Although the term ‘identity’ was not used in the lgbti literature before 1970, it is so commonplace now as to be hardly a topic of conversation any more. For me, this observation raises some interesting questions. For instance:
♦ Is a lesbian or gay identity still important today?
♦ Is the process of identity formation still the same as it once was?
♦ Does lgbti identity look the same now as it did 30 years ago?
♦ Why is gay pride an important strategy for survival against homophobia?
Although more modern topics – such as gay marriage – seem to garner all the attention at the moment, I still believe that we need to keep focussed on the issue of lgbti identity. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we have barely touched the most interesting aspects of this topic, which has stagnated since the 1990s when it become bogged down in a ‘which theory is best’ mentality. So the question is, where can we go from here that will offer some new lines of thought?
As a first step to opening up the discussion once again, I recently published a new book titled, A Quick Guide to the Cass Theory of Lesbian & Gay Identity Formation, which offers an overview of the theory I published, firstly as a journal article in 1979 and a thesis in 1985, and then elaborated on in 1990, 1996 and 1999. My intention with this new book is to provide a snapshot of my whole theory, including not just an outline of the process of identity formation, which has been the focus for researchers, educators and health professionals, but the complete theoretical framework in which this process is placed. I believe that, when considered as a whole, the theory offers us a guide to understanding lesbian and gay identity as it is expressed in the twenty-first century.
For further information about the book see this page on my website: www.brightfire.com.au/online-shop/a-quick-guide
The book can be bought from Kindle (Kindle version only) or smashwords.com/books/views/581890 (all other ebook versions), and is also available from other major ebook distributors, including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, WH Smith, FNAC, Diesel, Oyster, Scribd, Flipkart, Stanza, Inktera and Aldiko.
I recently presented a paper on this topic at the 2014 Asia-Oceanic Federation of Sexology Conference. Here is a brief summary of some of the points I made:
The topic of motherhood sexuality is not one that is given serious attention in the general media or scientific writing. Why is this? Because motherhood sexuality is a taboo. Many societies cling to traditional mythology that describes two distinct types of women, the seductress type who is strong, independent and lacking maternal interest, the other the madonna type, considered moral, faithful, good and motherly. These two archetypes represent two types of sexuality as well as two types of motherhood. However, they also represent a conflict between sexuality and motherhood which in the late 1960s was first called the madonna-whore conflict.
Over the years, this mythology became the ideology of asexual motherhood, a term first used by Susan Contratto in 1980. Of course, as many of us know, ideology is at odds with reality, since women who are mothers do indeed experience sexual feelings, often while involved in tasks associated with mothering. And THIS, it seems, makes everyone anxious, including women themselves who often say they feel guilty about their sexual thoughts and emotions.
We have seen some modern attempts to reconcile sex and motherhood. First there was the rise of what I call the modern madonna, which began when a picture of a very pregnant and naked Demi Moore first appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair Magazine in 1991 (causing a furor and leading to the magazine being sold in paper bags and placed in the porn section of some stores). Nowadays every celebrity wants to display themselves in the same pose with no reaction whatsoever so clearly there has been some shift. And now we have the yummy mummy movement which pushes the idea that mothers should be and look sexy, ‘knocked-up knock-outs’ as they have been called. However, when we take a close look at this movement, the sexual self is still presented as in competition with the mother self (and in my presentation I offered several pics where this was obvious).
In 1998 we received evidence of the madonna-whore conflict when a study found that it really does exist in the thinking of men and women. Results revealed that the more sexual a woman was perceived to be, the less motherly she was also seen to be. In other words, a highly sexual woman was considered to be a bad mother and a non-sexual woman was a good mother. We have indeed been indoctrinated with the mythology and the asexual ideology that has arisen from it. Unfortunately this also includes researchers, clinicians and educators working in the sexuality field.
For example, of the 43% of women who experienced changes to their sexual experiences after the birth of a child (post partum), 75-85% did not discuss this with any health professional they talked to, meaning that these professionals didn’t bother to ask the relevant questions. In another study only 18% of women in pregnancy classes were told about possible changes to their sexual experiences during pregnancy or post partum, even though these changes are common.
And don’t get me started on researchers who rarely study the topic of motherhood sexuality, and when they do, make such a botch up of how they conduct their study that the results cannot be taken seriously – such as enquiring only about sexual intercourse then drawing conclusions about all sexual activity (“these women had markedly reduced sexual activity…”). Or forgetting to ask subjects what their sexual experiences were like before motherhood, then confidently concluding that x% of women ‘suffer’ from this or that sexual ‘dysfunction’ as a result of pregnancy or post partum (perhaps they had difficulty with orgasm before they became pregnant). And since when has motherhood only been about pregnancy and childbirth? Haven’t they heard of the ‘getting pregnant’ or ‘living with baby/toddler/small child/ big child’ phases?
