Selves, Symbols, and Sexualities: An Interactionist Anthology


Edited by: Thomas S. Weinberg & Staci Newmahr

  • Citations
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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: : Theorizing Sex

    Part II: : Constructing Sexual Meanings

    Part III: : Negotiating Sexual Selfhood

    Part IV: : Sex, Emotion, and Identity

    Part V: : Sexual Stories

  • Copyright


    This coedited volume was conceived as a supplemental reader for courses in the sociology and social psychology of human sexuality. Its consistent symbolic interactionist approach makes it unique among the few readers in the topic area. Our goal was to produce a highly readable book without sacrificing intellectual rigor. We therefore decided that instead of using previously published selections, written for a professional audience, we would only include new, fresh contributions that were designed for undergraduate students.

    Since human sexuality is a complex phenomenon, the treatment in this book is expansive, in order to cover the diversity of relevant topics. The readings vary in terms of their conceptual or practical approaches. For example, there is a mixture of conceptual and research contributions as well as first-person accounts, which makes this volume unique.

    Both editors bring a strong background in the sociology of sexuality to the project, spanning two generations of constructionist thought. Both of us have engaged in ethnographic research in sexuality and have published our work in leading refereed journals in the field. Both of us are also contributors to The Routledge Handbook of Deviant Behavior, edited by the late Clifton Bryant and published in 2012.

    Dr. Thomas S. Weinberg is the author or editor of four books (two monographs and two edited volumes) on sexuality. His work in gay studies and the sociology of sadomasochism appears in sociological and interdisciplinary journals, such as the Journal of Sex Research, the Journal of Homosexuality, American Journal of Sexuality Education, Annual Review of Sex Research, Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, and Social Analysis. He is an associate editor of Ethnographic Studies and Sexuality & Culture and a referee for the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

    Dr. Staci Newmahr is an ethnographer and the author of Playing on the Edge: Sadomasochism, Risk and Intimacy (Indiana University Press, 2011), an ethnography of an SM community that theorizes risk-taking and emotion from an interactionist perspective. She has published several papers in sociology and interdisciplinary journals, including Symbolic Interaction, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, and Qualitative Sociology. Dr. Newmahr is associate editor of Symbolic Interaction (Wiley-Blackwell). She is currently working toward a book on nonsexual erotic proliferations.


    We are both indebted to the brilliance, enthusiasm, and tremendous work ethic of all of our contributors for this exciting collection of original and cutting-edge research. We are grateful to our departmental colleagues at SUNY Buffalo State, particularly Gerhard Falk and Allen Shelton, for their support and for their friendship. We thank the editors and staff at SAGE, including Dave Repetto, who helped us get this book off the ground, and the editorial team of Diane McDaniel, Jeff Lasser, and Lauren Johnson, who supported and managed this project throughout the process.

    Tom Weinberg: I would like to thank my wife, Bonnie, for her support in this project and her patience when working on the volume took time away from her and our domestic projects. Carolyn Englehardt went well beyond her duties at our library's help desk to figure out some of the formatting problems we had with the manuscript.

    Staci Newmahr: I owe a warm and hearty thank-you to Tom Weinberg for approaching me with this idea, for his attention to detail, and for being nothing less than a wonderful collaboration partner. This collection was shaped in part by dozens of sessions and conversations with sexuality scholars and symbolic interactionists over the past few years. I am always inspired by those people, by their work, and by our conversations: Chuck Edgley, Clare Forstie, Kate Frank, Thaddeus Muller, Susie Scott, Allen Shelton, Nicolas Simon, Brandy Simula, J. Sumerau, Beverly Thompson, Dennis Waskul, and D J Williams. More broadly, and perhaps a tad sentimentally as I emerge from the process of editing a determinedly interactionist book, I am deeply appreciative of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction (SSSI) and all of its members for being an intellectual home to many of us. Finally, as always, I am grateful to my family for weathering the storm of frazzled intensity that I bring home through every edit, revision, and new deadline.


