Data Type: Journal Article

Medicine and the making of a sexual body

Roberts, C. (2007). Medicine and the making of a sexual body. In S. Seidman, N. Fischer & C. Meeks (Eds.), Introducing the new sexuality studies: Original essays and interviews (1st Ed., pp. 81-89). New York, NY: Routledge.

This chapter explores the innate links between sex and medicine in Western society. It illustrates the history of the medicalization of sexuality, beginning with works from Foucault, and moving on through historical events (such as the invention of Viagra). After a lengthy historical discussion of the history of sex and medicine, Roberts suggests that the rampant medicalization of sexuality has both positive and negative implications.

This chapter does utilize specific quantitative or qualitative research method. Rather, the work is theoretical and historical in nature. The chapter provides support for the idea that medicine and sex are linked by laying out a historical genealogy organized by subject matter. Roberts relies upon historical issues of sexual identities (noting that daily sexual terms we use, such as “libido”, come from a medical setting), sexual biologies and pathologies (suggesting that gender has often been predominantly considered a biological binary between maleness and femaleness), sexual reproduction (and the rise of birth control), and sexual diseases (paying special attention to concerns about AIDS) in order to examine the history and extent of the medicalization of sexuality. Roberts ultimately suggests that while the medicalization of sexuality may help individuals have “safer” and more pleasurable sex, it simultaneously problematizes and essentializes a series of diversity sexual identities. This may result in individuals who are unnecessarily “treated” for “problems” that are largely socially constructed. For this reason, Roberts suggests that studying the diversity of sexual identities is better suited to social science than medicine.

This chapter is relevant to the literature on sexuality in the sense that it suggests that in Western society, sexuality and the medical model are extremely closely linked. This work elucidates the sheer volume of literature on sexuality and medicine, as it suggests that in contemporary times, it is almost impossible to separate issues of sexuality from issues of medicalization. Part of the reason for this is that sexuality is now regulated medically rather than morally— for example, people in the West are more likely to ask a doctor about a sexual “problem” than a priest, or they are more likely to fix sexual problems with hormone replacement therapies or pills (e.g. Viagra). This has important implications for research in the field of sexuality—as it suggests that parsing sexuality from its medical implications will be difficult at best. Moreover, the article suggests that because of medicine’s prominence in describing and sometimes over-simplifying sexuality, social science has the important role of examining sexual diversity, even if it is difficult to parse.

Categories: Medical Sociology, Queer Theory/Sexuality Studies
Publication Date: 2007