Postfeminism, Pornography, and Sexual Proficiency
(PI: M. Gurevich, Ryerson SRC and Research Assistant Funds, 2011)
The erotic landscape is currently being redefined as a result of several interrelated sexuo-social shifts, wherein culture and commerce converge. One such key cultural turn is the ubiquitous accessibility of pornography and the adoption of activity and appearance norms formerly associated with pornography in everyday social and interpersonal contexts (e.g., recreational pole dancing, boudoir photography, amateur pornography and sex blogs). The co-mingling of fashion, consumerism and eroticism is essential to the socialization of a specific form of feminine heterosexuality that is branded as modern, progressive and sexually emancipated. This mobile sexual scaffolding is supported in several pivotal joints by postfeminism (Gill, 2009; McRobbie, 2007), with its promise of sexual empowerment and endless sexual possibilities and pleasures. This postfeminist ethos is reflected in related sexual entrepreneurship discourses (Harvey and Gill, 2011a, 2011b), promulgated by a growing cadre of sexual experts in magazines, advice columns and the TV lifestyle makeover genre. The sexual entrepreneur is a contemporary sexual subject who is actively engaged in a persistent pursuit of maximal sexual desirability, satisfaction and exploration. We examine what the mainstreaming of pornography means for sexual desire and agency among young women negotiating heterosex in the context of postfeminism and sexual entrepreneurship.
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Gurevich, M., Brown-Bowers, A., Cosma, S., Vasilovsky, A. T., Leedham, U., & Cormier, N. (2016). Sexually progressive and proficient: Pornographic syntax and postfeminist fantasies. Sexualities. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/1363460716665785
Gurevich, M., Cosma, S., Vasilovsky, A., Leedham, U., Cormier, N., & Brown-Bowers, A. (2017, July). Resisting and recapitulating: Postfeminist navigations of the pornosphere. Paper submitted to the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women Section’s Annual Conference, Windsor, United Kingdom.
Technosex: Shaping Sexual Norms and Practices among Youth
(PI: M. Gurevich, SSHRC Insight Grant, 2014-2017)
Canada is the sixth largest consumer of SEM such as Viagra (Workman, 2011) and Health Canada recently (August 25, 2011) approved another such drug – STAXYN. Marketing by physicians and Bayer Healthcare/ GlaxoSmithKline already emphasizes STAXYN’s safety and suitability for younger men without ED (Canada Newswire, 2011). The commercial success of SEM (Loe, 2004), with increasingly documented use by younger consumers (Bechara et al., 2010; Harte & Meston, 2011; Prestage et al., 2014), marks a significant cultural turn. This phenomenon is operating virtually under the social science research radar. No published studies address recreational SEM use among young men in relation to: sexual embodiment meanings and models; users’ adoption of medical and popular discourses on SEM and sexuality; sexual agency, desire, and relationship negotiation norms configured by SEM use; or the experiences of partners of recreational SEM users. These represent the key foci of the present research project. Targeting a growing but empirically virtually ignored sexual practice provides an opportunity to examine mediated constructions of gender and sexuality from their inception. That is, the ways that social (including sexual) conduct is shaped by media, marketing and other cultural productions.
Gurevich, M. & Cormier, N. (2014, July). Technosex: Promoting recreational sexual enhancement medication use. Paper presented at the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women Section’s Annual Conference, Windsor, United Kingdom.
Lifestyle Drugs, the Pharmaceutical Industry, and the Medicalization of Sexuality
(PI: M. Gurevich, OVPRI/URO Arts Grant 2015)
Since the emergence of Viagra in 1998, the pharmaceutical industry has successfully installed it as an unqualified success in treating a range of sexual problems. Viagra sales world-wide are steadily increasing. The United States shipped $709 million worth of erectile drugs, including Viagra, to 96 different countries, in the first 11 months of 2010. This represents a 35.9% rise over the $521.8 million profit during the comparable period in 2009 (Workman, 2011). The present project represents growing attention directed at the increasingly routine use of pharmaceuticals for daily living (Dumit, 2002; Rose, 2003). The success of Viagra, Cialis and other sexual enhancement medication (SEM) is situated within a larger trend of targeting ‘lifestyle’ issues in the marketing and consumption of pharmaceuticals (Fox & Ward, 2008). Increasingly, a range of pharmaceuticals are produced, prescribed and promoted not specifically for ill health but for the management of (dis)satisfaction with everyday living. This project analyzes medical and popular SEM use representations (e.g., Viagra, Cialis, Staxyn) as part of the medicalization and commercialization of sexuality. The goal is to propel timely public discussions about the role of sexual technologies in mediating sexual attitudes, conduct, relationships, and intimacy.