    The readings for this book reflect a common theme: Sexualities are sociological realities. In fact, biological responses are initiated, structured, and understood through the meanings that people bring to sexual situations. As humans, we continually interpret our own situations, identities, motivations, and behaviors as well as that of others through those meanings that we learn in social interaction. These meanings are continually reinforced and validated by others. This is true of all social phenomena, including sexualities. For example, we learn who and what is sexy, and this, not hormones, triggers our responses. Americans have a consistent image of the sexy man and woman, as reflected in the occasional lead stories in popular supermarket publications on “The 100 Sexiest Men,” “The Sexiest Women,” and so on. Sexy in American culture means young, slim, and physically fit. But in other places, this is not the case. Among the Hima tribe in Uganda and the Annang and Efik of Nigeria (Malcolm 1925), young women enter a fattening hut to increase their marriage desirability. In Mauritania, girls are force-fed to make them gain weight. In these cultures, obesity is a sign of wealth and, ultimately, beauty and sexual attractiveness.

    In our own society, standards of female attractiveness and hence, beauty, have changed over the years. One hundred years ago, full figured women were desirable. By the 1920s, the era of the “flapper,” women were binding their breasts, as being flat chested was sexy. The actress Clara Bow, known as the “It Girl,” was seen as the epitome of sexiness during that time. In the 1940s, the curvy woman was back in vogue, as illustrated by the actress Betty Grable, the “pinup” of American servicemen. In the 1950s, screen sirens, such as Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, and Jayne Mansfield, all well-endowed women, were the fantasy objects of young men.1 During that time period, Dagmar, a model, actress, and popular guest on television, was so well endowed that the bullet nosed bumper guards on Cadillacs, Packards, and Buicks of the day were called “Dagmars.” In the 1960s, thin was the new sexy, and an aptly named popular recording star, “Twiggy,” epitomized sexuality.

    Even within our own contemporary society, there are subcultural variations in what is considered to be attractive and sexy. For example, Thio (2010) points out that the meaning of weight as it relates to sexiness varies according to race. The African American community is much more accepting of fat2 women and more likely to see them as sexy than is the white community. In fact, during the spring 2012 semester, one of the African American student organizations on our college campus sponsored a “PHAT” beauty contest. According to their poster advertising this event, PHAT stands for “Pretty, Hot and Thick.” Contrast this with McLorg and Taub's (1987) finding that anorexia and bulimia are predominantly found among young middle-class white women.3

    Men, as well as women, are seen as sex symbols. In the 1910s and 1920s, the actor Douglas Fairbanks, who played in what were called “swashbuckling” roles (i.e., in what we now call action films), was seen as the ideal man. In the 1920s, his status as a sex symbol was challenged by Rudolph Valentino, who was seen by women as the romantic ideal. Men, however, compared him negatively to Fairbanks, and there were those in the media who considered him effeminate because of his impeccable dress and slicked down hair (Ellenberger and Ballerini 2005).

    In the 1930s, movie stars who were seen as sex symbols, such as Errol Flynn, who was another swashbuckler, Gary Cooper, and Clark Gable, were the epitome of masculinity. The 1940s found men with a more sophisticated persona like Cary Grant still masculine but more refined. The 1950s was the era of the “bad boy” image, personified by James Dean, who played a troubled teen in 1955's Rebel Without a Cause, and Marlon Brando, who played a motorcycle gang leader in the 1953 film The Wild Ones.

    Unlike the status of female sex symbols, historically, the sexiness of males has depended more on perceived personality and romantic presentation than on body type. In patriarchal systems built around gender binaries (that is, structures in which people are viewed as occupying one of two mutually exclusive gender categories), cultural capital is accorded to men based on their capacities for action, or what they can do. Men gain social status (and therefore desirability, or what we come to think of as sexiness) based on the skills they possess (e.g., intelligence, physical competence, or leadership skills) or the indicators of those skills (e.g., high-status jobs, expensive possessions). Women, in turn, become valued for the status they confer onto men. In other words, in a social system in which only men had access to economic and political resources, women came to symbolize men's success; the more attractive a woman, the more impressive a man appears for attracting her. Despite the profound changes in the world since women were denied access to political and economic power, women's desirability, or sexiness, continues to reside less in symbols of what they can do in the world than in their aesthetic value.

    One interesting development does seem to have occurred by the 1960s, however. It has to do with chest hair, rather than physique. The early swashbucklers, when they appeared shirtless, were always shaved. By the 1960s, actors like Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Sean Connery exposed themselves in hairy glory. This hirsute trend reached a new level when Burt Reynolds, the 1970s sex symbol, posed nude and hairy with only an arm discreetly covering his male parts. From the 1980s to the present, as gender roles have changed drastically, there seems to have developed a greater emphasis on the male body and fitness. Sharply defined abdominal muscles (“abs”) are now seen as sexy. Pictures of celebrity abs are regularly found in supermarket fan magazines, and there are numerous television infomercials promising to enable one to define one's abdominals, if only a particular piece of exercise equipment, diet, or program is purchased. In 1989, the actor Patrick Swayze showed off his toned physique in the film Roadhouse, and in the 1990s, Brad Pitt also displayed his abs, as did Fabio, a male model, actor, romance novel author, and spokesman for a number of businesses and products, whose career as a sex symbol spanned two decades.

