Gresham College Lectures


May 20, 2022 Gresham College
Gresham College Lectures
Show Notes Transcript

Abstinence from sex is a requirement for many people seeking a spiritual life. In the U.S., abstinence-only education has been officially endorsed since 1981, despite the fact that America has the highest level of teen-pregnancies in the industrialized world. In more recent years, self-proclaimed 'Asexuals' have insisted that they have a distinct sexual identity. They have become targets of hate speech. 

What do these contrasting ways of thinking about abstinence tell us about modern sexual anxieties?

A lecture by Joanna Bourke

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:

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- Great, excellent. This is my last in the series, so I'm really looking forward to it. What we're want to talk about today is something called abstinence or celibacy, and celibacy. So what I want to look at, what I really want, the main questions are going to be, well, is sex a good thing? Is celibacy dangerous? And how can we understand the explosive violence of incels, that is young men primarily, whose involuntary celibacy drives them to abuse and occasionally kill other people, people they resent for engaging in sex. And what about attempts to persuade young men and women to be voluntarily celibate? Finally, I want to end with asking, well, what can asexuality tell us about debates about sexuality? In other words, what can not having experiencing sexual desire, tell us about experiencing desire? These are just some of the questions I'm going to be asking in this lecture and they contribute to, but they also grow on themes that have animated the entire series here at Gresham on sex, including of course for those, I see some of you have come to nearly all of them, including questions of pleasure, perversion, pornography, as well as sex work and heterosexist monogamy. They're all online, so if you missed any of them, you can catch them. In all of my talks, I've focused on erotic fantasies and obsessions, love and violence and confrontations between historians, political commentators and social theorists, some of whom are also feminists and social activists. The final lecture of this series, therefore, I'm going to pull, try to, pull these different themes together. I've been talking a lot in this series about bad sex, about good sex, about heteronormativity, and about compulsory heterosexuality. So what I want to ask today is, well, what about compulsory sexuality? In the messy collision between bodies, politics and cultures, have I ended up reproducing, the very problematic liberationist discourse that I have been critiquing? I believe that exploring the modern history of abstinence and celibacy, and of course they are very, very, very different things, provides some clues. Abstinence, celibacy are not merely the sort of abandonment of erotic speech, sight, touch, taste, scent. They don't simply forswear the tumescence and detumescence of genitals. They do not even require a rather much more prosaic repudiation of reproduction, rather abstinence and celibacy shed light on the single most reckless error in my series of lectures, that is my underlying assumption, that sex is a very good thing. Now I'm going to start by observing the many ways that celibacy, especially when practice by men, has been seen as risky. Enforced celibacy, whether this is due to economic hardship, incarceration, religious vocation, perceived unattractiveness, has been harmful and then going to turn to a couple of historical moments that deliberately sought to encourage celibacy. The first of these movements was inspired by certain feminist activists in the 19th century. Well, between, I should say, the 19th century and the late 20th century, who, if you like lauded celibacy, as a way for female emancipation. The second movement had the opposite aim, I'm going to be talking about. From the 1980's, a section of US evangelical Christians in alliance with federal and state authorities, urged young people to repress their sexual yearnings through practicing abstinence prior to a monogamous heterosexist marriage. Rather than empowerment, I will be arguing the main victims of these, this education were poor black and brown girls. The lecture's going to conclude by turning to people who don't experience sexual desire or urges. They have excited medical and psychiatric attention from the 19th century, and I'm going to give brief potted history of that. But basically from the 1970's, they began naming themselves as asexuals. I want to suggest that their attempts to create worlds that go beyond compulsory sexuality, as opposed to the more commonly referenced, compulsory heterosexuality, offer new ways of thinking about intimacy and desire in all its forms. It also provides me with this unique opportunity in my last lecture, to critique my own pro-sex position in these lectures, suggesting that to create more equitable worlds, we need to think beyond the individual, our own individual bounded bodies. And those of you who have followed this series of lectures, and I can see quite a few of you here, and I have to say the series of lectures actually work best as a whole, rather than discreet reflections. You will have already, though, heard me citing Maurice Merleau-Ponty's famous argument in the "Phenomenology of Perception" that we don't have bodies, we are bodies. In these lectures, I seek to point out that our bodies are never ours alone. So first a whirlwind tour through history. In the modern period, celibacy has been thought to be the cause of many social evils. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, although celibate spinsters were caricatured as wizened hysterics or compulsive animal lovers, blocking the sexual urges of men has been regarded as much more dangerous to society at large if denied a sexual outlet. The unstoppable tsunami of male sexual biology could wreck havoc. For example, in the mid 19th century, mid 19th century Britain, when it was feared that many middle class men were being, listen to the language here, priced out of the marriage market. Metaphors are important. There were moral panics about what this meant in terms of female sexual exploitation, denied the comforts of the marital bed and as we heard on the lecture, last lecture on monogamy, denied the sexual servitude of wives whose bodies were the property of their husbands. It was feared that these men would turn to women who were called prostitutes, sex workers, okay. From the 1950's, although dramatically escalating from the 1970s, the enforced celibacy of men in prisons was identified as, increasingly identified as dangerous. Now, as we saw in a previous lecture, for married people outside of prison, the right to engage in sexual intercourse in private was considered essential to a marital relationship, to the extent that a husband could recover damages in tort law from another man, a man who had intercourse, sexual intercourse with his wife. But what about prisoners? And this became a really heated topic from the 70's, 1970's. For prison reformers denying men, their innate need for sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex was a form of cruel and unusual punishment, like torture. So called conjugal visitation rights were framed as essential if society was to prevent even greater harms. Was their enforced celibacy, the enforced celibacy of convicted criminals, really a deterrent to committing crime, or was it in fact, a major factor inhibiting rehabilitation? Might conjugal visitation rights be an incentive to good behavior or even a solution to testosterone driven aggression and of course, homosexuality within prisons. 1948, article entitled, this is one of the early articles on in the field entitled sex life in prisons by the really, really famous psychiatrist, Benjamin Katman. He believed that the prison environment was chiefly responsible for sexual neurosis. He worried that by constantly forcing regression to lower levels of sexual adaptation, that is to say masturbation, the original facultative character of such sexual acts would become a compulsory obligatory form. He warned that if these masturbation and homosexual practices continue for any length of time, they grow. So that even once a person is released from confinement, he finds himself unable to return to normal sexual activities. Clerical celibacy, this is another area which has been viewed as responsible for great sex crimes and harms to society. And this is not actually a modern phenomenon, unlike the other thing, other issues I was talking about. Celibacy or perfect and perpetual continence was not imposed on women Catholic priests until the fourth century. And even then, it was blamed for what was called crimes of passion by which they mean homosexuality. But it really is from the 1960's that these fears took on a new meaning, with sex increasingly being seen through a psychoanalytic lens. So psychoanalysts, psychosocial commentators, seeing sex as necessary for healthy, psychological development and the full development of personnel personhood. As a result, priests immeasurably more than nuns were viewed as emotionally undeveloped or underdeveloped. The so-called immaturity of men who espoused a spiritual calling was linked to revelations about ubiquitous institutional child sexual abuse. Worse, that abuse was taking place with tired acquiescence of the religious hierarchy. Even more recently, enforced celibacy has become part of a movement. And this movement is incels or involuntary celibates. These are primarily young men furious about being excluded from romantic and sexual relations with women, perhaps surprisingly, well, at least I was surprised, this movement wasn't inaugurated by frustrated men. In fact, the term was coined in 1993, when a Canadian woman calling herself, Alana, launched the Involuntary Celibacy Project Online. Four years later, she introduced a mailing list for people interested in addressing the problems associated with not being in a romantic or sexual relationship. By the time she discontinued her website in 2000, her benign self-help movement had been annexed by angry young heterosexual white men, who claimed that their physical unattractiveness and relative financial impoverishment meant that they were being spurned by women and in public sort of ways of thinking, incels came to public awareness by the multiple murders carried out by men such as Elliot Rodger, 2014, Chris Harper Mercer, 2015, and Alek Minassian, 2018. Now I have to state here that most self-identified incels are not violent in this way, but they flourish in highly misogynistic and homophobic manospheres. Although they are incredibly diverse, they share this entitlement of men's entitlement to women's bodies. They're great enemy, no surprise here, for any of us, is of course feminism. They argue that by encouraging women's self-esteem, increasing their independence, affirming sexual autonomy, feminism has stripped men of authority. To add to the insult, some men, they acknowledge, do achieve their rightful destiny. These are alpha males known as Chad's who have sex with what they call Stacy's. That is allegedly stupid promiscuous women who reject beta males. Incels drawn concepts taken from the 1999 film, The Matrix, those of you who have seen this, there is this famous scene when Neo is offered two pills, a blue one, which will allow him to be happy, but ignorant of the real world, a red one that reveals truth. Incels say that they are red pilled. That is, they have been enlightened to the