Archives for posts with tag: Janice Irvine

This year, a book containing a study similar to Kinsey’s research was published. A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire, claims to be more accurate because of its much larger sample size. Doctors Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, authors of the book and the main researchers in the study, analyzed and categorized millions of web searches and media for their research. Ogas and Gaddam believe that their research can be more reliable than Kinsey’s because of the sample size and the raw data that was collected. Because the data wasn’t collected by just voluntary people (psychology students, etc.) or personal interactions, the data is more truthful. Although the honesty of the individual data collected is correct, the claim of the larger sample size is still not helpful in explaining sexual desires. The authors and critics of the book agree that Kinsey’s research was not very accurate because not only of the sample size but also that fact that the subjects were white middle-class males and females. The Internet data collected is of course not biased with race immediately, but can be when looked at other factors that grant certain people access to the Internet and especially to erotica.

Janice Irvine explained in her book Disorders of Desire: Sexuality and Gender in Modern American Sexology the methods and outcomes of different sexology approaches, like Kinsey’s well-known history with the science of sex. Irvine shows that Kinsey’s results were unreliable because they didn’t include non-white middle-class males and females. People of Color, intersexed, transsexual, working class, and other minorities were not included in his research, therefore excluding those lived experiences that may affect sexual desire. Irvine also argues that although Kinsey intended to help explain sex and sexual desire, he and other sexologists hindered certain sexual practices.

Likewise, the work of Ogas and Gaddam have excluded certain populations and can be harmful to certain populations. The study excludes people without access to erotica and/or the Internet in general. This data could exclude many areas in the world without computers and/or Internet and many older generations that prefer not to use modern technology. Like other things relying so heavily on modern technology, it can be ageist. There may also be people who simply choose not to use the Internet or a computer to express or explore their desires. This study can also be harmful because it categorizes and adds negative stereotypes to certain groups of people. Explaining something phenomenal as natural can become dangerous for the reputation and treatment of certain groups, as Irvine and others have warned.

-Eleanor Stevenson

I’ve known since I was in the 5th grade that my dad was a “sex addict.”  This may seem like adult information that perhaps a 10 year-old shouldn’t know about, but my parents weren’t perfect.  My dad didn’t perfectly fulfill his role as monogamous husband, and my mom didn’t perfect keeping secrets from her kids.  Whatever.  It didn’t necessarily scar me for life, nor did it necessarily fuck up my own sex life.  It did, however, help to shape my understanding of “good” sex and “bad” sex.  Learning that my father had a “sex addiction” also informed me that his way of having sex was not the “right” way.  Also, I had a certain understanding that it was not necessarily his fault.  He experienced childhood sex abuse and it in turn “caused” his sex addiction, or so I thought.  I remained under the impression for quite some time that my father’s sexual behavior was deviant; it wasn’t how he was supposed to have sex.  But something went wrong along the way and he developed this pathology.  Had nothing happened to him to cause him to develop this excess sexuality, then his sexuality would have developed “normally” into heterosexual, married, monogamy.   This was the impression I had.

Janice Irvine’s Disorders of Desire really opened my eyes to the historical and cultural construction of “sex addiction.”  In the chapter “Regulated Passions,” Irvine traces the history of how sex addiction came to be seen as a legitimate, medicalized pathology.  Irvine basically says that the labeling of sex addiction was a response to those who do not conform to normative, monogamous sexuality within heterosexual marriage.  If they don’t like to have sex the “normal” way, then something must be wrong with them, and there must be a scientific justification for such behavior.  Irvine argues, “It is not surprising that professionals in the late twentieth century would conceptualize concerns regarding sexual desire as major medical problems, since historically physicians have played a significant role not only in the management of sexual behavior but in defining the existence, appropriateness, and ideal object of sexual desire or passion” (176).  In other words, my father’s sexuality was inappropriate according to normative medical standards, which are always culturally subjective.  There was something “wrong” with him because he didn’t want to have sex with just my mother.

