The Challenge of Pleasure: Re-Imagining Sexuality and Sexual Health

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Men have a stake in ending gendered violence but this stake has not yet been widely embraced by men. Thus we must think carefully about our future strategic directions. Taking the case of sexual violence, I suggest that these directions involve re-thinking sexuality and sexual health by considering absences in the scholarly and policy literatures. While young people are constantly exhorted in popular media to be sexual and to undertake sex, young men have not been engaged by 'critical' analyses of sexuality. The critical literatures-which include writings in Gender/Sexuality studies and Preventive Health-aim to offer alternative understandings of heterosexuality which move beyond the imperatives of the popular media. Yet such critical approaches remain undeveloped, largely negative and/or focussed upon danger rather than considering heterosexuality in positive terms that might offer a substantive alternative and encourage young men in particular to embrace the aim of egalitarian sexual practices, including ending sexual violence. Tensions in Gender/Sexuality scholarship, and Preventive Health sex education materials which draw upon that scholarship, produce significant absences with regard to analysis of heterosexuality and heterosexual subjects. In this context, existing research indicates that recognition of pleasure in sexual health has resulted in increased use of condoms by men and greater involvement of women in the negotiation of sexual practices. Such research is not just relevant to prevention of disease, but has implications for strategies regarding sexual violence. Re-imagining the theoretical framing of Gender/ Sexuality studies and Preventative Health to take account of pleasure in sexuality and sexual health is not just a theoretical issue but has some very practical implications.

Received 1 May 2008 Accepted 23 May 2008

KEY WORDS

Sociology, pleasure, heterosexuality, sex education, gender, masculinity

Introduction

The paper begins with the question of developing effective strategies in relation to sexual violence and argues that such strategies require a re-thinking of sexuality and sexual health, a re-thinking which attends to significant existing absences in the scholarly and policy literatures. In particular I assert a requirement to re-imagine the theoretical framing of both Gender/Sexuality studies and Preventive Health in the arena of sexuality. Attention to the former is associated with its influential input into the latter.

In discussing strategies with regard to sexual violence, my intention is to take up the work of Masculinity studies scholars such as Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel, who insist that men - along with women - have a stake in ending violence, including sexual violence (Kaufman 2001; Kimmel, Interview). While I agree with Kaufman and Kimmel that theoretically men may well have a stake in ending violence, including sexual violence, this stake has not yet been widely and actively embraced by men. Thus I consider we must think carefully about our future strategic directions for scholarship, activism and public policy. My concern is that existing cultural discourses do not provide much that might encourage men's theoretical stake in ending sexual violence to be actualised in everyday life.

I suggest that while young people are constantly exhorted in popular media to be sexual and to undertake sex, young men have not been engaged by 'critical' voices (scholarly or policy literatures) attending to sexuality. These critical voices - which include writings arising from Gender/Sexuality studies, and from the Preventive Health field such as sex education policy materials - aim to offer alternative understandings of heterosexuality and masculine sexuality to those which are on offer in the popular media. Yet such critical approaches remain undeveloped, largely negative and/or focussed upon danger/risk rather than considering heterosexuality in terms that might encourage young men in particular to be inspired by the possibilities of egalitarian sexual practices and embrace the aim of ending sexual violence. …