Gurevich, M., Leedham, U., Brown-Bowers, A., Cormier, N., & Mercer, Z. (2017). Propping up pharma’s (natural) neoliberal phallic man: Pharmaceutical representations of the ideal sexuopharmaceutical user. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 19(4), 422-437. doi:10.1080/13691058.2016.1233353
Gurevich, M., Mercer, Z., Cormier, N., & Leedham, U. (2016). Responsible or reckless men?: Sexuopharmaceutical messages differentiated by sexual identity of users. Psychology of Men and Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/men0000061
Gurevich, M., Leedham, U., Brown-Bowers, A., Cormier, N., & Mercer, Z. (2016, October). Sexual coaches and sirens: Using women to promote sexuopharmaceuticals for men. Paper accepted for presentation at the New View Capstone Conference, Bloomington, Indiana.
Gurevich, M., Mercer, Z., Cormier, N., & Leedham, U. (2016, July). Legitimate relationship labour or reckless casual sex? Representations of the ideal sexuopharmaceutical user. Paper accepted for presentation at the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women Section’s Annual Conference, Windsor, United Kingdom.
Leedham, U., Cormier, N., Mercer, Z., Brown-Bowers, A., & Gurevich, M. (2016, June). The modern (natural) masculinity icon: Reinscribing phallic potency in sexuopharmaceutical representations. Poster presented at the 77th Annual Convention of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), Victoria, Canada.
Mercer, Z., Cormier, N., Leedham, U., & Gurevich, M. (2016, June). Harder, better, faster, stronger: The role of sexuopharmaceuticals in (re)configuring men’s sexual identities. Poster presented at presentation the 77thAnnual Convention of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), Victoria, Canada.
Couples Coping with Prostate Cancer: Men and Women (Re)Negotiate Discourses of Gender, Sexuality, and Intimate Relationships
(PI: A. Brown-Bowers, Ontario Graduate Scholarship 2011-2015)
Prostate cancer (PC) is the second most common cancer diagnosed in men in Canada (Canadian Cancer Society, 2012). Furthermore, PC is increasingly referred to as a couple’s disease. The most common treatments for PC are associated with subsequent changes in erectile functioning and incontinence (Robinson, Moritz & Fung, 2002; Mulhall et al., 2010) and couples struggle to renegotiate sexual intimacy in the face of these treatment side effects (De Sousa, Sonavane & Mehta, 2012). Penile rehabilitation first emerged in the late 1990s to target PC-related erectile dysfunction in men. Broadly speaking, this intervention involves biomedical interventions aimed at resolving erectile dysfunction. While there is a lack of expert consensus on key questions related to penile rehabilitation (e.g., Mulhall et al., 2013), it is undergoing rapid dissemination across North America and fast becoming a medical imperative within prostate cancer care (Teloken et al. 2009). This project examines the rapid dissemination of penile rehabilitation programs, as well as explores the experiences of men and women as they navigate prostate cancer and penile rehabilitation, with an emphasis on gender and sexuality. Key questions include: How is penile rehabilitation positioned and legitimized? What messages about (successful) gender, (normal) sexuality and (healthy) relationships are being conveyed through patient materials? How do men and women make sense of changes in sexuality and sexual intimacy in their relationship? In what ways do the changes in sexual function and sexual routines impact their sexual desire, sexual satisfaction and sense of masculinity/femininity? And in what ways do their reactions to and experiences with sexual changes reflect and magnify larger social discourses about sexuality, gender and intimate relationships?
Brown-Bowers, A., Leedham, U., Gurevich, M. (2016, October). Post-prostate cancer penile rehabilitation: Medical promises and betrayals. Paper accepted for presentation at the New View Capstone Conference, Bloomington, Indiana.
Brown-Bowers, A. & Leedham, U. (2015, August). Potent messenger: Penile rehabilitation patient materials and (normal) sexuality, (natural) gender and (healthy) relationships. In M. Gurevich (Chair), Responsible neoliberal and postfeminist sexual subjects: Embodied practices and identities. Paper presented at the American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention, Toronto, Canada.
Brown-Bowers, A. & Gurevich, M. (2013, July). Sexual coaches and courtesans: Female partners of men undergoing sexual rehabilitation treatment following prostate cancer. In M. Gurevich (Chair), Sexual citizenship: Performing and policing practices and identities. Paper presented at the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women Section’s Annual Conference, Windsor, United Kingdom.