    Most of the examples cited above come from the media: magazines, movies, and television. There is no denying the power of the media in modern American society as an arbiter of cultural tastes and trends. Idealized images of sexual attractiveness, however, both contemporary and historical, are also found elsewhere in, for example, literature (Singh, Renn, and Singh 2007) and art (Haughton 2004). Haughton notes that Renaissance painters depicted an idealized woman with symmetrical features, “alabaster skin,” a small waist, and large breasts and broad hips. He describes Venus in Botticelli's painting, Venus and Mars, painted between 1480 and 1490, as follows: “Note the high forehead, the sharply defined chin, pale skin, strawberry blond hair, high delicate eyebrows, strong nose, narrow mouth and full lips … a full figure with an ample bosom, rounded abdomen and wide hips” (Haughton 2004:231). A contemporary artist, Anna Utopia Giordano, has Photoshopped paintings of Renaissance masters, such as Bouguereau, Cabanel, Botticelli, Bronzino, Hayez, Ingres, and Velazquez, bringing them, tongue in cheek, up to modern standards of beauty.4 Like the Renaissance paintings, modern romance novels present idealized images of both men and women. The description of the heroine in the following excerpt is startlingly like that described by Haughton above:

    … no man worth his salt would have missed the surprisingly lush curves of breasts and hips, guaranteed to stop traffic and haunt dreams…. Her hair was that rare, striking color between red and gold, and it hung thick and shining to the middle of her back … and that silky, burnished hair framed a face that was almost too delicately perfect to be real. She was like a painting: every feature was finely drawn with artistic excellence, from her straight nose to the sweet curve of her lips. And in that strikingly perfect face, her eyes were simply incredible: a clear, pale green; huge and shadowed by long, thick lashes. (Hooper 2012:12–13)

    Here is how the author describes the central male character:

    [H]e was over six feet tall and powerfully built. He was dressed casually … but the informal attire did nothing to conceal the physical strength of broad shoulders and powerful limbs, or the honed grace of his movements…. He was dark, black-haired, and black-eyed, his lean face handsome. (Hooper 2012:18)

    Few people, whether living in the 15th or 21st centuries, can measure up to these idealized images. We learn from our culture or subculture not only who is sexy, but also what is sexy. For example, American males' preoccupation with female breasts as erotic objects is not shared by men in many other cultures in which women usually are bare breasted. In these cultures, breasts are viewed simply as sources of milk for babies. Our culture also teaches us who are appropriate sexual partners and the situations in which sexual behaviors are appropriate. Even more fundamentally, the very concept of “sexual” is culturally constructed. We learn what “counts” as sex and what does not. We learn the connections between our ideas about sex and our ideas about relationships, feelings, monogamy, and gender. We learn, and teach each other, what should turn us on and what should not. We learn to understand and define ourselves in relation to our sexual behavior and sexual desires, and these understandings underpin the way we present ourselves to the world. All of these sexual meanings are created through our social interactions, and what comes to be defined as erotic, and decidedly unerotic, can be traced back to the level of everyday life.

    Standards of sexuality are not fixed, but they are constantly changing through a process of interaction. We humans are not in any sense captives of our culture; rather, cultures are continually in flux as new norms and values are created in response to societal changes. The discussion of the first section of the book, “Theorizing Sex,” succinctly makes this point.

    Our definitions of sexiness extend beyond our judgments of others to our self-appraisals. Through a process of interpreting other people's responses to us, which early social psychologist Charles Horton Cooley (1902:183–184) termed the looking glass self, we form opinions of our own attractiveness. We are able to do this because we humans, unlike animals, have the ability to use symbols and thus are able to treat ourselves as objects, to stand outside ourselves and see ourselves as we might see others.

