Diablog #3 Follow up entry: Erotophobia

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When reading Wilkerson's essay "Disability, Sex Radicalism, and Political Agency," I found it hard to understand "erotophobia" probably because I had never heard of it until this past week. So, I had to do a little more research to really understand what it meant. I found that there is a vague distinction between erotophobia and cultural erotophobia. Erotophobia on an individual level can be defined as "the fear of sexual love or sexual questions" (according to an article on living.oneindia.in, where individual erotophobia is explained further). I began to ask myself, why do individuals fear sex? Here are some answers I came up with: previous negative experience/emotional trauma; fear that sex in the media will corrupt children; fear that sex will lead to shame or emotional hurt; fear of contracting STDs; embarrassment, ridicule, or judgement; lose individual purity; and fear that sex or lack thereof will end a relationship. Cultural erotophobia, on the other hand, is "not merely a general taboo against open discussions of sexuality, and displays of sexual behavior, but a very effective means of creating and maintaining social hierarchies, not only those of sexuality, but those of gender, race, class, age, and physical and mental ability" (Wilkerson, 41).

A simple way to understand this concept is that individual erotophobia (for whatever reason it occurs) leads to cultural erotophobia in an attempt to establish widely accepted cultural norms or morals. I think that there is nothing wrong with having morals, but the line is crossed when individuals try to inflict their morals on others, and this contributes to erotophobia.

I am still having some trouble with understanding why erotophobia exists and is so effective in creating the hierarchies of sex practices. Sex is in our faces everywhere we go--the media makes sex so normal, it has started to lose its shock factor, which is why ads and commercials are becoming even more sexualized. So why are we so afraid of sex if we are constantly surrounded by sexual content? Do you think erotophobia will fade out if sexual messages in the media continue to increase? Will the effort to lessen sex in the media lead to an increase in erotophobia?

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I think you raise some great questions here. While I am also not that familiar with the term "erotophobia," I can say that Wilkerson is taking it directly from Cindy Patton and Patton's discussion of it in her book, Sex and Germs: The politics of AIDS. She has a chapter entitled "Erotophobia: Practices and Desires." So the idea of a fear of sex (even on the individual level) that Wilkerson is invoking can be read in terms of how AIDS generated an intense fear--a panic--about what sex does. Early queer thinking and acting (starting in the 80s) was done in the shadow of and in response to AIDS and to how the threat of getting/spreading AIDS led to a panic that contributed to the dehumanizing of gay and lesbian communities. Here are just 2 examples of queer activist groups that mobilized against AIDS based erotophobia: ACT UP and Queer Nation.

In terms of understanding how/why sex can be so pervasive in popular media even while we are afraid of sex, there are all sorts of ways we could go about unpacking that apparent contradiction. One good place to start is to think about the difference between sex as erotic and sex as pornographic. Audre Lorde (remember her? We discussed her mythical norm a few weeks ago here) has a great, and very well-known, essay entitled, "Erotic as Power" in Sister Outsider. Lorde distinguishes between the erotic and the pornographic. I might try to fit it into our reading schedule after break because it is such an important essay, one that might help to expand and clarify our understandings of how sex and power work.

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