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Regulating Sex and Sexuality


Module description

In this module we offer an overview of an important area of criminological, sociological and cultural study, which considers shifting patterns of regulation of sex, sexuality and intimacy.

Since the 1970s, scholars have argued that the regulation and control of sex, sexuality and personal intimacy is a key form of both formal and informal social regulation. This area has also been highly influential in rethinking criminological theories of power, offending and victimisation through feminist and queer challenges to orthodox understandings of these concepts. We will explore that insight through examining connections between informal and formal areas of social control, resistance to such control, and shifting debates about appropriate areas for state regulation, within the context of social and theoretical debates, and paying attention to issues of sexuality, gender, race and class in how different societies seek to order and regulate sexual intimacy.

We will engage with debates around the regulation of sexual identities and relationships, and examine topics such as shifting notions of consent, youth sexuality and new technologies (such as sexting), commercial sexual relationships, moral panics around sex and sexuality, regulation of commercial sex and the regulation of sexual behaviours within public or potentially public contexts.

Indicative syllabus

  • Thinking critically about sex, intimacy and social regulation
  • Pleasure and danger: feminist and queer debates about sex and social control
  • The regulation of sexual deviants and deviance: acts and identities
  • Moral panics and sexual folk devils
  • Private/Public divides: regulating family and marital relationships
  • Young people, sexual expression and criminalisation: sexting
  • The concept of the ‘grey area’: consent, relationships and violence
  • Legalisation, decriminalisation and abolition: feminist debates on commercial sex
  • Changing acceptable sexual behaviour? Affirmative consent and other campaigns around sexual violence

Learning objectives

By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • identify key areas of debate around the regulation of sex and sexuality, and central concepts from feminist and queer theory
  • understand key concepts related to the regulation of sex and sexuality from feminist and queer theory
  • analyse and assess arguments around sexual freedom, privacy, state intervention and intimate and gendered violence
  • analyse and assess connections between informal and formal sources of social control
  • appreciate the social, historical, political, cultural and economic contexts of recent trends in the regulation of sex and sexuality
  • identify the strengths and weaknesses of criminological perspectives to understanding issues around the regulation of sex and sexuality
  • engage with different theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches to understand their purposes, functions and effects
  • cultivate a critical stance by posing thoughtful questions, carefully interrogating assumptions and considering alternative perspectives
  • appreciate the importance of social and cultural contexts for understanding social policy and practice.