    Controlling Sexualities

    People's sexualities and their expression are controlled in two ways. The first of these is through socialization. Children learn the norms, attitudes, values, and perspectives of their group through their parents and other significant figures in their lives. This process illustrates what George Herbert Mead (1934), an important founder of the perspective, which later became known as “symbolic interaction” theory, termed the “generalized other.” Through this process, children come to internalize certain views of the world, including those of sexuality. Not so very long ago, in the days of your grandparents' or great grandparents' youth, romance and sexuality between members of different nationalities (e.g., Italian Americans and Irish Americans) and religious groups (e.g., Catholics and Protestants) were strongly opposed by each group. The focusing of romance and eroticism only on members of one's own group was facilitated in many communities by de facto segregation by nationality. For example, in the authors' city of Buffalo, New York, South Buffalo has traditionally been Irish, the upper West side was predominantly Italian, the lower West side was mainly Hispanic, the near East side was populated by African Americans, and the far East side was the Polish section. Jews were found mostly in North Buffalo, but there were small communities on the East side along with small Italian populations. Old timers have told us that men who attempted to date a young woman from another group were sometimes met with violence by men in her neighborhood. While there have been population shifts over the last 40 years or so, large segments of the original populations remain in the old areas.

    A more restrictive way in which groups focus their members' sexualities is through arranged marriages, often made at very young ages. For example, in colonial India in the early 20th century, girls as young as 8 years old were often betrothed to an older man (Southgate 1938). My great grandparents had their marriage arranged for them when they were 16 and 19. They, in turn, were so angry that their 17-year-old daughter (my maternal grandmother) had married a man from outside their religious group that they sent her, along with her younger brother, to America. Even today, the practice of arranged marriages continues. In fact, during the fall 2012 semester, I was approached by a male student, whose immigrant family had arranged a marriage for him with a young woman whom he had never seen, who lived on another continent thousands of miles away. He was also being pressured by the woman's father, who kept sending him e-mails, asking when he was coming to see his daughter.

    The second way in which sexualities are structured is through formal laws, which may prescribe not only with whom one may have sex but also what kind of sex one may have. In the southern United States, before civil rights, for example, some jurisdictions passed miscegenation laws, which prohibited the “mixing” of the races. All states have age of consent laws, which make it illegal to have sex with someone under a certain age. This age varies from state to state. Many states had sodomy laws, prohibiting specific sex acts (or contact between certain body parts), which were periodically enforced. While theoretically applying to both heterosexuals and homosexuals, in the past, they were usually only enforced against gay men.5

    Although prostitution is illegal in the United States in all jurisdictions other than a few counties in Nevada, a number of European countries have decriminalized it and restrict sex workers to “red light” districts. In Amsterdam, the chamber of commerce provides maps of these areas and instructions about how to deal with prostitutes.

    In addition to laws specifically aimed at controlling sexuality, such as sodomy, age of consent, and miscegenation laws, there are other laws, not originally developed for that purpose, which, nevertheless, are used to regulate sexual behavior. For example, state or municipal ordinances pertaining to nudity, disorderly conduct, suspicion, trespassing, loitering, parking, and liquor laws have been selectively used to limit sexualities. Police in some cities are known to ticket cars parked near gay bars. State liquor authorities can control the spread of gay bars by revoking liquor licenses. One gay man I interviewed (Weinberg 1994a) claimed that he had been arrested for “drunken parking,” while sitting in his car and talking with another man outside a gay bar. He was asked, the man said, whether he wanted to be put in the regular drunk tank or the gay drunk tank. Loitering and trespassing laws are often invoked in an attempt to prevent gay men from “cruising” (i.e., looking for sexual partners) in parks and other settings. Public health laws have similarly been used to close gay bathhouses and heterosexual “swingers” clubs. Men acting “suspiciously” in areas where children play may be picked up for loitering or suspicion pending an investigation.

    In summary, sexualities are not merely reflections of biological imperatives. They are controlled through socialization and formal mechanisms. Most important to remember is that the meanings that are conveyed through these processes play the major role in how people perceive, define, and act out sexuality.

    The Symbolic Interaction Perspective

    While there are other ways of understanding human sexualities (see Weinberg 1994b, for examples), we have chosen symbolic interaction as the sociological framework to use in this book because we see the production of meaning as central to all human activity, including sexuality. Symbolic interactionism focuses on individuals and how they understand themselves and others. It is an example of a microsociological theory in sociology.