This whole idea of the “sex addict” is a means of further legitimizing heterosexual, monogamous, married sex as the normal and natural sexuality.  There was nothing deviant about my father’s sexuality.  His sexuality was just different from my mother’s sexuality, which fell in accordance with normative societal standards (that is, until she came out as a lesbian, but that story is for another time).  My father did make a mistake, however, by not informing my mother of his different sexuality to make sure she was okay with it, or she could have made the choice not to marry him.  His sex addiction did “hurt the family,” but now I realize that is just because we live in a society where it is expected to.  My dad died when I was 16, so I can’t tell him that I get it now.  I understand that his sexuality was not deviant or wrong, just different.  Sex addiction is a historical and cultural phenomenon, it’s not some medical disease that my dad suffered from.  He just had sex differently than he was “suppose” to according to modern Western ideology.  I can’t fault him for that. -Stephanie Halsted

After reading Janice Irvine’s “Disorders of Desire,” I realized just how “the system” works. Not that I was clueless beforehand, but Irvine’s discussion (as well as ours in class) about the specific way in which someone seeking a transition to “the other” gender must go about the process is particularly telling.

Just as a recap, the process generally has to follow this outline:

1)      A person decides they want to hormonally/surgically alter their body

2)      They must feel awkward and terrible about this desire for some time before finally seeking out professional help.

3)      Then, they must say something to the effect of, “I feel like a man in a woman’s body” (or vice versa.

4)      Finally, the little lightbulb above the psychiatrist’s head goes off, all the paperwork is signed, and the individual is free to begin a highly regulated and medicalized process of transition

So what’s the issue here? The person obviously got what they wanted and everyone is happy, right? Maybe… But, by forcing this person to parrot a magic sentence in order to unlock the hormones/surgery they desire, “the system” is implicitly ensuring that the voices of trans-identified people are effectively silenced. What if Sue, for instance, really doesn’t “feel like a man in a woman’s body”? If Sue understands his/herself differently, nobody (outside of similarly identified people, friends, family, etc) will ever get to understand because Sue’s viewpoint isn’t “allowed” to be expressed. Moreover, what if a young person has these feelings? They’ll probably end up at a psychologist who will “explain” their feelings for them…

We can see where this is going...Hopefully Mark actually wanted to change his name and adopt the feminine persona...

As an aside, this reminds me of Foucault’s “monster.” Society has decided that transitioning is “ok” as long as it is done one specific way on very rigid terms. So basically, “we’ll allow you to break the cosmic law, just don’t shatter it.”

This process can be found in several other places in society. If you’re trying to get financial assistance from the government, you better be willing to jump through about 10 different hoops, and lay out your whole personal life for some random person’s scrutiny, or you’re not going to get anywhere. If you don’t tell them exactly what they want to hear, and devise a paper trail to mimic that, don’t get excited about possibly breaking through the poverty line!

This is not to say that requiring people to legitimate their desire for body alteration or need for financial assistance is inherently wrong, but the current system encourages (and sometimes mandates) people to strategically create versions of the truth that probably don’t fall in line with their actual situations. If we’re ever going to be able end discrimination against gender nonconforming people, or fix our terrible welfare system, we’re going to have to come up with a radically different way of delving into people’s personal lives.