reality of gendered relations. Those who are black pilled, that's taking it one step further, accept inceldom as a permanent status. For them, in their words, it's over. It never began. Amongst other many other pills, there is the rape pill taken by rape cels who believe that because women are easily swayed by declarations of love by Chad's, rape cels have a right to use force. So misogyny, in other words, positive is a legitimate response to being emasculated by women. Now, members of involuntary celibate groups see themselves as disempowered. Their communities are plagued with depression, violent ideation and suicide. But in modern times, there have also been powerful moments, powerful movements, sorry, promoting sexual abstinence as a good, at least before marriage. Most famous one here is the abstinence movements in the U.S. Although right-wing Christian evangelicals began attacking what they saw as promiscuous, atheistic and pro communist sex education from the 1950s', from the 1980's, they turned their attention not to eradicating sex education in schools, because between the 50's and the 80's, they lost that battle. They couldn't eradicate it. Instead, they turned to changing the content of sex education in schools to emphasize abstinence only. Phyllis Schlafly the anti-equal rights amendment activists and founder in 1972 of the Eagle Forum was a leading voice in the early years of the abstinence only sex education. She believed that the major goal of near all sex education curricular being taught in the schools is to teach teenagers and sometimes children, how to enjoy fornication without having a baby and without feeling guilty. This goal explains why the courses promote an acceptance of sexual behavior that does not produce a baby, such as homosexuality and masturbation. This goal explains why they encourage abortions and all variety of contraception. This is why the courses shred the girls of their natural modesty. Okay, although led by groups, such as the Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America, American Family Association, Focus on family, Traditional Values Coalition, Citizens for Excellence and Education. Abstinence only sex education has been supported at federal as well as state levels and the most influential bits of information here, of information, of legislation, here were the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act 1996. Title five gave $250 million for absent only education. The Adolescent Family Life Act and the Department of Health and Human Services Special Projects of Regional and National Significance. So what we get, the real important thing is that from the 1980's, from the late 1980s, there's a hole here, from the late the 1980's, one in 50 teachers taught abstinence only education. By 1999, this was one in four. So it's huge, was huge. Absent only sex education teaches that young people should practice abstinence until married and once married only with their spouse. The harms of sex outside of monogamous marriage are enumerated in great, great, great length, including social, economic, psychological health problems. Even kissing, even touching are prescribed largely because they will inevitably lead to what they call full intercourse. Contraception is taught in the context of unreliability. In other words, they teach that one in three condoms break. It's a lie. Girls and women are told that they should fear sex, recognize that boys and men are incapable of controlling their genitals and that marriage and accept that marriage is their only haven from sexual victimization and rape. Girls and women are held responsible for male sexual urges, being told to watch what you wear. If you don't aim to please don't aim to tease. They have all these lovely, witty things. I really love them actually. They also are taught that because they, women, because they generally become aroused, less easily. Females are in a good position to help young men learn balance and relationships by keeping intimacy in perspective. And they frequently actually really interestingly, I think, use a post-feminist rhetoric, emancipation or empowerment rhetoric, telling girls and young women that they need to protect themselves from the rapacious desires of their male friends and resist the pornification of modern society. Educational video, no second chance, which is distributed by Focus on the Family and aimed at 11 to 13 year old children.. In this film, which is used, is very common form, it's widespread used, a young boy asks, what if I had sex outside of marriage? And the teacher says, well, I guess you'll just have to be prepared to die. And you'll probably take with you your spouse. And one or more of your children. Having sex outside of marriage is said to be like a game of Russian roulette. Every time you have sex, it's like pulling the trigger. The only difference is in Russian roulette, you only have one in six chances of getting killed. So in other words, having sex is more dangerous. Sex outside of wedlock is scary. It's lethal. Virginity followed by heterosexual monogamous marriage, the solution. It's really a very, very highly lucrative commercial movement, selling t-shirts, rings, temporary tattoos. I'm worth waiting for. And hosting glamorous purity balls and music concerts. Young women are encouraged to take virginity pledges, which typically involve being given a virginity ring by their father. In effect, they marry their father who then gives them away on their marriage, on their real marriage day. Such activities have become mainstream due to the popularity of organizations like True Love Waits, The Silver Ring Thing and promotion by celebrities, such as Selena Gomez. In 2013, one in every eight American girls and young women had taken a pledge of abstinence. So the question one wants to