    For the symbolic interactionist, roles, relationships, and meanings are socially constructed. That is, they are negotiated during a process of social interaction rather than being fixed and predetermined (Hewitt and Shulman 2011; Sandstrom, Martin, and Fine 2010). From this point of view, the individual has considerable control over his or her identity and behavior. He or she is seen as possessing a self, which is developed through a continuing process of interaction and interpretation. That is, who and what we think we are is at least partly a reflection of how we believe we are viewed by others, as Cooley (1902), cited above, tells us. Thus, at the core of symbolic interaction theory is the idea that people are sense-making creatures. Humans have the capacity to interpret situations, which we do in terms of significant symbols. We continually construct, apply, and act in terms of the meanings we place on ourselves, others, and situations. This is succinctly summed up by William I. Thomas's statement in the early 20th century: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” (Thomas and Thomas 1928:571–572). People, and the world around us, are seen as dynamic processes, rather than as the static structures assumed by macrosociological level theories, such as structural functionalism. We humans are in a continual state of becoming. Identities, for example, can be created, tried on, and discarded by the individual. We are not simply passive recipients of labels; we do interpretive work to figure out who and what we are. Nor are meanings immutable. At any given time, we can reinterpret a situation or behavior and choose from among a number of alternative meanings. For example, an adolescent male who has sex with another boy may see this behavior as “meaning” that he is gay, or that he is bisexual, or that he is going through “an adolescent stage,” just “experimenting,” or having no meaning at all, “just what guys do” when they get together. He may define and redefine his behavior several times, taking into account new knowledge and new circumstances (Weinberg 1983).

    Erving Goffman (1959, 1963, 1967) notes that we attempt to control the way we appear to others by taking into account their probable responses to us. To do this, we have to be able to identify with them, to put ourselves in their position, and attempt to see things from their perspective. This ability to take the role of the other is a uniquely human trait. Engaging in reciprocity thinking by putting ourselves in other people's situations is dependent upon our capacity to create and use symbols. This type of thinking is developmental. It, too, is learned through a process of interacting with others. While young children have only the rudiments of this ability, it becomes much more critical during adolescence. Adolescents develop this capacity through identifying with groups of their peers. These people of their own age serve as what we call “reference groups.” Reference groups are used by the individual as a guide for his or her feelings and behavior. They become “significant others” with whom we compare ourselves. How these others think and feel, especially about us, become critical for our feelings about ourselves.

    Symbolic interaction is not a single unified perspective, but one that contains a number of variations and developments. There are, however, some unifying concepts upon which all symbolic interactionists agree. According to Herbert Blumer, who was the first to use the term “symbolic interaction” (Blumer 1937),

    Symbolic interactionism rests in the last analysis on three simple premises. The first premise is that human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings that the things have for them…. The second premise is that the meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction one has with one's fellows. The third premise is that these meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he encounters (Blumer 1969:2).

    Blumer's fundamental concepts are reflected in the variety of chapters in this volume. Although they take different approaches to study a wide range of sexualities, these premises form a unifying theme in all of them.


    1. For a contemporary account of Ms. Monroe's ample hips and derrière, as described by show business manager Milton Ebbins, who was struggling to help her get into a dress she was wearing for president John F. Kennedy's 45th birthday celebration in Madison Square Garden (in which she sang the now famous, “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”), see Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard, Killing Kennedy, the End of Camelot. 2012. New York: Henry Holt and Company, page 82.

    2. I am not using the word fat pejoratively, but rather following its usage in both the fat-activist and contemporary scholarly literature (Gullage 2010; Murray 2004, 2005a, 2005b; Scott-Dixon 2008). As I point out in this chapter, “fatness” is socially constructed.

    3. This is becoming an increasing problem for boys and young men, as well. “[T]he latest data, from 2011, showed that Los Angeles boys were nearly as likely as girls to purge through vomiting or laxatives. They were also as likely as girls to use diet pills, powders, or liquids without the advice of a doctor” (Alpert, 2013:F3).

    4. For examples of her work, especially her Venus Project, go to

    5. This was generally true until June 26, 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), decided 6–3 that the state's sodomy laws were invalid, thus nullifying a previous decision and making sexual acts between consenting adults no longer illegal throughout the country.

