Essays examine the social dimensions of sexuality

Rethinking Sex

Social Theory and Sexuality Research

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edited by R. W. Connell and G. W. Dowsett

Sex and Gender Section Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Study of Sex and Gender, American Sociological Association, 1995

This volume of essays sharply questions current knowledge and ideas about sexuality, social theory, and public policy research on sexuality. The contributors, internationally recognized scholars and activists from Australia, examine the dominant research models from the United States and Western Europe and propose a new perspective, one sensitive to the social construction of sexuality and its research and to variation in sexual practices across cultures.

Addressing the debates over sexual conduct from contraception to AIDS prevention, Rethinking Sex provides a systematic examination of the social dimensions of sexuality. Social theory, public policy analysis, and historical and survey research are applied to issues ranging from AIDS and gay identity to perceptions of women's sexuality and relations between the state and private sexual behavior.



"Sexuality is a major theme in our culture, from the surf video to the opera stage to the papal encyclical. It is, accordingly, one of the major themes of the human sciences, and figures as weighty as Darwin and Freud have made major contributions to it. Social research has, over the last hundred years, produced crucially important evidence for the understanding of sexuality. But social theory has been slow to grapple with the issue, to give it the sophisticated attention that has been devoted to questions of production or of communication.

"We are convinced that an adequate social theory of sexuality is essential for progress on 'applied' issues, such as the design of research on the social transmission of human immunodefiency virus (HIV). This chapter attempts a mapping exercise, sorting out the major intellectual frameworks that have governed Western thinking about sexuality. We discuss first the religious and scientific nativism that dominated the field into the twentieth century, the problems this approach ran into, and the rise of social construction approaches to sexuality. We discuss the impasse that social constructionism has reached. In the final part of the chapter we sketch the outline of an approach which can move past these difficulties."

—From Chapter 3, "'The Unclean Motion of the Generative Parts': Frameworks in Western Thought on Sexuality"



Notes on Contributors
Introduction – R.W. Connell and G.W. Dowsett
1. Frameworks and Questions in Australian Sexuality Research – Judith A. Allen
2. AIDS and the Discourses of Sexuality – Dennis Altman
3. 'The Unclean Motion of the Generative Parts': Frameworks in Western Thought on Sexuality – R.W. Connell and G.W. Dowsett
4. Absolute Sex? Unpacking the Sexuality/Gender Relationship – Rosemary Pringle
5. Sexuality and the State in Time of Epidemic – J.A. Ballard
6. The 'Present Moment' in Sexual Politics – Jill Julius Matthews
7. Human Sexuality in Australia: The Quest for Information – John S. Western


About the Author(s)

R. W. Connell is presently a visiting professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The author or co-author of eleven other books, he was 1991-1992 Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University. He has been Professor of Sociology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, since 1976. He has also written Schools and Social Justice (Temple).

G. W. Dowsett is Research fellow in Sociology in the School of Behavioural Sciences at Macquarie University. He currently works as Assistant Head of the AIDS Research Unit at Macquarie University, part of the National Centre for HIV Social Research, and is a former Vice-President of the AIDS Council of New South Wales.

Subject Categories

Gender Studies



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