ask you is then, well, what is driving the sexually repressive abstinence movements. Proponents tie sex education to social issues, such as single moms as a leading cause of poverty and welfarism. Much of the rhetoric hints at the need to control allegedly hypersexual, BME teens, ensuring they don't become welfare dependents and female headed households. The purity of white adolescents needs protecting. This is what a really interesting study done by Jessica Fields, an ethnographic study of sex education in the North Carolina school system, she found that advocates of abstinence only sex education believed that their curricula would protect innocent children from other's corrupting influence. Racialized language and images suggested that these others were poor African American girls. The rhetoric forestalls concern about boys and men's sexualities aligns the specificities of African American women's and girls sexual lives and fails to recognize African American girls and women as simultaneously sexual, struggling and worthy of protection. A leading proponent could even be heard defending the programs on the grounds that the black community is not going to learn to punch the time clock and to be there on time and produce a day's work if they can't even control their own emotions in the important area of sexuality. So in other words, this is sexual repression and the name of capitalist production, classes, exploitation and racism. Abstinence only programs have been widely supported despite abundant research demonstrating that they not only don't succeed in convincing young people not to have sex, but actually increase levels of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS and pre marital pregnancies due to the propagation of misinformation. A congressional investigation into the content of these programs revealed that 80% use factually incorrect curriculum or teach distorted information about reproductive health. Young women who take these pledges actually engage in more risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected fellatio and anal sex. The us leads the industrial world in teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infection rates. Crucially, abstinence only programs discriminate against girls, young women and marginalized LGBTQ youth. It is ironic and Freudcodian to see that the attempted repression of youth sexuality has led to a obsessive proliferation of discourse about sex. So this obviously is a disheartening view of human sexuality, as something to be feared, constrained, repressed, but there have been other movements that have celebrated celibacy as empowering, especially for women. As we saw the last lecture, monogamy, heteronormative marriage, has been regarded as central to the creation and the stability of the liberal state, private property, gender hierarchies and capitalism. This powerful mix has been resisted by voluntary celibacy movements in 19th and early 20th century America. These include the Shakers, the Koreshans and the Sanctificationists, later known as Women's Commonwealth. These groups contended that the family was an exploitative institution that harmed its members. Indeed sexual desire itself was damaging to full human flourishing. Instead of base physical lusts, members of these groups sought spiritual communion that would herald in a kind of heaven on earth based on cooperation, equality, and peace. They jettisoned husbands and wives for brothers and sisters, living in harmony and transcendent love. Their communal system of production and distribution benefited all members. But the gains for girls and women were particularly stark since women were freed from the demands of childbearing child rearing, economic dependency on men folk. In other words, celibacy as the kind of royal road to female autonomy. From the 1960's, again, another section or the so-called second wave feminism also identified celibacy as potentially liberating. Radical feminist groups began to advocate political asexuality as a response to compulsory heterosexuality. And there's many of these groups, the most famous one, I think was probably Cell 16, radical feminist group based in Boston. Between 1968 and 73, they advocated feminist heterosexual as opposed to lesbian separatism. As Dana Densmore contended in her own celibacy article, "One hangup to liberation is a supposed need for sex. It's something that must be refuted, coped with, demystified, or the cause of female liberation is doomed. The gorillas don't screw, they eat when they can, but they don't screw. They have important things to do, things that require all their energy. For such feminists, sexual liberation was judged to be just another way that men were seeking to oppress women. Consequently, denying men access to women's body was the most radical feminist act," they believe. Because it attacked the heart or more pointedly, the prick of patriarchy. Their critique of compulsory heterosexuality, which was taken up much more vigorously of course, by lesbian movements of the time, of course not, a shown of abstinence took a non-political and arguably antisexual turn from the 1970's. Rather than compulsory heterosexuality, self-identified asexuals began commenting on compulsory sexuality. Asexuals claim, not to experience desexual desire or attractions. The term interestingly had been coined by Myra T. Johnson in her 1977, article entitled "Asexual and Auto Erotic Women: Two Invisible Challenges. For her, asexuals were people who despite their physical or emotional condition, sexual history and relational status or ideological orientation, choose not to engage in sexual activity. The most widely estimated estimations of the proportion of people who were asexual was calculated by Anthony Bogaert in 2004, on his work, It was a national probability