Data Type: Journal Article

Sex(ualities) and symbolic interaction

Waskul, D. D., & Plante, R. F. (2010). Sex(ualities) and symbolic interaction. Symbolic Interaction, 33(2), 148-162.

In the special issue of Symbolic Interaction focusing on Sex(ualities), this article briefly points out the complexities of “sex.” More specifically, it begins to explore the following questions: “What is sexuality? Isn’t sex something to be kept private? What does it mean to talk about sexualities in the plural? What is sex—(how) is it different from sexuality? What does it mean to argue that sexualities are socially constructed?” (149). The authors consider some of these questions by examining current interactionist scholarship on sexuality, and consider what is and what is not being done in the field of symbolic interactionism regarding sex. They conclude by framing the essays and articles in terms of the current interactionist sexualities scholarship, and then reflect on what interactionists can and should do in the future (as of 2010).

Because it is an introductory piece in a special issue of Symbolic Interaction, this article is largely a theoretical overview of the literature on sex and sexualities. After a brief review of existing literature (and mentions of the articles included in the special edition itself), the authors suggest that more work needs to be done in qualitative, critical and interpretive empirical approaches to the study of sexuality. Because much sexological research focuses on the biological factors of sex and sexuality, the authors suggest that sex(uality) studies can particularly benefit from an interactionist approach. This is because the cultural contexts, social scripts, and personal interpretations of sex and sexuality (areas particularly well-suited to qualitative methods focused on individual interactions) do not receive enough attention in the literature. Moreover, the work that focuses on personal interpretations of sex(uality) tends to focus on established sites of “deviancy” (e.g., stripping, minority sexual identities, etc.). Yet, Waskul and Plante suggest that much can be learned from in-depth studies of “normal” sexuality, and the way that those in the “majority group” (e.g., white heterosexuals) make sense of sex and sexuality on a daily basis.

This article contributes to the sociology of sexuality and to symbolic interactionism because it highlights the gaps in the literature on sex and sexuality and shows the niches that future projects (especially interactionist ones) could fill. The authors argue that some important research directions (as of the early 2010s) may include research on heterosexuality, more diverse (and perhaps “less extreme”) types of deviancy (not just that of sex workers, for example), and sexual technologies (such as vibrators). Moreover, they suggest that each of these areas of study could be positively influenced by an interactionist approach, because such an in-depth qualitative approach can offer new insights on how sex and sexualities are interpreted by the individuals that engage with them on a daily basis.

Categories: Qualitative Methods, Queer Theory/Sexuality Studies, Symbolic Interaction
Publication Date: 2010