Culture, Society and Sexuality: A Reader

Culture, Society and Sexuality: A Reader

Culture, Society and Sexuality: A Reader

Culture, Society and Sexuality: A Reader

Synopsis

This work offers an introduction to the central debates in sexuality research. Among the issues examined are the social and cultural dimensions of sex, human sexuality and sex research.

Excerpt

Richard Parker and Peter Aggleton

When HIV and AIDS first emerged in the early 1980s, one of the key problems facing all of the sectors concerned with responding to the epidemic was the general lack of information and understanding concerning sexuality. Particularly among the population groups that first seemed to be affected by the epidemic - gay and bisexual men and injecting drug users in the United States, Northern Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and heterosexual women and men from diverse cultural and ethnic groups in parts of sub-Saharan Africa - the general lack of understanding concerning sexual experience posed a series of serious problems in seeking to understand the dynamics of HIV infection, or to respond to the risk of HIV/AIDS through health promotion and prevention programmes. These problems were only magnified as attention gradually began to turn from these specific populations to other more mainstream groups in the societies of the industrialized countries, and to the many diverse populations and cultures found throughout the countries of the developing world. While a range of other issues, such as population and the environment, had already at least potentially pointed to sexual behaviour and sexual reproduction as areas of some concern, with the emergence of AIDS, sexuality became a ‘problem’ for research and reflection in an entirely new way. A veritable explosion in the investigation of sexual life subsequently took place over the course of the 1980s and the 1990s motivated, in large part, by the need to more fully understand human sexual experience in order to respond to the dilemmas posed by the epidemic (see Parker, 1994; Parker and Gagnon, 1995).

While the lack of pre-existing baseline data on human sexuality, and, consequently, the urgent need for data collection on behaviours that may be linked to HIV transmission, have been widely discussed in recent years (see, for example, Chouinard and Albert, 1990; Turner, Miller, and Moses, 1989, 1990; Cleland and Ferry, 1996), rather less attention seems to have been given to serious limitations in the dominant theoretical and methodological approaches that have been used in carrying out such research (see Parker and Gagnon, 1995). The inadequacies of such approaches are probably most obvious at the theoretical level, precisely because research on sexual behaviour in relation to HIV and AIDS has almost never been driven by a theory of human sexuality or sexual desire. Indeed, in most instances, it has not been driven by any overtly stated theory at all - the emphasis instead has been on the urgent need for descriptive data (such as that likely to be revealed through surveys of AIDS-related knowledge, attitudes and reported practices), apparently based upon the hope that theoretical insights will emerge from such data if we only have enough of it. And even when a theoretical framework for conceptualizing sexuality has occasionally been invoked, it has almost always been at best a minimal one - most typically the ‘explanation’ of behaviours in terms of demographic correlates or the conceptualization of sexual desire as a kind of basic (biologically grounded) human drive which may be shaped somewhat differently in different settings, and which must therefore be described as it manifests itself empirically within these settings (see, for example, WHO/GPA/SBR, 1989; Carballo et al., 1989; Cleland and Ferry, 1996).

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