sample of around 18,000 British residents. And he concluded that about 1% of the population, the British population were asexual. And crucially, he is really, really important article. He argued that unlike celibacy, which is a choice, asexuality is a unique sexual orientation. As we'll see shortly, this notion that asexual asexuality is sexual has been questioned, as has the idea that it is an orientation. The compulsory nature of sexuality is starkly exposed, by the way it has been pathologized within psychiatric and sexological literatures, from the late 19th century onwards. Now those of you have been following my lectures. You'll already be familiar with that famous text that I've used in so many of them and that is "Psychopathia Sexualis" by Richard Von Krafft Ebing. It'll come as no surprise to any of you, therefore, to hear that this obsessive categorizer, you know, he named sadism, homosexuality, many other sexual orientations and pathologies. He also, of course, unsurprisingly identified a disorder that he called anesthesia sexualis. Krafft Ebing defined it as an absence of sexual instinct in which all organic impulses arising in the sexual organs, as well as all concepts and visual auditory and all factories sense impressions failed to excite the individual sexually. Krafft Ebing believes that anesthesia sexualis was due to cerebral disturbances, states of psychical degeneration and even anatomical signs of degeneration. Its causes could be organic and functional, psychic and somatic, central and peripheral. Now in the late 1940's and 1950's, sexologist Alfred Kinsey toned down Krafft Ebing's harsh judgment of calling them degenerates. C. Kinsey's state scale of male sexual behavior, what it did was it ranked sexual orientation from zero, meaning a hundred percent heterosexual to six, meaning a hundred percent homosexual, because there's no place on the scale for those with no socio sexual response. Kinsey added a category he called simply x. Later, when Kinsey and his co-authors turned to female sexual responses, they added a note saying that after early adolescence, there are very few males in this classification, but a goodly number of females experienced no sexual response. Indeed, he estimated that between 14% and 19% of unmarried women were asexual. From the 1970's, asexuality became embedded within medical manuals as a desire disorder. Most notably the 1980 addition of the diagnostic and statistical manual, DSM, the so-called Bible of the American Psychiatric Association, but used, you know, worldwide, included for the first time inhibited sexual desire disorder, inhibited sexual desire disorder, which was changed in 1987 to hypoactive sexual desire disorder. I think the language is really, really interesting. So what you've got, you've got to shift away from a language that's coming from the psychodynamic concepts of inhibition to a term signaling simply deviation from the norm, hypoactive. People suffering from HSDD, "persistently, or currently are possessed, persistently or recurringly deficient, or absent sexual dynamic and desire for sexual activity," according to the 1994 version and to be diagnosed, had to be accompanied with distress or interpersonal difficulty. In the most recent, DSM that's DSM five, the diagnosis has been gendered, which I think is really, really interesting. So from the latest edition, distinction is made between female sexual interests, stroke, arousal disorder, and male hypoactive sexual desire disorder. According to the manual, if a lifelong lack of sexual desire is better explained by one's self-identification as an asexual, then a diagnosis of female sexual interest stroke arousal disorder should not be made. If a man's low desire is explained by self-identification as an asexual, then a diagnosis of male hypoactive sexual desire disorder is not made. Now it's a subtle distinction, but a really, really important one. So in other words, to warrant a diagnosis, a woman's lack of sexual desire has to be lifelong while men only need low, not a total lack, of sexual desire. So in other words, the point here is a classic example of the social construction of sex bodies with sexual desire, more integral to males than females. The pathologization of asexuality has consequences. Okay? Because sexuality is seen as a good inner relationship, it's necessary to make the other person happy and to express intimacy. The stigma of not desiring can lead to unwanted, but consensual sexual intercourse. In other words, asexuals may engage in sexual intercourse with their partners in order to please them. This form of compulsory sexuality has effects for people who do possess sexual urges as well. Around 65% of women and 40% of men admit that they have engaged in consensual, but unwanted sex. The fact that many sexual, as well as asexual people engage, in sex purely to please someone, it says a great deal about the importance placed on sexual activity in a relationship. In other words, this is kind of like the cultural scaffolding of a rape culture. For asexuals, the pathologization of people without sexual attraction has been used to legitimate, legitimate corrective therapies. It contributes to the further extension of big pharma, to treat such disorders. Indeed, female sexual dysfunction, FSD, in its broader sense has been one of the pharmaceuticals industry's most flourishing fields of expansion. Just one example of this, if we look at the declaration of interests logged during the annual conference on continuing medical education, which has been hosted at Boston's University School of Medicine since 1999, and is widely considered to be the main conference for people working on FSD, Female Sexual Desire disorders. At the conference in 2000, over half of the speakers, over half of the speakers, disclosed