Course:ANTH213/2024/topic/Love and Intimacy

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Pride Parade 2013, by GoToVan, via Wikimedia Commons


Love and intimacy are rarely as personal as they appear. Feminist scholars have emphasied that instead, they have and continue to be a means of sociopolitical purposes, constituting “a cultural production: [they] represent the appropriation of the human body and of its physiological capacities by an ideological discourse. Sexuality is not a somatic fact; it is a cultural effect.”[1] Since the onset of colonialism, many ways of forming love and intimacy have been systematically erased and dismissed, resulting in a narrow contemporary view on what is considered as natural or normative. Two most widespread and reinforced cross-cultural assumptions are conceptualized as heteronormativity, or rather the assumption that heterosexuality is the natural human condition, and mononormativity, which describes monogamy as the only right relationship structure. Alternatives to these ways of relating are in turn condemned as deviant, and have thus informed their surrounding cultural discourse. As a response, queer feminist scholars are increasingly deconstructing and destigmatizing these notions through a decolonial lens.

The non-normative forms of love and intimacy illustrated in this page can be considered as an ongoing effort to challenge the prevalence of colonial ideologies through showcasing that these normative ways of relating are just one of many ways to form meaningful connections. The possibilities for love and intimacy are as diverse as humanity itself.

Same-Sex Relationships

Same-sex relationships occur within a wide variety of cultural and historical contexts; the practice of engaging in a same-sex relationship therefore entails any number of shared or divergent experiences. Individuals who participate in same-sex relationships may hold intersecting or diverging sexual identities that inform their experiences. Individuals who participate in same-sex relationships may use any number of terms to define their attraction and relationship practices, including but not limited to gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual and queer. People with non-normative genders and sexualities are often referred to with the 2SLGBTQ+ acronym, which encapsulates 2-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, and other related identities. Queer communities of colour have developed their own terms to better encompass intersecting experiences of racialization and sexual diversity. For example, Black Americans coined the acronym SGL[2] ("same gender loving") to express non-heterosexual experiences of attraction without relying on terminology drawn from European frameworks. The queer Indigenous communities of Turtle Island have similarly developed terms such as 2-Spirit and indigiqueer to better describe the intersection of Indigeneity with sexual and gender diversity[3].

Same-sex relationships have been documented across human civilization since time immemorial. Prior to contact with Western Europeans, over 80 Indigenous nations recognized same-sex relations in positive terms[4]. Indigenous modes of gender and sexuality conflicted with Christian European norms of gender and sexual relations. Colonial knowledge-makers placed European norms at the centre of civilized society, which all other societies should seek to emulate. With the imposition of colonial attitudes came European models of gender. European frameworks placed gender within a binary patriarchal hierarchy, wherein masculinity is associated with power in all domains, and femininity functions to complement and serve masculinity. This framework is enabled through heterosexism: a system of attitudes, behaviours, and practices which frame heterosexuality as the only normative means of sexual and romantic relations. Colonial projects on Turtle Island sought to eradicate Indigenous ways of being, including normalization of same-sex relations, and instead assimilate Indigenous peoples into heterosexist modes of relating.

Assimilation would remain a relevant theme in the gay rights movements of the 20th and 21st centuries as gay communities negotiated their place within a heteronormative society. Queer organization in North America developed with the establishment of “gay villages” in large cities as sites of community building and relationship formation. The unique gendered demands of World War II facilitated further opportunities for gay relationship formation in military and work sites[5]. However, as gay and lesbian veterans returned from war, emerging discourses framed homosexuality as a mental illness and danger to social order. These attitudes informed institutional repression of homosexuality throughout the early and mid-20th century. It is within the context of this repression that gay liberation movements grew across the Western world. Gays and lesbians began to organize in small, underground groups known as homophiles[5], with a shared goal of achieving civil equality and legal rights for homosexuals. The homophile movement emphasized the similarities between homosexual and heterosexual peoples as a means of negotiating space within dominant social structures. The 1960s saw the rise of queer action informed by the African American civil rights movement, particularly in proud and unapologetic expressions of identity. With this came an increase in collectivist protest, leading up to the Stonewall Riots in 1969. During a police raid at New York City's Stonewall Inn, bar patrons defended themselves and resisted arrest in what would grow into a weekend-long protest against criminalized homosexuality. While these actions were headed primarily by gender-nonconforming queer people of colour, it was the cultural and capital resources of white, cisgender gay men that turned Stonewall into a catalyst for broader queer organization throughout the 1970s[5], with a renewed focus on civil rights and protection against discrimination.