  • Glossary


    is the inability to experience pleasure.


    is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of terms often used interchangeably both in the literature and by participants to refer to a range of consensual activities including but not limited to leather, kink, sadomasochism (SM), dominance and submission (D/s), master/slave (M/s) relationships, power exchange (and variations including erotic power exchange and total power exchange), bondage, and discipline. (definition provided by Brandy Simula)

    dry humping

    is a practice in which a clothed couple rub their groins against each other, often to the point of orgasm. It was a common practice among teenagers in the 1950s and early 60s.


    is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association. It has gone through several editions. The current edition is the DSM–5.


    is a high end restaurant, bar, bistro, or tavern that serves high quality meals.


    refers to identities outside the gender binary of man and woman. It can include the transgendered, people who claim no genders, and people shifting between genders.


    is derived from the name of Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937), an Italian philosopher and sociologist who developed the theory of cultural hegemony, in which he explained how the upper classes (bourgeoisie) controlled society.

    heavy petting

    covers a number of sexual acts short of actual sexual intercourse or oral or anal sex. It often involves (mutual) masturbation.


    is the belief system in which all behaviors and social institutions are seen through a heterosexual point of view as the only valid perspective.


    refers to an individual's internal psychological processes.


    stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered; it is now often also written as LGBTQ, where the Q stands for “queer.”


    refers to playfulness. In the digital age, a ludic interface is a type of playful interface in interaction between humans and computers.


    perspectives focus on large scale systems, societies, and social institutions and on their interrelationships and effect on social actors. Examples of macrosociological theories include structural functionalism and Marxian and conflict theories.

    master status

    was first coined by sociologist Everett C. Hughes to refer to that position in society that individuals use to locate an individual within the social structure. For Americans, especially males, one's occupation is a master status. Asking about one's occupation gives others additional information about one's education, income, lifestyle and, perhaps, even one's beliefs. A deviant label often becomes a master status.


    theories examine everyday life, including interaction between and among individuals and objects, how people construct, interpret, and manage meaning, and how they act in terms of these meanings. Examples of microsociological theories include symbolic interaction, exchange theories, and behavioral sociology, ethnomethodology, and phenomenological sociology.

    outed or being outed

    is a process by which one's sexual activities and/or identity are (is) revealed to others, especially to those who do not share them.


    refers to a type of building in which all of its parts are visible from one place. This design was originally developed for prisons. Michel Foucault's use of it (1975) as a metaphor for the regulation of people's lives within a society has led to the common usage of the term to refer to modern disciplinary power, from which citizens are increasingly “visible” to the state and each other.


    is an intellectual movement based on understanding social reality apart from the binary structure that structuralism emphasized. Again inspired partly by Foucault, poststructuralist understandings require study of both the object itself and the systems of knowledge that produced the object. Because it views all intellectual inquiry as shaped by discursive and interpretative practices, poststructuralist analyses tend, like symbolic interaction, to be concerned with language, symbols, and meanings.


    refers to the mutual relationship between cause and effect, with each affecting the other.


    is being sexually attracted to or aroused by intelligence.

    structural functionalism

    is a macrosociological theory, first appearing in the writings of Auguste Comte and, later, Emile Durkheim and developed in the mid-20th century by sociologist Talcott Parsons and his student Robert K. Merton. Structural functionalism focuses on social systems and their relations to one another. They use a biological analogy, seeing social systems as analogous to biological systems. For structural functionalists, social systems (like, for example, societies) are in a state of equilibrium, in which subsystems are mutually supportive and each of which contributes certain functions to maintain the larger system.


    is a term used by kinky people, sometimes deprecatingly, to refer to non-kinky people, activities, or spaces.


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    About the Contributors

    Alison Better is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at CUNY Kingsborough Community College. Her research focuses on women's sexual agency, sex stores, and reimagining sexual categories. She is a member of Brooklyn Public Scholars and co-organizes the Women's and Gender Studies Faculty Interest Group at Kingsborough. Publications include “Redefining Queer: Women's Relationships and Identity in an Age of Sexual Fluidity” in Sexuality & Culture and “Pleasure for Sale: Feminist Sex Stores” in Introducing the New Sexualities Studies, 2nd Edition.

    Tanya Bezreh wrote a spanking musical called The Naughty Garden for HBO Real Sex in 2003. Her video diary piece “Coming out Spanko” won best documentary short at CineKink 2008, was selected for the 2011 Kinsey Juried Art Show, and has toured internationally. Her research into the disclosure support needs of kinky people, “BDSM Disclosure and Stigma Management: Identifying Opportunities for Sex Education,” was published in the American Journal of Sexuality Education.

    Chris Brickell is Associate Professor in Gender Studies at Otago University, New Zealand. He has published extensively in the sociology and history of sexuality. Recently he has been exploring histories of adolescence, masculinities, and affect.