a link with one or more pharmaceutical company. Of the high profile grand master speakers, 88% are declared a link. There are also direct links between the diagnosis of female hyposexual desire disorder and psychopharmacological literature. One of the main treatments is Flibanserin, originally a drug used to treat depression, but from 2006, aggressively marketed by Boehringer Ingelheim to treat female hypo sexual desired disorder. They based part of their marketing campaign on research by scholars who reported to show that nearly 40% of a cross section of over 31 and a half thousand women experience, low sex desire. As Anne Marie Bergthold, shows, however, the problem is that Boehringer Ingelheim employed the authors. In Bergthold words, "bolstered by science, that the pharmaceutical industry itself has funded and organized, Boehringer Ingelheim set forth on an awareness campaign to highlight the frequency under diagnosis and consequences of FHSDD. This makes the industry's support of the work, a logical step in their commercial strategy. Now, warning here, this is not to fall into the trap of making a simplistic link between the pharmaceutical industry and the invention of a disorder. As Bergthold explains, the industry cannot conjure a classification out of thin air. A particular social context must provide the backdrop for the disease branding that Boehringer Ingelheim is undertaking with FHSDD. In this case, the old age angst over women's sexuality overlaid by the commodification of sexuality. Pathologization has had a devastating impact on many asexuals. For example, the authors of an article entitled Intergroup Bias Towards Group X, that's the X category in Kinsey's scale, found significant evidence that heterosexuals dehumanize, avoided and discriminated against asexuals even more than they did against homosexuals and bisexuals. In many parts of the U.S., most parts of the U.S., asexuals cannot marry because marriage requires sexual consummation. Asexuals are bombarded with assumptions that they are abnormal from the vast numbers of advertisements that sell products premised on sexual attraction, to popular culture that lauds sexiness. Kristina Gupta, a leading proponent of asexuality. Please read her stuff. There's some really interesting things. You can find what she's written in the bibliography of my talk. Anyway, she complains that asexual individuals are often denied epistemic authority in regards to their own asexuality. It's often assumed that asexuals are underdeveloped. Have sluggish hormones. Have suffered some trauma in the past. If male, more feminine, less virile. If female, perhaps they simply haven't met the right person or are late bloomers. They are less than fully human. When interviewing David Jay, the founder of an online community for asexuals, pro-sex columnist, Dan Savage made this explicit. According to Savage, "When you date, the assumption for 99% of humanity is that you are out there dating and looking for a mate. In part, because you want to well, mate, and if you aren't, you have an obligation to disclose that you aren't. If you're presenting yourself as a carbon based light form, a vertebra, and you are allowing people to assume you are a vertebrae, because almost all humans are, you have an obligation to disclose that you're actually a jellyfish." It's revealing, I think, fellow centric view of humanity. Firstly, humans are male. They are real. Men are phallic vertebras, while those who lack sexual desire are soft jellyfish. To be normal is to be sexual. Heterosexual or LGBTQ. Viewing celibacy as a lack has the fact of privileging sexuality as an unquestioned good. And any distress that an asexual might feel is actually more likely to be due to being stigmatized and pathologized rather than about anything innately wrong about not feeling sexual desire. Asexuals have united to fight against the stereotyping. One of the themes of my entire series of lectures has been the individualizing regimes of science, particularly psychiatry in adjudicating the normal from the abnormal, the latter becoming less a matter, as time goes on, less a matter of moral danger and more a matter of dysfunction of the individual. When asexuals began mobilizing, they moved these debates from danger and dysfunction to identity. Although the first of such groups were probably the Group Haven for the Human Amoeba, GHHA, created in 2000. The most prominent is the asexual visibility and education network followed by groups, such as the Official Asexual Society and the Official Non Libedoism Society. They welcome a range of sexual identifications, including gray asexuals and demi sexuals, who con who experience context based attraction. Many refer to themselves as ACE. Now I think, why am I talking about this? I think asexuals provide a way of asking what I think are some really interesting questions, including what is sex? Is asexuality a sexuality, our sexuality? Is it an identity, like lesbian, gay, queer or is adding a to LGBTQ essentialist. Is it simply another example of compulsory sexuality? Increasingly think as such as C.J. DeLuzio Chasin and Gupta argue that while there maybe short term benefits in employing a sexual orientation discourse, most notably, because it helps mobilize against prejudice, the benefits are outweighed by a number of risks. These include showing up the idea that heterosexuality is the norm from which other identities are marginal, contributing to the belief that sexuality itself is normal, disallowing asexual ways of achieving intimacy, as Gupta put it, "Rather than being a sexual orientation, asexuality is a political movement or an opposition to the norm. It is both a way of being in the world and a preference for a particular form of intimate reality. In other words, asexuality is not a lack, but