Women’s accounts of feigning sexual pleasure to end unwanted and/or unpleasurable sex
This research is part of a larger study exploring women’s accounts of feigning sexual pleasure with Drs. Stelzl and Lafrance at St. Thomas University. Despite being recruited to talk about instances of consensual sex, all interviewed women spoke of at least one explicitly negative sexual encounter. Thus, we explore unwanted and/or unpleasurable yet consensual sex as a site in which women’s accounts of faking orgasm emerged. Consent is often conceptualized on a dichotomous model that conflates consenting and wanting, resulting in the conceptual impossibility of consensual yet unwanted sex. However, consenting to unwanted sex is a common experience with women reporting consenting to unwanted sex for similar reasons to faking orgasm (e.g., to satisfy their partner). Adopting a discourse analytic approach, we situate our research in critical and feminist perspectives to analyze the discursive tools (e.g., negation, hedging) women drew on to trouble these experiences that were not explicitly labeled as rape or coercion. Furthermore, we explore participants’ accounts of faking orgasm as a means to ending these troubling, unwanted, and/or unpleasurable sexual encounters. We argue the importance of listening beyond available language to consider the women’s articulations of trouble and how they were connecting accounts of unwanted sex to faking orgasm so that these experiences are not dismissed or unheard.
Thomas, E. J., Stelzl, M., & Lafrance, M. N. (2016). Faking to finish: Women’s accounts of feigning sexual pleasure to end unwanted sex. Sexualities. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/1363460716649338
Thomas, E.J., Stelzl, M., & Lafrance, M. N. (2016, July). Faking to finish: Women’s accounts of feigning orgasm to end unwanted sex. Paper accepted for presentation at the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women Section’s Annual Conference, Windsor, United Kingdom.
Stelzl, M., Lafrance, M. N., & Thomas, E. J. (2016, July). “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”: Women’s accounts of feigning sexual pleasure. Paper accepted for presentation at the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women Section’s Annual Conference, Windsor, United Kingdom.
Thomas, E. J., Stelzl, M., Lafrance, M. N. & Cozzi, D. (2016, June). “It was consensual but…”: Negotiating (non)consent and (non)desire in women’s sexual encounters. Poster presented at the Sexual Consent Conference, Peterborough, Canada.
Discourses of Sexual Agency and Desire among Canadian Youth
(PI: M. Gurevich, Ryerson SRC and Research Assistant Funds, 2007-2011)
In an age in which dominant sexuality discourses invoke autonomy, pleasures and possibilities, several parallel cultural phenomena are occurring: the exponential proliferation of sexually explicit messages in the larger cultural frame; the decreasing emphasis on sexual education as a core part of the Canadian educational curriculum; and the growing popularity of technologies of physical and sexual self-enhancement. Collectively, these arguably influence the way young people experience, define and negotiate their sexualities. Very few empirical studies provide in-depth descriptions of the ways contemporary youth define their sexuality in relation to agency, desire and identity development or the cultural discourses they invoke in so doing. This multi-wave project focuses on the ways competing (and frequently) contradictory discourses emerging from within each of these cultural domains shape experiences of sexual agency and desire, which may be both potentiated and impeded by this rapidly shifting cultural landscape. Among the key questions are: How do young people develop and articulate a sexual self in the trenches of the tensions, tantalizations, and terrors inherent to sexuality? What discursive practices do they rely on to both realize and resist cultural norms of sexuality?
Brown-Bowers, A., Gurevich, M., Vasilovsky, A. T., Cosma, S., & Matti, S. (2015). Managed not missing: Young women’s discourses of sexual desire within a postfeminist heterosexual marketplace. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(3), 320-336. doi:10.1177/0361684314567303
Gurevich, M., Vasilovsky, A. T., Brown-Bowers, A., & Cosma, S. (2015). Affective conjunctions: Social norms, semiotic circuits, and fantasy. Theory & Psychology, 25(4), 513-540. doi:10.1177/0959354315589125
Technologies of Trans*: Genderqueer as (Dis)Identity
(PI: A. Vasilovsky, SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship, 2015-2017)
Mainstream psychology often articulates trans* through minoritising discourses (Sedgwick, 1990) that preserve gender as biological, essential, individually immanent, and normally congruent with the sexually dimorphic body (APA, 2013). As trans* communities continue to engage and resist such technologies of modern “biopower” (Foucault, 1978), their genealogy is more publically taking shape. In order to elucidate the increasing popularity of genderqueer self-identification among Millennials (Brekke, 2014), we explicate interdisciplinary debates on gender variance, which present trans* subjects either as perpetuators of gender norms (Raymond, 1979) or as “outlaws” (Bornstein, 1994) for whom gender is amenable to limitless individual play. We demonstrate how this generation’s genderqueer is contemporaneously interpreted as an umbrella term for apolitical “transgressive exceptionalism” (Halberstam, 2005) and as a “smashing” of gender binaries (Sanchez, 2015). Building on Evans, Riley and Shankar’s (2010) “technologies of sexiness,” we attempt to reconcile these and other emerging, polarised interpretations. We theorise genderqueer as a (dis)identity (Muñoz, 1999; Rancière, 1995/1999, 2007) that offers the possibility of agentic, non-binarised subjectivities through multiple, unpredictable negotiations of the subjectification/subjectivisation dialectic, which we term “technologies of trans*.” Gender transgressions are iterative performances (Butler, 1990, 1993) that necessarily reproduce regulatory and disciplinary regimes of power even as they open up alternative spaces for the occupation of heretofore unintelligible gendered subject positions. Although these alterations to the matrix of compulsory gender are susceptible to the neoliberal perversion of postmodern gender flexibility (Duggan, 2003), they harbour the potential to exceed the identificatory bounds of female and male, transgender and cisgender.