    Matt Dawson ( is a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Glasgow, with research interests in asexuality, social theory, individualization, socialism and political sociology. He is the author of “Late Modernity, Individualization and Socialism: An Associational Critique of Neoliberalism” (2013, Palgrave Macmillan) and is currently preparing a book on normative theory and the social alternatives offered by sociology throughout the discipline's history. He has also published articles on Zygmunt Bauman, Émile Durkheim, individualization, and contemporary politics in a variety of journals. Matt is involved in a research project (funded by the Leverhulme Trust) with Susie Scott and Liz McDonnell (both at the University of Sussex) looking at asexual lives.

    Charles Edgley is Adjunct Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock where he was lured out of retirement after a long career at Oklahoma State University. Dr. Edgley has written, edited, or revised nine books, as well as publishing numerous articles in Symbolic Interaction. He has written extensively on the health and fitness movement, on the sociology of sexuality, and does regular editorial work for the journal Symbolic Interaction. He currently serves as co-editor (with Jeff Nash) of The Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. He is also the author of Life as Theater: A Dramaturgical Sourcebook (with the late Dennis Brissett), a book that has become a standard reference in dramaturgical social psychology. The second edition of Life as Theater was released in a new printing by Aldine/Transaction Books with a new introduction by Robert A. Stebbins. His most recent publication is an edited handbook entitled The Drama of Social Life: A Dramaturgical Handbook. That book is a part of Ashgate Publishing Company's Interactionist Currents series edited by Dennis Waskul and Phillip Vannini.

    Sinikka Elliott is an assistant professor of sociology at North Carolina State University where she teaches and researches topics related to gender, sexuality, inequality, and family. She is the author of the book Not My Kid: What Parents Believe about the Sex Lives of Their Teenagers, published in 2012 by New York University Press. Her research has also been published in top journals, including Gender & Society, Journal of Marriage and Family, and Sexuality Research and Social Policy.

    Clare Forstie is a PhD student in the Sociology department at Northwestern University and a member of the interdisciplinary Gender and Sexuality Studies Cluster at Northwestern. Her research interests include the sociology of emotions, culture, identities, gender, sexualities, technology, and space and place. Her primarily qualitative research focuses on the social practice and memory of emotion in public spaces and private relationships and the related impact on self, identities, and communities. Her dissertation articulates the relationship between close, adult friendships and identity formation, in particular, gender and sexuality. She received an M.A. in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine and an A.B. in Sociology and Women's Studies from Bowdoin College.

    Petula Sik Ying Ho is Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong. Her current projects include using documentary films to explore the integration of arts and scholarship. They include: 22 Springs: The Invincible; Whatever Will Be Will Be; Hong Kong Calling Tokyo; and The ‘Kong-lo’ Chronicles. She is co-author with Ka Tat Tsang of Love and Desire in Hong Kong, published in English and Chinese by Hong Kong University Press and China Social Science Press in 2012. She is currently working with Stevi Jackson on a book provisionally entitled Women Doing Intimacy: Gender, Family and Modernity in Hong Kong and Britain for Palgrave Macmillan.

    Stevi Jackson is Professor of Women's Studies and Director of the Centre for Women's Studies at the University of York, UK. Her books include Heterosexuality in Question (Sage 1999), Theorizing Sexuality (with Sue Scott; Open University Press, 2010), and Gender and Sexuality Sociological Approaches (with Momin Rahman; Polity 2010). She is co-editor, with Liu Jieyu and Woo Juhyun, of East Asian Sexualities (Zed 2008). She is currently working, with Sik Ying Ho, on a book provisionally entitled Women Doing Intimacy: Gender, Family and Modernity in Hong Kong and Britain, to be published by Palgrave Macmillan.

    Don Kulick is professor of anthropology in the department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago. His books include Travesti: Sex, Gender and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes (University of Chicago Press, 1998), Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession (edited with Anne Meneley, Tarcher/Penguin 2005), and Fucked: Sex, Disability and the Ethics of Engagement (with Jens Rydström, Duke University Press, 2014).

    Misty Luminais, PhD. is currently a Research Associate and Project Coordinator for the Voicing and Action Project at Case Western Reserve University. As a cultural anthropologist, her areas of expertise include urban studies, gender, sexuality, public health, and ethnography. Her contribution is drawn from her dissertation, which focuses on how sexuality is used to both resist and reinforce hegemonic ideals of embodiment. Her other work focuses on the material culture, ritual, and morality of queer practices.

    Josephine Ngo McKelvy is a graduate student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her research interests include gender, family, the life course, and identity. She is currently a research assistant with Voices into Action (a USDA grant to conduct research on families, food, and health) with co-author Dr. Sinikka Elliott.

