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, herein 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.
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, 20(5-6), 558-584. doi:10.1177/1363460716665785
Gurevich, M., Leedham, U., Werker, N., Cosma, S., Thomas, E. J., & Brown-Bowers, A. (2020, March). Wanting, willing and wavering: Sexual agency and desire labor (s)training under postfeminist and sexual entrepreneurship discourses. Paper presented at the Association for Women in Psychology conference, Austin, Texas, March 5-8, 2020.
Leedham, U., Gurevich, M., Rahman, A., & Thomas, E. (2018, July). Doing it “just for him”: (Pornified) fantasy, (compulsory) desire, and (performed) pleasure as ‘private’ sex work. Paper presented at the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women and Equalities Section (POWES) Annual Conference, Windsor, United Kingdom.
Gurevich, M., Cosma, S., Vasilovsky, A., Leedham, U., Cormier, N., & Brown-Bowers, A. (2017, July). Resisting and recapitulating: Postfeminist navigations of the pornosphere. Paper presented at 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)
(PI: M. Gurevich, OVPRI/URO Arts Grant 2015)
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.
Cosma, S., & Gurevich, M. (2020). Securing sex: Embattled masculinity and the pressured pursuit of women’s bodies in men’s online sex advice. Feminism & Psychology, 30(1), 42–62. doi: 10.1177/0959353519857754
Gurevich, M., Cormier, N., Leedham, U., & Brown-Bowers, A. (2017). Sexual dysfunction or sexual discipline?: Sexuopharmaceutical use by men as prevention and proficiency. Feminism & Psychology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0959353517750682
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. (2017). Responsible or reckless men? Sexuopharmaceutical messages differentiated by sexual identity of users. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 341-351. doi:10.1037/men0000061
Cosma, S. & Gurevich, M. (March, 2020). Appropriating agency: Attaining (non)consent from women and achieving masculinity in men’s online sex advice. Paper presented at the Association for Women in Psychology conference, Austin, Texas, March 5-8, 2020.
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 presented 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 presented 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 the 77thAnnual Convention of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), Victoria, Canada.
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.
Mainstream psychology and the gender binary: Toward a psychosocial account of non-binary subjectivity
(PI: A. T. Vasilovsky, SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship, 2015-2017)
To mainstream psychology, gender is binary. Examples are countless: its treatment of women’s mental health (see Chesler, 1972; Ussher, 1991), the androcentric bias of its research (see Eagly & Riger, 2014), the “gender differences hypothesis” (Gray, 1992; Tannen, 1991), evolutionary psychology (e.g., Symons, 1979; Barkow, Cosmides, & Tooby, 1992), and so on. The binary haunts psychology’s history of medicalizing trans and gender nonconforming (TGNC) people, particularly the characterization of their gender identities as psychopathological and in need of treatment for violating the binary logic of normative identity development (see Tosh, 2015). A growing number of psychologists are denouncing the discipline’s cisgenderism (e.g., Ansara & Hegarty, 2012, 2014) and advocating for affirmative practice and culturally competent research with TGNC people (e.g., dickey & Singh, 2016; Hendricks & Testa, 2012), which understand that “gender is a nonbinary construct that allows for a range of gender identities” (American Psychological Association, 2015, p. 834). This dissertation is based on interviews with non-binary participants, all of whom challenged a myriad of mainstream psychology’s assumptions regarding gender and provided their own accounts of becoming non-binary-identified. The interviews incorporated an arts-based approach that was developed as a form of participatory action research, intended to provide the participants a means to express their “local knowledges” through the creation of “artefacts” (see, Johnson & Martínez Guzmán, 2012), as well as to function as a vehicle for disseminating their expressions to a broader public (see Gergen, Josselson, & Freedman, 2015). By subverting the traditional positioning of TGNC subjects as the objects of psychological inquiry, this approach champions the transformative possibilities of the participants’ talk and artefacts to facilitate affective solidarities through the act of witnessing (see Hemmings, 2012).