-Mika Baugh

As a class we’ve discussed the concept of objectivity in the past alongside the guiding voice of Natalie Angier: in her work Woman: An Intimate Geography she often exposed the pronounced lack of objectivity in the work of scientific professionals and how this lack is often manifested in the way of valorizing one or another behavior, body, or way of being at the expense of others.  The issue of scientific objectivity is visited again in Disorders of Desire by Janice Irvine when she discusses the methods and principles Alfred Kinsey engaged in during his legendary sex research in the 1940s and 1950s.  As long as I have been aware of Kinsey’s work and its historical importance, I have conceived of Alfred Kinsey himself as though he were some kind of sex superhero, on a divine mission to increase popular knowledge about sex and liberate all people to enjoy their bodies and libidos.  To some degree, this perception of Kinsey may be in line with how radical he seemed in his own time; however, like most idealizations, this one of mine blinded me to the fact that Kinsey, while certainly progressive, was not necessarily perfect in his methods or attitudes.  As Irvine points out, Kinsey was highly dedicated to the scientific method and ideals of researcher-objectivity: “When Kinsey proclaimed his ‘objectivity,’ he was eschewing both the moralism of religion and the pathologizing tendency of the social sciences.  It was essentially, for Kinsey, a claim that he would make no negative judgments, point no fingers, and condemn no behavior,” (20).  However, while Kinsey appears to have been making every effort to achieve his goal of objectivity, he did not question some of his own underlying assumptions enough to avoid the bias that is inherent in almost all interpretation of research.  For example Kinsey never stopped to question his assignation of “normalness” (and consequently privilege) to white, middle-aged, male members of the middle class.  Irvine describes how this was manifested in his research method: “His staff, then, consisted of male, heterosexual, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), since for Kinsey these characteristics represented the yardstick of normality,” (25).  Also visible as a manifestation of bias in his work are the strong essentialist themes which are evident when he hearkens back to human beings’ mammalian ancestry for (usually patriarchal) answers to the present day’s question.  This is demonstrated by Irvine as she quotes Kinsey’s work: “He frequently justified the double standard as a biological imperative: ‘The human male’s interest in maintaining his property rights in his female mate, his objections to his wife’s extra-marital coitus, and her lesser objection to his extra-marital activity, are mammalian heritages,'” (28).  These displays of (retrospectively) obvious bias in Kinsey’s work teaches a very important, if disillusioning lesson about accepting scientific research: even those researchers with the best intentions are not free from bias, and therefore no research- scientific, literary, or cultural- should be accepted without first questioning the objectivity of the presentation of the information.


By Rosalind Rini

So, when I started to read the assigned reading for this week, I was extremely confused. Didn’t I just read that somewhere else before?

To understand my confusion you should know that I also take a CMCL class on Cold War Cinema. And right before I read the first two chapters of Janice Irvine’s Disorders of Desire: Sexuality and Gender in Modern American Sexology I did my reading for that class, namely the chapters Explosive Issues: Sex, Women, and the Bomb and Baby Boom and the Birth Control: The Reproductive Consensus from Elaine Tyler May’s book Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. As it turns out, the reading dealt with almost the same topics just with a slight different focus: the suburban American nuclear family, the most important American icon of the Cold War period in the 50s and early 60s.

 A very interesting, at the same time disturbing concept is the notion of “Momism”, which Irvine only touches on in chapter two Science, Medicine and a Market, but which is in my opinion a notion worth taking a closer look. “Momism” offers a good insight in America’s mindset at that time.

During WWII women entered the workforce. Their work was very much needed in order to keep the war industry and thus the War running. Regardless of this necessity, women’s primary task was still to be a well-functioning homemaker raising America’s future. Being a good mother meant being a good patriot. This, of course, was a lot of responsibility. In the eyes of many, this responsibility could not be met when working outside the home.

Philip Wylie addressed this concern in 1942 with his book Generation of Vipers. The book was re-released after the War and became a best-selling book, since it fed into hysteria and Red Scare controlling the US public opinion and worldview around that time anyways. “Momism” described Mothers who due to their frustration of any kind were over affectionate and over protective suffocating their children with their love. The result was, above all, weak and passive sons – something no American prospective trooper should embody under any circumstances. Wylie argued that then “Momism” would lead to a weak and vulnerable nation.

Blaming Mom did not stop there; they were also responsible for their sons’ sexual pervert behavior. The strong bond with their domineering Moms, which was forced on the innocent boys, would make them incapable to have relationships with other women. In the mindset of the 50s and early 60s, bachelorhood or homosexuality would make them more vulnerable to Communist ideas and subversion.

Looking at the greater picture – no nuclear family, no strong nation.

A very convincing realization of “Momism” in popular culture is to be seen in the movie The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Angela Lansbury portrays a picture book “Mom”. In the setting of the Korean War, Lansbury’s character, a Soviet subversive, uses her son, whom she had ordered to be brainwashed by Soviet scientists, to install her husband as the new US President in order to achieve ultimate Soviet power over the USA.  Throughout the movie, the audience realizes that she had always dominated her son to meet her goals. I will not give away any more details, though the movie does not only grasp the hysteria around “Momism” and Red Scare perfectly well but is also a very fascinating movie with a very intense plot.

So, if you find the time, go and watch it, and you will know what brings this country down – “Moms”.

– franziska krause