Sex, Truth and Audio Tape: Shifting identities on a changing sexual landscape

It's often been said that everything in the world is about sex, except sex itself — sex is about power. So what are we to make of today's sexual landscape, where we see the most diverse range of orientations and expressions of sexuality in history? Lesbian, gay, queer, cis, pansexual, leather daddies, stone butch, asexual... the list keeps growing. And there is entrenched push-back against that expansion. So who gets to say what about whom? And as the sexuality landscape broadens, what will it mean?
Members of the LGBTQ community show off their colourful costumes prior to the 2016 Montreal Pride Parade. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)
Listen to the full episode53:59

It's often been said that everything in the world is about sex, except sex itself — sex is about power. So what are we to make of today's sexual landscape, where we see the most diverse range of orientations and expressions of sexuality in history? Lesbian, gay, queer, cis, pansexual, leather daddies, stone butch, asexual... the list keeps growing.  And there is entrenched push-back against that expansion. So who gets to say what about whom? And as the sexuality landscape broadens, what will it mean? Part 1 of a 2-part series. Part 2 airs Wednesday, November 1.

Sex educator Heather Elizabeth says sex doesn't have to be complicated but on a cultural level, there are many seen and unseen forces at work. 2:04


Provocative intellectual Camille Paglia believes transgender groups helped get Donald Trump elected because of their activism on bathroom access.  A Brazilian judge sparks outrage when he approves gay conversion therapy. An Australian group calling itself, "Straight Lives Matter" rallies against same-sex marriage. In Ontario some parents bitterly fought an updated sex education curriculum that included information on gender fluidity and sexting. Developmental psychologist and sex educator Liz Powell says, "if we're being real with ourselves, the sexual landscape has always, to some degree, been a public battleground."  

Liz Powell, developmental psychologist and sex educator.
Currently we are living through the greatest public expression of sexual diversity in our history. "When you think of the acronym LGBT, now it's grown to LGBTQ PLUS — the acronym is growing longer to accommodate so many varied types, and this creates strain and push-back", says Cambridge-based sex empowerment coach, Leslie Waye. What is the source of this push-back? Liz Powell thinks we are witnessing a new kind of civil rights movement and just like in previous times, when that happens, social anxieties grow. "What we tend to see when there's progress forward is a back-lash against it — blame is a difficult question here. Economically there's a lot of anxiety and when we zoom way out people realize that the game is one that is rigged against all of us except for those who are the very richest ... and the way that our societies are structured creates an utterly unattainable ideal for the vast majority of people, and on this new frontier where what it means to be a man or a woman or a person or queer ... all of these things are shifting and changing ... that produces anxiety."  

Ph.D candidate Jessica Wood.
Traditionally, sexuality research has been viewed as "less than" according to Jessica Wood. She's a Ph.D candidate at the University of Guelph and is studying sexual minorities, like consensual non-monogamy. She says the subject can be very threatening to people. "When I've presented research on consensual non-monogamy, people raise their hand and ask me, are you an activist? Do you partake in consensual non-monogamy? Very personal questions that wouldn't be asked if you were studying monogamous or romantic heterosexual relationships".  

Sex educator, Heather Elizabeth.
It's been said that everything in the world is about sex except for sex. Sex is about power. Toronto-based sex educator Heather Elizabeth likes to quote Michel Foucault: "We see power and we see control and this manipulation of how we ought to be. Foucault talked about the idea of biopolitics, all the invisible things that direct us into what we should be doing and how our bodies ought to be behaving. And I think we see a lot of this in sexuality." Heather Elizabeth says in some ways we're deeply messed up about sex — sort of. "Sexuality becomes messy when we don't have the language and nuances to talk about it. We want to solve sexual assault but it's complicated and we're not good at complexity." 


Guests in this episode:
  • Leslie Waye is a restorative justice practitioner and a sexual empowerment coach. She lives in Cambridge, Ontario.   
  • Liz Powell is a developmental psychologist and sex educator based in San Francisco.
  • Jessica Wood is a Ph.D candidate in the Applied Social Psychology Program at the University of Guelph.
  • Heather Elizabeth is a sexuality educator and sexual empowerment coach based in Toronto.


Further reading: 

  • Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, published by Seal Press, Berkeley California, 2008.  
  • Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive by Julia Serano, published by Seal Press, Berkeley California,  2013. 
  • Virginity or Death! And other Social and Political Issues of Our Time by Katha Pollitt, published by Random House, New York,  2006.
  • Whipping Girl:  A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano, Seal Press, Emeryville CA, 2007.
  • The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown,  Hazelden Publishing, New York, 2010. 
  • American Savage: Insights, Slights and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love and Politics by Dan Savage, 
  • Marriage, Sexuality and Gender by Robin West, Paradigm Publishers,  New York, New York, 2007.
  • Naked at Our Age, Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex by Joan Price. Seal Press, 2011.
  • Healing Sex: A Mind Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma, by Staci Haines, Cleis Press, 2007. 
  • How to be a Person: The Stranger's Guide to College, Sex, Intoxicants, Tacos and Life Itself by Dan Savage, Sasquatch Books, 2012.
     

Related websites:

**This episode was produced by Mary O'Connell.

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