a positive and different way of being in the world. This is what I think analysis of asexuality can contribute to the history of sexuality. It enlarges on feminist Adrienne Rich's critique of compulsory heterosexuality or Judith Butlers heterosexual matrix. It points out that societies in the west a court in a coital imperative. Stephen Seaman calls this the new tyranny of orgasmic pleasure. Indeed Carly June Solonkosky and Megan Milks insist that sexuality, asexuality is a feminist practice that radically challenges, the prevailing sex normative culture. As Randy Gressgård argues in an article entitled, "Asexuality from Pathology to Identity and Beyond. Asexuality is queer because it rejects compulsory sexuality, insisting that intimacy, community, resistance have other sources than the sex body. In this way, asexuals trouble my pro-sex position by undermining that pro sex stroke, anti-sex divide and suggesting alternative ways of bodying forth. To conclude, through practices of enthusiastic consent, passive acquiescence, active denial, people are recognized within positions, within relations of power. Sexual identities are viewed as central to modern identities. And while these identities can be fluid and contextual, they remain integral to being human. Throughout these lectures, I've observed that there is a real risk of abstracting sex from global capitalism, which regulates movements of capital, financial and human sex work, at individual, community and population levels, benefiting certain groups at the expense of others. I've been explicit I think, about these risks in each lecture of this series. However, in my series of lectures, I have also often juxtaposed anti-sex movements in its many forms, the anti porn, the anti-sex work, with pro-sex, pro-sex ones, celebrating the full range of diverse pleasures and desires, showing a clear bias towards the latter. Both the pro and anti-sex camps are making normative assertions about what acts involving genitals are progressive and therefore good, but both are based on a flawed view of sex as somehow liberating. For the anti porn stroke, radical feminists, liberation, well, it could be achieved through sex. You just had to purge sex or patriarchy and its masculinist aspects. As we've seen in many lectures in this series, this has often led to really uneasy coalitions between feminists and conservative movements with damaging consequences in terms of fostering fears of intimacy and encouraging solutions based on a caster state prison. They are steeped through and through with racist, classicist and other harmful ideologies. But the sex positive view that suggests that we can as Pat Calafinio, memorably put it, that we can fuck our way to freedom is also problematic. At the very least, it ends up admitting the power of compulsory sexuality. It assumes that sexual subjectivities are central to modern subjectivity or modern selfhood. It can omit to critique historical contexts and politics as something beyond that personal. It invites the risk of refiguring, the risk of refiguring self transformation as social transformation, by making the personal into something political. In other words, what we do or do not do in bed as liberating or oppressive, a world of structural harms are left unmoved, is left unmoved. I do believe that sexuality can be subversive and serve the needs of social justice, but the politics of erotic resistance in whatever form is wholly inadequate to changing our material worlds. In other words, queerness is not enough. Thank you. (audience applause) - Well, profess Burke, thank you for really interesting lecture. I'm going to present a couple of questions from the online audience and then I'll open it up to our in-person audience. So marshal your questions. The first one is, asexuals may have sex for many reasons, not just to please a partner, for example, romantic attraction, intimacy, pleasure or procreation, according to the 2016 ACE Community Survey. What is lost from discussions about asexuality when it is discussed as a monolithic experience surrounding not experiencing sexual desire/not wanting sex when this isn't always the case? - Yeah. Absolute fantastic question. Okay, firstly, asexuals are an, have always been an extremely diverse movement, if it's a movement, but a group of people, okay? Who self identify as ACE's. And that's been there right from the very beginning, right from the early 70's, when the they named themselves as that. And that is, and that is one of the reasons why ACE communities, whether online or in person are constantly fracturing and splitting and dividing and all of that precisely for, for that reason over these ideological things. What I was trying to do here is to show what the ideology and the reasoning and rationale was for the creation of self-identified asexuals in those early periods. Now in, and I actually only go up to the early 2000's. I mean, what has happened in more recent decades, in fact, in the recent decade is the rejection of some of those really early ideas and definitions of people like Bogaert who I was speaking to here, who's one of the big names in those, in the early written things, at least, whereas what you get post 2016 and even more recently than that is you get a much more affirmative position by self proclaimed ACE's. and those who are trying to find what asexuality is and being much more explicit about just how diverse that can be. So I think, I mean, I'm an historian. So the important thing for me is actually tracing through those changes and what the changes in the definition of self-identified asexuals tells us about changes in sexuality and ideas about sexuality in the modern world. So it is from the 1970s' to the present but undergoes dramatic shifts and has always been very diverse. - On the