What about the popular literature? After all, aren’t there pregnant women pictured on the covers of women’s, motherhood and health and fitness magazines, and heaps of articles on the subject of motherhood sexuality? Well yes there are. Check out these actual magazine titles You sexy mama; How to make love to a mum; Baby proof your sex life; All I want for mother’s day is a sex life.
But as a 2013 study found, things are not as rosy as they might seem when it comes to overcoming the motherhood sexuality taboo. Just look at these results; out of nearly 15,000 articles in motherhood magazines, only 332 (that’s just 2.3%) included any sexuality content. And of this 2.3%, only one third were articles primarily on sex and motherhood – the rest were focussed on some other topic with sex as a brief mention. Worse still, in the last 20 years there has been no significant increase on articles related to motherhood sexuality.
So clearly in both the popular and professional literature there is a real discomfort with the idea that mothers can be sexual. Even in this 21st century, it seems, the sexual invisibility of mothers continues. Not surprisingly, women themselves carry guilt. Of the one third to one half of women who found breast feeding to be erotic in one study, one quarter felt guilty about this.
Sadly, the mythology of the madonna-whore conflict continues to define how we think about women and their sexuality. It’s time for change, don’t you think. At the end of my paper I challenged those in the sexuality field to make maternal sexuality a visible and positive reality and to focus on how women and their partners negotiate through the challenges of all phases of motherhood, including those who manage well and those who don’t.
That’s right. It seems they do, but this is more likely if they live in a culture where homophobia is less pronounced. According to Dr Erik Anderson, author of a recent book, 21st Century Jocks, when homophobia, or as he prefers to call it, homohysteria, lessens and homosexuals are included as part of society, then men are more likely to kiss other males. In other words, they no longer fear being labelled as gay if they show affection to other men.
Dr Anderson studied young male heterosexual sportsmen (jocks to use American terminology) in three countries, the UK, Australia and the USA and presented his findings at a Symposium on Kissing (‘Why Do We Kiss’) at the International Academy of Sex Research annual meeting that I attended recently in Croatia.
Here’s what he found. In the UK, considered less prone to homohysteria, a whopping 89% of young men were found to have kissed another straight male friend on the lips as a way of expressing platonic affection. In other words, it was a non-sexual kiss. And 37% of these guys also said they had engaged in a long sustained kissed another male, again as a non-erotic way of expressing their enjoyment of the male friendship.
In Australia, apparently characterised as more ‘homohysterical’ than the UK, then just 29% of young males reported having at least one same-sex kiss. And what about the USA, where it seems to those from other cultures that homophobia runs rampant? The young American jocks who kissed, as predicted, polled much lower, with just 10% having kissed another heterosexual male friend on the lips (although it has to be said that 40% had planted a kiss on a friend’s cheek).
Of course, there may be factors other than levels of homophobia that could have also played a part in these results, eg, alcohol consumption after a team sporting event seems to lead to a lot of male-to-male touching, as does winning the game, but overall it seems that the trend is for young straight men to now feel more comfortable showing affection for each other without worrying about being labelled ‘gay’. We’ve heard about straight girls kissing each other on the lips for some years now (remember Kate Perry’s song, “I kissed a girl and I liked it”?), but apparently the guys are now discovering that same-sex kissing is a nice way of connecting with their pals (I can’t wait to see what their song is called).
Does this mean we can all now simply kiss those whom we like without worrying about whether we will be labelled gay, lesbian, bisexual or something else? It seems we might be heading that way. A video clip presented by Dr Anderson at the conference certainly showed the audience a glimpse of the fun that’s happening these days at parties for young adults. There was a lot of kissing taking place – between guys, between girls and, oh yes, even between guys and girls. If all this seems a bit hard to believe then stay tuned. I suspect we’ll be hearing more on this subject.
ps: If you’ve never been to Croatia put it on your list of “must-do’s”. The beauty of the scenery is unbelievable and the people are gentle and friendly.
I recently gave a talk to the Society of Australian Sexologists (WA) about people who are not interested in sex. This blog is a brief summary of some of my presentation.
Most people probably have had at least one time ( and for lots of us, many times) in their lives when they lost interest in sex (stressful jobs, relationship breakups, having kids and so on will do that to the best of us). And others have never or only occasionally shown sexual interest over their lifetime.