    Stella Meningkat graduated from Buffalo State College with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Women, Gender and Diversity Studies. She currently works as an organizer for an affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. Stella is also the founding member of the Young Feminists of Buffalo and works diligently on local and national campaigns to achieve equality for all. Stella thanks her family, friends and colleagues for all of the support and guidance. She would also like to say a special and heartfelt thank you to her two beautiful children and loving partner for giving her the strength and love to make this world a brighter place.

    Jamie L. Mullaney is associate professor and chair in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Goucher College. In addition to numerous journal articles, she is the author of two books: Everyone is NOT Doing It: Abstinence and Personal Identity (University of Chicago Press, 2006) and Paid to Party: Working Time and Emotion in Direct Home Sales (with Janet Shope, Rutgers University Press, 2012). Her research interests and projects largely focus around issues of time, emotion, and identity.

    John P. is a recent graduate of the State University of New York, College at Buffalo, where he studied journalism and sociology. His academic interests include group-dynamics, micro-aggressions, and sociolinguistics. His research was presented at a recent conference sponsored by the New York State Sociological Association. Currently he resides in Buffalo, NY, where he is a columnist for numerous local publications. In his spare time John is active in the LGBT community and presently doing independent research on the high rates of HIV infection among African-American gay men.

    Giselle Ridgeway received her BA in Psychology from Buffalo State College and is currently working towards a PhD in Transnational Studies at the University at Buffalo. Giselle is a two time recipient of the SUNY Chancellor's Award. She is a former McNair scholar and a current Arthur Schomburg Fellow. Her current research interests include transgender rights and transgender feminism in multinational contexts.

    Susie Scott is a Reader in Sociology at the University of Sussex, UK, with research interests in self-identity and interaction, Goffman's dramaturgical theory, and symbolic interactionism. She is the author of Shyness and Society (Palgrave 2007), Making Sense of Everyday Life (Polity 2009) and Total Institutions and Reinvented Identities (Palgrave 2011). She has also published empirical research articles on topics including shyness and social interaction, identities in mental health, total institutions, and swimming pool behaviour.

    Elisabeth Sheff has a BA in modern dance, women's studies, and communications (California State University Sonoma 1994) and a PhD in Sociology (University of Colorado Boulder 2005), as well as certifications as a Guardian Ad Litem (Fulton County Georgia) and a Certified Sex Educator (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists). She is a noted sociological researcher in the areas of intersecting identities and relational diversity. CEO and Senior Legal Consultant for Sheff Consulting Group, Sheff is an expert witness, continuing educator, and educational/legal advocate for sexual minorities. She is the author of The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families, a summary of her 15-year longitudinal study of polyamorous families published by Rowman and Littelfield.

    Brandy L. Simula is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at Emory University. Her research focuses on the intersections of gender, sexuality, and power in interaction. Her publications include “Does Bisexuality ‘Undo’ Gender?: Gender, Sexuality, and Bisexual Behavior Among BDSM Participants” Journal of Bisexuality (2012) and “Queer Utopias in Painful Spaces: BDSM Participants Resisting Heteronormativity and Gender Regulation” in Somewhere Over the Rainbow: A Critical Inquiry into Queer Utopias (2013).

    J. Edward Sumerau is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Tampa. Zir teaching and research focuses on the intersection of sexualities, gender, religion, and health in the lives of religious and sexual minorities and in relation to shifting historical and cultural patterns of social organization.

    Beverly Yuen Thompson is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Siena College. She earned her MA and PhD from the New School for Social Research in New York City. She also earned a Master's Degree in Women's Studies from San Diego State University, where she studied the intersections of gender, race and sexuality. She is also a documentary filmmaker.

    Dennis D. Waskul is Professor of Sociology at Minnesota State University Mankato. He has conducted numerous empirical studies on various forms of cybersex, authored the book Self-Games and Body-Play (Peter Lang 2003) and edited net.SeXXX (Peter Lang 2004). He has also published extensively in the sociology of the body, including his co-authored books Body/Embodiment (Ashgate 2006) and The Senses in Self, Culture, and Society (Routledge 2011).

    D J Williams, PhD is the Director of Research for the Center for Positive Sexuality in Los Angeles and the Director of Social Work at Idaho State University. His research focuses on specific topics related to deviant leisure, alternative sexualities, and leisure and crime relationships, and his work has been published in numerous academic journals and books.

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