Sex and Society.docx

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22 Apr 2012
Sex and Society- Ross and Rapp
Sexuality is experienced culturally. Biological fact does not just exist, but must be
interpreted. This does not mean we’re understanding contexts better. We’re merely studying
the catalogues of sexual behavior (i.e. puberty ceremonies) or asserting that is a learned
social behavior.
R&R argue that we don’t need a psychoanalytic theory that takes the personal (between
individuals) and generalizes to the conflicts visible within society. The relationship between
sex and society is two- way: it both creates wider social relations and is created through
Sexual appearance needs to be understood as cogs in a machine, where different sized cogs
have a different scale effect (i.e. migration may limit sexual partners, so is actually relevant
to sex). The onion by Geertz is an even better metaphor, in that peeling it doesn’t lead to an
all- powerful core… the whole is what is.
The metaphor that best represents the social embeddedness of sexuality must contain at least
the following contexts: 1. Kinship and family systems, 2. Sexual regulations and definitions
of communities, and 3. National and world systems
Family forms and kinship systems
Kinship names and terminology tells us a lot about what is acceptable sexual practice (incest,
child bearing, etc). For example, in southern France, newlywed bridges are called “little
mothers”, indicating the centrality of child bearing. Objects of sexual passion are also
defined by terms, and it becomes clear who is a target for sexual passion (i.e. 4th degree or
16th great great grandparent). Inheritance and sexual relations are often interrelated (i.e. a
divorcee can’t remarry or have sex with another man if she wants her ex- husbands estate).
Inheritance also plays a role in larger social contexts (i.e. nationalist movements related to
Communities as loci of social relations
Communities serve to regulate sexual partners and practices, and are transmitters of sexual
knowledge. Sexual relations reflect both a local reality and a wider social context. The
English Industrial Revolution caused young adults to work during the day hours, shifting
formal marriage proposals from family to family to clandestine courtship by young adults.
Peer groups are an important feature of many societies and have been. They are more flexible
and liberal than the intergenerational bonds, which may be critical of the practices as
promiscuous. The same applies in terms of the class continuum. For example, the knowledge
of what may serve as a contraceptive (especially in the 18th century) was quite dependent on
your local community.
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