Vasilovsky, A. T., & Cosma, S. (2017, August). Mainstream psychology and gender diversity: Naming difference, maintaining sameness. In M. Gurevich (Chair), Epistemic and ethical work of psychological constructs: The case of gender and sexuality scholarship. Paper presented at the 17th Biennial International Society for Theoretical Psychology Conference, Tokyo, Japan.
Vasilovsky, A. T. (2017, June). Becoming non-binary: Arts-based methods, local knowledges, and affective activism. Poster presented at the 78th annual Canadian Psychological Association Convention, Toronto, Canada.
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*
Aesthetic as Genetic: The Epistemological Violence of Gaydar Research
(PI: A. T. Vasilovsky, SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship, 2015-2017)
In recent years, “gaydar” has come under increasing scientific scrutiny. Gaydar researchers have found that we can accurately judge sexual orientation at better than chance levels from various nonverbal cues. Why they could find what they did is typically chalked up to gender inverted phenotypic variations in craniofacial structure that distinguish homosexuals. This interpretation of gaydar data (the “hegemonic interpretation”) maintains a construction of homosexuality as not only a “natural kind,” but also an “entitative,” category. As a result, culturally and historically contingent markers of homosexuality are naturalized under the guise of gaydar. Of significant relevance to this article’s critique of gaydar research is that the hegemonic interpretation is presented as politically advantageous for LGB people by its authors, an undertheorized assumption that sanctions an epistemic violence with unfortunate, demobilizing sociopolitical consequences. This critique is contextualized within current debates regarding intimate/sexual citizenship and advocates, instead, for a queer political ethic that considers such cultural erasure to be politically untenable.
Vasilovsky, A. T. (2018). Aesthetic as genetic: The epistemological violence of gaydar research. Theory & Psychology, 28(3), 298-318. doi:10.1177/0959354318764826
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.
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., Lafrance, M. N., & Stelzl, M. (2018). Mis/representation and the media: A reflection on experiences with media engagement. Sexualities, 21(4), 692-696. doi:10.1177/1363460717708148
Thomas, E. J., Stelzl, M., & Lafrance, M. N. (2016). Faking to finish: Women’s accounts of feigning sexual pleasure to end unwanted sex. Sexualities, 20(3), 281-301. doi:10.1177/1363460716649338
Thomas, E. J., & Gurevich, M. (March, 2020). “I didn’t really want to, then I did it anyway”: Dueling discourses of agentic sexual desire and (compulsory) consent. Paper presentated at the Association for Women in Psychology conference, Austin, Texas, March 5-8, 2020.
Gurevich, M. (March, 2020). Sexual agency or sexual acquiescence? Postfeminist discourses of sexual maintenance, practice mandates, and (performative) consent. Symposium Chair, the Association for Women in Psychology conference, Austin, Texas, March 5-8, 2020.
Thomas, E. J. & Gurevich, M. Consent calisthenics: Navigating consent and desire in young women’s accounts of what counts as sex. (2018, July). Paper presented at the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women and Equalities Section (POWES) Annual Conference, Windsor, United Kingdom.
Thomas, E. J. (2017, August). The cultural construction of consent and its ‘looping effects’. In M. Gurevich (Chair), Epistemic and ethical work of psychological constructs: The case of gender and sexuality scholarship. Paper presented at the 17th Biennial International Society for Theoretical Psychology Conference, Tokyo, Japan.
Thomas, E. J., Lafrance, M. N., & Stelzl, M. (2017, July). Lost in translation: Navigating resonance and resistance in media dissemination of feminist research. Paper presented at the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women Section’s Annual Conference, Windsor, United Kingdom.
Thomas, E. J., Cosma, S., & Gurevich, M. (2017, June). Muddled messages: Managing and resisting competing discourses of consent culture and neoliberal choice. Paper presented at the 78th annual Canadian Psychological Association Convention, Toronto, Canada.
Thomas, E. J., Stelzl, M., & Lafrance, M. N. (2016, July). Faking to finish: Women’s accounts of feigning orgasm to end unwanted sex. Paper presented 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 presented 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.
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 presented 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.
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
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.