Vasilovsky, A. T., Leedham, U., & Cosma, S. (2015, July). Technologies of trans*: Genderqueer as (dis)identity. Paper presented at the 15th Biennial International Society for Theoretical Psychology Conference, Coventry, United Kingdom.
*Winner of the Sigmund Koch Graduate Student Paper Award at the 2015 International Society for Theoretical Psychology (ISTP) Conference*
Queerness as Consumption: Hegemonic Identity Hierarchies in Mainstream Gay Lifestyle Media
(PI: A. Vasilovsky, SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship, 2015-2017)
With the increasing visibility of non-heterosexual media representations, gay/queer men are presented with a bourgeoning menu of sexual and political possibilities (Padva, 2002; Sender, 2001). Few scholars have examined the ways in which these identities are interconnected within a broader sociopolitical matrix characterized by neoliberalism and the post-gay ethos (Halberstam, 2005). This paper presents a discursive analysis of 15 popular magazines directed at gay/queer international male audiences. Through their promotion of individualism, the magazines functioned as a means through which gay/queer men may practice self-reflexivity and construct their sexual identities through consumption (Giddens, 1991). Though encouraged to “be their own gay,” readers were simultaneously, implicitly incited – through the perpetuation of hegemonic hierarchies of class and masculinity that propagate assimilationist directives – to conceal, or make palatable, an abject “gayhood” (Halperin, 2012). This analysis is contextualized within a growing literature on mediated identities (Gill, 2009).
Cosma, S., Vasilovsky, A. T., Fitzpatrick, S., & Gurevich, M. (2013, July). Pride without politics: Hegemonic identity hierarchies in popular gay magazines. Paper presented at the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women Section’s Annual Conference, Windsor, United Kingdom.
Vasilovsky, A. T., Fitzpatrick, S., Cosma, S., & Gurevich, M. (2013, June). That’s SO gay! Or is it?: Exploring hegemonic identity hierarchies in popular gay magazines. Poster presented at the 74th annual Canadian Psychological Association Convention, Québec City, Canada.
“Gaydar” Research and Sexual Citizenship: Disavowing Culture, Reifying Homonationalism
(PI: A. Vasilovsky, SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship, 2015-2017)
Among positivist-empiricist sexual orientation researchers, there exists an overwhelming commitment to embedding homosexuality within an essentialist matrix: from prenatal androgen levels (Jeong et al., 2008) and “candidate genes” (Macke et al., 1993) to hair whorl direction (Knecht et al., 2003) and the older brother effect (Blanchard, 2004), homosexuality is always positioned, via a minoritizing discourse (Sedgwick, 1990), as an innate condition. Even hegemonic cultural markers of male homosexuality, like effeminacy (Hennen, 2008), camp (Halperin, 2012) or anarcho-queer resistance (Halberstam, 2012), are rendered as “natural” “cues” to one’s sexual orientation under the guise of “gaydar” (LeVay, 2012). This paper provides a queer critique of “gaydar” research, revealing how it sanctions an epistemological violence (Teo, 2011) with unfortunate, demobilizing sociopolitical consequences. This critique is contextualized within current debates between proponents of the new homonormativity (Duggan, 2003) and of queer epistemology (Eng, Halberstam, & Muñoz, 2005).
Vasilovsky, A. T. (2013, July). Aesthetic as genetic: “Gaydar” and lesbian and gay psychology’s minoritizing discourse. Paper presented at the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women Section’s Annual Conference, Windsor, United Kingdom.
Intimate Interfaces for People with Disabilities
(Co-PI: D. Fels, M. Gurevich, D. Smith, SSHRC Partnership Development Grant, 2012-2015)
Using a combination of virtual and real systems, the long-term project goal is to create ways to support the experience of intimacy and pleasure for persons with a range of human variability, sexual orientations and experiences. Technologically-mediated sexual practices, which include cybersex and teledildonics, are a positive way of allowing for creative alternative forms of sexual expression that might increase safety, accessibility and autonomy for persons with disabilities, while also offering greater latitude for experimentation, and varieties of identities and presentations of self. Project completion will lead to developing and testing a working prototype that can serve as a research tool and evaluation platform for audio-visual-tactile displays, sensory substitution, intimacy, and multi-modal interactions in general. The results we be used to construct a framework for future development of inclusive social media that provides persons with disabilities with new opportunities to participate in intimate social interaction with privacy and dignity.