pressure on the category lesbian to include nonsexuality and asexuality. However, in their responses to the film, many feminist and queer scholars rejected nonsexuality as an aspect of lesbian experience, placing pressure on the category lesbian to exclude nonsexual and asexual women. Asexual activism challenges scholars to question their sex-normative commitments and to keep the category lesbian open and flexible.
Abstract: In this article, I analyze the ethical and social implications of using neurotechnological interventions to alter sexual desires and behaviors. I focus on the psychopharmaceutical interventions that exist or are being developed to treat paraphilias, sex addiction, hypoactive sexual desire disorder, and “marital discord.” I argue that these interventions may simultaneously reflect and reinforce troubling social norms about sexuality and relationality while potentially reducing sexual diversity. Thus, if we wish to use these psychopharmaceuticals, we must think carefully about how to do so without threatening sexual diversity or further marginalizing sexual minorities.
Abstract: Recently, scientific and popular press articles have begun to represent sex as a health-promoting activity. A number of scientific studies have identified possible health benefits of sexual activity, including increased lifespan and decreased risk of certain types of cancers. These scientific findings have been widely reported on in the popular press. This “sex for health” discourse claims that sexual activity leads to quantifiable physical and mental health benefits in areas not directly related to sexuality. Analyzing this discourse provides an opportunity to better understand both broader health promotion discourses and current norms and anxieties about sexuality. In this article, I place this “sex for health” discourse within the context of broader health promotion discourses and within the context of a number of historical and contemporary discourses connecting health and sexuality. I argue that although the “sex for health” discourse may serve to de-stigmatize sexual activity for some, it may also increase pressure on others to be sexually active and may further pathologize sexual “dysfunction.” In addition, these representations often serve to further privilege a normative form of sexual behavior – coitus in the context of a monogamous heterosexual partnership – at the expense of non-normative sexual desires, identities, and practices.
Gupta, Kristina and Sara Freeman. 2013. Open Peer Commentary: Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis for Intersex Conditions: Beyond Parental Decision Making. The American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB). 13(10): 49-51.