Gender, Sexuality, and Sexual Behavior in an Age of Sexual Epidemic
Nancy L. Roth and Raul Goyo-Shields
The late twentieth century has been characterized as an era of sexual epidemic that represents a historical moment when not only has HIV/AIDS reached pandemic proportions but sickness and health have come to be the dominant metaphors of the age. Other sexual "viruses," including unwanted pregnancy and sexual violence, have come to be called "epidemic" ( Singer 1993). HIV/AIDS has become a dominant signifier of sexual epidemic ( Treichler 1988b, 1992). Certain sexual behaviors have been identified as primary avenues of transmission, the syndrome is widely associated with homosexuality in European contexts, and no vaccine or cure has been discovered. In the grips of sexual epidemic, society struggles to find interventions to stem the spread of both the physical virus (HIV) that is the putative cause of AIDS and the social "viruses" associated with it.
Safer sex education has emerged as a key strategy in stemming the transmission of HIV in the absence of a cure or vaccine, though it has been suggested that even if a cure or vaccine was found, it would not reduce the spread of the virus, as continued transmission has as much to do with the social stigmas that prevent effective prevention and treatment as with the lack of a medical "magic bullet" ( Brandt 1985). Such programs have brought to the fore in public arenas questions about what is meant by the terms gender, sexuality, and sexual behavior. Such questions challenge both academic theories about gender and sexuality and identity politics.
This chapter explores previous theoretical conceptions of gender, sexuality,