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social sciences

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Sexual Citizenship  
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The concept of sexual citizenship was introduced in 1993 by David T. Evans. He wanted to amend social-constructionist theories of sexuality to underline the material foundation of sexualities from a neo-Marxist perspective. Nowadays, the concept, which has been developed mostly in Great Britain, is primarily used to draw attention to the political aspects of erotics and the sexual component of politics.

While one traditionally thinks of sexual expressions to be natural phenomena and private matters, they also have cultural and public aspects. Post-modernism, gender studies, and theory break down such dichotomies as culture/nature and public/private. Such is certainly true of sexual citizenship.

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The concept of sexual citizenship bridges the private and public, and stresses the cultural and political sides of sexual expression. Sexual privacy cannot exist without open sexual cultures. Homosexuality might be consummated in the bedroom, but first partners must be found in the public space of streets, bars, and media such as newspapers and the internet.

Citizens have been defined in classical liberal theory as adult males operating in a free market. These men were seen abstractly, without sexuality or body. Using a broader concept of citizenship, however, its cultural, ethnic, gendered, and sexual facets can be emphasized. Citizens have genders, sexualities, and bodies that matter in politics. The rights of free expression, bodily autonomy, institutional inclusion, and spatial themes are all pertinent to the concept of sexual citizenship.

Free Sexual Expression

The right of free sexual expression especially concerns marginalized groups, such as women and sexual minorities. Many girls and women are dependent on fathers, husbands, or other figures of male authority, while gay men and lesbians are often condemned to the silence of the closet. They generally lack the civic right to express their sexual longings and experiences and are denied access to the media to do so.

Free expression of sexuality means that the public sphere, from schools to politics, cannot continue to be the privileged domain of male heterosexuality that it was in the past and mostly is in the present.

Pornography is a contested field of free expression. According to some, it is rooted in the exploitation of women and minors. Others, however, defend it as a legitimate form of sexual self-expression as long as the rights of the involved persons are respected, as in other domains of labor.

A special issue is age of consent. Countries have stipulated very different ages of consent in law, often restricting the erotic expression of "minors" and demonizing adults who violate the age boundary. At various times, some places had no age of consent, while others set it somewhere between 11 and 27 years, at the beginning of puberty or the time of marriage. Different limits were set for different activities, for example homo/heterosexual, married/unmarried, paid/unpaid.

Another issue concerns hate speech. Physicians, orthodox Christian, or Muslim leaders sometimes use the freedom of expression to attack gay men and lesbians by calling them sick, criminal, or worse than pigs or dogs. This name-calling is not only offensive to sexual minorities, but it affects their psychic and social well-being. It keeps a tradition of civic rejection alive. To curtail such insults, some states have created hate-speech laws.


Sexual citizenship also refers to embodiment. For women, it includes reproductive and contraceptive rights. It protects individual decisions in regard to birth control and abortion. For gay men and lesbians, embodiment concerns the freedom to engage in various kinds of sexual acts that may be prohibited by national and local authorities.

Criminal laws restrain access to sexuality by forbidding certain acts, restricting information, and banning imagery; by imposing ages of consent; or by making certain groups dependent on the authority of others. Public indecency laws, especially when they are selectively enforced, are typically used to proscribe erotic pleasure to gay men.

Medicine has added to bodily disempowerment by defining certain sexual practices as pathological, as it did with homosexuality and masturbation, and continues to do with other "paraphilias" (formerly called perversions) in the various updated diagnostic manuals of the psychiatric profession.

The medical profession has sometimes refused lesbians access to reproductive technologies because of their sexual preference. It has also attempted to impose unnecessary circumcision of boys.

The prevalence of various sexually transmitted diseases, in particular AIDS, have raised questions of access to medical care and pharmaceutical products, to accurate sex education, and to condoms. Denial of medical care, education, and protection endangers the lives of many sexually active people, both gay and straight.

Gender performance is another issue of sexual citizenship. It includes such aspects as sex reassignment surgery, gender transgression, and body transformation. Social reactions to gender deviant behavior often induce various kinds of violence and lead to the denial of basic rights, as, for example, the right to change sex legally.

Operations on intersexual children have been discussed in terms of genital mutilation. Desired body transformations for reasons of erotic pleasure have, on the other hand, been withheld. Laws, regulations, medical practices, and social prejudices continue to inhibit bodily expressions of sexual and gender variation.

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