advent for this on Gresham College, it was mentioned that in America, there was a movement against sexual education in school. And in spite of the data, which showed that this had a negative effect on pregnancy, and when this data was presented, was there a counterargument of the people who are against sexual education in school? And was there objection only to birth control being taught, or was it also about the mechanics of the sexual education such as the menstrual cycle and the hormones which are produced to control the menstrual menstrual cycle? - Yeah, great question. Absence only based sex education in these schools and I've, for my sins, I spent today 10 days reading these manuals. I mean, they do look at a large range of aspects of sex, including menstrual cycles, including just the biology, the bio, you know, you know, what the insides look like and all that sort of stuff. So that is there. What is interesting is the way that so much of it is skewed towards a particular version of what is the good sex life, which is the, you know, within marriage, missionary position. They do say that experimentation within marriage is fine, but that can't include things like with another partner or anal sex or fellatio or anything like that. So really, really impressive. The birth control issue is central to a lot of this. So it is saying that teaching young children and young people, that they don't have to have the consequences of sexual intercourse because they can use birth control. They see that as one, as an extremely pernicious doctrine that they are fighting against, but it's not only about preventing births outside of wedlock and those sorts of things. It's also, particularly in the early years, I'm talking about 70's, it's also about that this is a movement that birth, that sex education is taught in schools is liberal. It's pro homosexual, it's pro masturbation, it's pro all these things that they regard as wrong. So what I find really interesting about this is that when Obama came into power and he basically took away most of the money, nearly all of the money that was being given at federal level for this kind of education, actually it was, it continued to be supported at state level. So there continued to be that support for it, which is why there was a decline in this kind of education, but not in eradication of it. - A very fascinating lecture. There's a huge debate going on in the United States at the moment about abortion. - Yeah. - [Man] And, you know, and I, I don't know what sort of position you take, on this question, but there's also another thing that amongst the world religions, Hinduism tends to be much more open about sex because there are depiction of sculptures and, but the, most of the other religions tend to be, you know, the opposite of that. Maybe you can sort of say something about that. - Yeah, thank thanks very much. I mean, I don't work on those other religions, so it would be invidious of me to pretend that I could, you know, talk about them in great detail, in fact, in any detail because that's not my field at all, but I do think it is important to acknowledge that there are these alternative ways of thinking about religious ways of thinking about sex. And there's also, of course, even within the, you know, the British and American scene that I'm talking about, some of these feminist groups that I'm, that I referred to are actually religious groups, Christian religious groups, who are taking different viewpoints on these things, but I'm sure you can guess what my line is on the abortion debates in America right now. It doesn't take much to guess what my line would be. I mean, I think we are at a very dangerous period of history for women and girls where discrimination at the very fundamental level of full functioning, full flourishing, I should say is being, is at risk, at very, very serious risk in a way that, that I find really very, very abhorrent. - You spoke about people having sex in order to please a partner, was consensual, but not wanted. Can you say anything about enforced to abstinence where a partner refuses to have intercourse? How does that fit in with this? - Yeah, I'm going to take that as an historical question rather than talking about it in the present. That is, that came up slightly in my last lecture on monogamy, because it came up there in a forced to abstinence. What do you do if your husband won't have sexual intercourse with you and what rights do you have as a wife or what rights does a husband have over his wife's body. And those debates actually have been, central to a lot of legal decisions about whether a court can enforce, can force a woman to have sexual intercourse with her husband or vice versa. You know, her rights to children, his rights to sexual intimacy. These have been big debates in the 18th and 19th and early 20th, early 20th centuries. And they continued to be debated in psychiatric literatures today, which is why this whole pharmaceutical literature is all about, well, what do you do if your partner doesn't want? Is there a way, you know, I'm thinking about the lecture I gave on, on sexual pleasure, the first lecture, you know, about Viagra, about chemical, about these other ways, pharmaceutical ways, as well as the whole huge industry of marriage counseling, you know, which are this, these are debates that really consume those industries to a large degree. - Okay, I'm sorry. I'm afraid that's all we have time for. This is the last in this series, and I see that on your slide, you're speaking about your next series, which is on the cultural history of diseases, which the next program that Gresham comes out with, we'll have full details of that series. So please do join us again and thank you for coming this evening and thank you, professor Burke. Thanks. (applause)