Sex as a normalising technology: early-twentieth-century public sex education campaigns

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Stephens, E 2010, 'Sex as a normalising technology: early-twentieth-century public sex education campaigns', Psychology & Sexuality, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 262-274.

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This article examines the conceptual interdependence of sexuality and normality. It begins with an interrogation of the widespread association of queer studies and practice with, in Judith Halberstam's words, ‘nonnormative logics and organisations of community, sexual identity, embodiment, and activity’. To contextualise this, the article traces the historical circumstances in which normality and sexuality emerge contemporaneously, as mutually reinforcing aspects of what Foucault has termed the disciplinary society. This article considers the ongoing impact of this history by taking as its focus the development of a public discourse about sex in the public education campaigns about venereal disease in the early-twentieth-century USA. In so doing, it aims to problematise assumptions with contemporary queer theory that ‘normative’ sexuality itself represents a stable status quo against which queer's celebration of the fluid and contingent can be unproblematically contrasted, by demonstrating the volatility of the sexual ‘norm’ itself.

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