Those who aren’t happy with their lack of sexual interest often take themselves off to therapists to try and find out why they are like this. This especially applies to women who at the end of a day of demanding work loads, both at home and in the workplace are often too tired or distracted to even think about their own sexual pleasure. Men, too, can also be too tired or distracted to want sex but may be reluctant to admit this because men are supposed to want sex all the time and find it embarrassing if they don’t.
In the late 70′s the medical and health professions decided that the ‘sexual interest problem’ was serious enough to classify it as a ‘mental disorder’, and within a decade this idea was cemented into place by giving it the heavy-duty label of ‘hyposexual sexual desire disorder’ (HSDD). As it turned out, this was a pretty bad idea. Not only was there no agreement on what ‘desire’ meant, it left everyone with the idea that there was a ‘normal level of sexual interest or desire that we should all strive for – and if we didn’t have it, then we were not healthy. Think of all those magazine articles telling us about how much sex we should be having…and wanting and you’ll know what I mean!
Truth is, you couldn’t win with the HSDD. If your interest in sex was too high you were going to be given another label – ‘hypersexual’ (over-sexed), and if it was too low you would be considered ‘hyposexual’, ie, having a mental disorder. And since it was assumed men were naturally highly sexed, then any man who lacked interest was automatically considered odd and abnormal. For women it was the opposite problem with high levels of desire attracting the label of -over-sexed (and lots of leery jokes).
This was all great news for drug companies who have run themselves ragged for years, to the tune of millions of dollars, looking for the pills that will fix these so-called nasty little problems of sexual interest. Well, I have to report that sadly that with all this money at their disposal, these corporations still can’t find the pill that will make your partner more attractive to you, get the kids to sit quietly in their rooms for a couple of hours while you unwind, clean the house or reduce that huge pile of work on your desk.
Now, not surprisingly, a number of sex therapists and researchers recently decided that it was time to recognise that a lack of interest in sex might sometimes be a normal part of life. Knowing that the list of mental disorders (known as the DSM) which included ‘hypoactive sexual desire disorder’ was being revised in 2013, these sexologists pushed for changes to the way we think about ‘lack of interest in sex’. They managed to make some headway towards this goal. The result is that, as of July 2013, the so-called mental disorder of HSDD for women has been removed and replaced with something called ‘female sexual interest/arousal disorder’ with ‘symptoms’ of a lack of interest in sex and/or a lack of signs of sexual arousal having to persist for at least 6 months and cause significant distress before you are considered to have a disorder.
Notice that interest and arousal are no longer seen to be separate ‘disorders’. That’s because women often have difficulty separating what’s happening to them sexually into something called interest and something called arousal. Although there is some research that claims to have evidence for considering interest and arousal as better viewed together as one kind of behaviour, it should be noted that other research begs to differ. However, I note that there is little attention given to the fact that shifts between sexual interest and sexual arousal may occur so quickly that few women would be able to identify exactly what is going on both physically and mentally.
Nevertheless, these changes do focus us on being more careful about how we look at the whole issue in women. In regard to men, however, things are more grim. While the research suggests that men can also experience this close connection between interest and arousal, for some reason, those rewriting the list of mental disorders decided that HSDD must remain for men! Heavens – is this sexism at work? Is a lack of interest in sex still considered such a heinous and unmanly experience that we need to continue labelling it as HSDD?
If nothing else, this situation serves to remind us that the DSM is not ‘the truth’ about what should and should not be labelled as a sexual ‘disorder’, but is written by mental health professionals, such as sexologists, who, while attempting to genuinely find the best way to identify human experience, nevertheless can also be influenced by values, opinion and cultural teachings.
If this worries you, then you might be interested in some new developments that threaten to derail recent changes to the DSM. A white knight is charging into the fray in an attempt to wrench ‘lack of interest in sex’ away from the mental health experts. In recent times the asexual liberation movement has been quietly building its numbers for an onslaught against the medical establishment. Asexual activists see themselves as part of a sexual minority and are demanding their rights. So, “what do they want”, as we used to say in the 70’s during the marches for equal rights ? The right to proclaim oneself as experiencing a lack of interest in sex without being told you have a mental disorder. There is no such thing as a correct or normal level of sexual interest, they state, and it is discrimination to try and make everyone follow the same pattern. We should look, they say, at interest in sex (and romance) as varying in degree (and content) amongst different individuals, and recognise that no-one is mentally unhealthy just because of the level of interest they feel.
Bravo I say.
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