Postmodern Sexualities Essay

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Sexuality is often located within various epochs -classic, premodern, modern, and the like – and the most recent stage has been controversially identified as ”postmodern.” Here human sexualities are not seen as well-fashioned patterns, solid identities, grand truths, or essential natures.

In contrast, new social accounts of sexualities usually offer up more modest, constructed, and fragmented narratives of sexualities. For example, those found in the modern sexological world – from Freud to sexology – try to develop scientifically a knowledge of sexuality. Such views have haunted much of the modern world’s analysis of sexuality, seeing it as an autonomous sphere of reality. For postmoderns this is a deeply flawed idea: ”sex” is no longer the source of a truth, as it was for the moderns with their strong belief in science. Instead, according to William Simon in Postmodern Sexualities (1996), human sexualities have become ”destabilized, decentred and de-essentialized.” Sexual life is no longer seen as harboring an essential unitary core locatable within a clear framework with an essential truth waiting to be discovered; instead it is partial and fragmented, with little grand design or form. Indeed, it is ”accompanied by the problematic at every stage.” As he argues: ”all discourses of sexuality are inherently discourses about something else; sexuality, rather than serving as a constant thread that unifies the totality of human experience, is the ultimate dependent variable, requiring explanation more often than it provides explanation.”

Human sexualities, then, are always more than ”just human sexualities.” They overlap with, and are omnipresent in, all of social life. At the simplest level, the proliferation of fragmented and diversifying sexualities is marked by rapid changes and fluidity. It is also marked by a high level of openness, or as Anthony Giddens, in The Transformation of Society (1992), calls it, a plastic sexuality” in which it is no longer tied so strongly to biology. Sexualities are fluid; in the words of Zygmunt Bauman (2003), there is ”liquid love.”


  1. Bauman, Z. (2003) Liquid Love: On the Facility of Human Bonds. Polity Press, Cambridge.
  2. Queen, C. & Schimel, L. (1997) Pomosexuals: Challenging Assumptions about Gender and Sexuality. Cleis Press, San Francisco, CA.

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