The emergence of AIDS, a disease that affected not only those who engaged in same-sex relations but also people who engaged in sex work or intravenous drug use, brought about significant change in LGBTQ+ activism. Governments and health institutions viewed AIDS as a "gay disease," a consequence of living an immoral lifestyle[5]. When social institutions refused to address the AIDS epidemic, activists organized to demand that the state fulfill its responsibility to its citizens. AIDS activist groups such as ACT UP were not only sites of political organization, but of community building and relationship formation for gay people. ACT UP members note that meetings were also popular sites for cruising[6], the practice of men seeking out other men to engage in casual sex. The risk of transmitting AIDS during sex, paired with an active cruising scene, created a push for safer sexual practices such as regular condom use, which were later adopted by public health bodies[6]. After years of organization, civil disobedience, and popular media campaigns, AIDS activists succeeded in forcing the state to provide those living with AIDS with medical care and social supports. Through these government partnerships, queer AIDS activists were able to build community centres focusing on the specific needs of individuals who engage in same-sex relationships. These new professionalized queer spaces grew separately from AIDS activism to demand the legal and social inclusion of same-sex relations within dominant social structures. As queer activist organizations became increasingly legitimized by the state, they became platforms for the most privileged members of the LGBTQ+ community; white, cisgender men with capital. This activism focused largely on the issue of same-sex marriage, which dominated discourses of queer rights throughout the 1990s and into the early 21st century[7]. The fight for same-sex marriage was thus conflated with a broader acceptance of same-sex relations. Legalization of same-sex marriage soon became a marker of liberal democracy in the global North, implying a just and inclusive society.

As gay liberation became a tenet of democracy, it also became a means of justifying colonial projects. Where homosexuality had once excluded Indigenous communities from "civilized" society, policies prohibiting same-sex relations now marked them as oppressive regimes in need of Western liberal reform. Pinkwashing refers to a state strategy of promoting LGBTQ+ rights as proof of the state's liberalism to distract from or justify violence against another community. In seeking to liberate colonized peoples from heterosexism, pinkwashing fails to address its historical context. Contemporary examples of pinkwashing include Israel's marketing of the Israeli Defence Force as "the world's most moral army," which purports to liberate queer Palestinians from their state's oppressive laws. Current anti-gay laws in Palestine do not stem from Palestinian norms, but rather the legacy of British occupation[8]. Colonized queer activists argue that pinkwashing silences domestic queer rights movements and fragments racialized queer identities by framing queerness as incompatible with ethnic identity. Colonial hierarchies of sexuality do not exist in a vacuum, but rather intersect with other means of social regulation such as race. Colonial heterosexism sought to erase Indigenous models of gender and sexuality, rendering lived experience invisible. Queer communities of colour have pushed back against this erasure by creating new terms to capture their experiences[9]. Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island coined the term "2-Spirit," which encompasses non-normative gender and sexuality centered in Indigenous ways of being[10]. Others have gravitated towards the term "indigiqueer" as a means of self-determination outside of colonial frameworks. While 2-Spirit is based in anthropological context, indigiqueer aims to move away from the historic and into contemporary ways of being[3], which includes the normalization of same-sex relationships. Through self-definition, queer communities of colour create futures wherein their lived experiences are recognized, normalized, and celebrated.

Trans and Genderqueer Intimacy

Transgender and genderqueer people represent a challenge to the existing system of cis-heteronormativity and oppose sex-based conceptions of gender, in that they reject the bioessential determinism of assigned sex-gender in favour of uncovering their identity for themselves.[11][12] Trans and genderqueer people often face stigma from those outside of their community who find this rejection uncomfortable, who may even be intimate partners and, consequently, many trans people shy away from entering into relationships with cisgendered partners.[13] Relationships between two or more trans* people are sometimes colloquially known as ‘Trans for Trans’ or ‘T4T;’ in which ‘trans*’ can refer to a variety of gendered minorities, including binary transgender people, genderqueer people and other non-normatively gendered people.[14] This term can refer to a wide variety of relationship ‘styles,’ existing along the interconnected spectrums of monogamy and consensual non-monogamy, asexuality/romanticism and allosexuality/romanticism, and queerness.

Transgender Pride Flag, by Monica Helms, via Wikimedia Commons

Many trans people experience difficulties with entering romantic and sexual relationships, from initial struggle of feeling unworthy of love, to feeling as though their identity is less authentic when engaged with cisgender partners. In an intimate setting, some younger or newly realized trans people may tolerate being misgendered by cis partners, as though it were a “consequence of being trans;” an unfortunate side-effect of their identity, rather than a failing on the part of their partner.[13] Experiences with transphobic sentiments led to him creating a divide in their mind, between spaces where they are authentically themselves—with other trans people—and spaces where they are only ‘pretending’ to be—with cis people.[13] Trans people may feel able to request that trans partners use certain terms to describe parts of their bodies without feeling as though they are asking too much, that there “was a mutual respect for each other’s genders, gender expression and bodies” which allows them to better find what they want out of sexual relationships.[13]

Part of this difficulty in understanding sex as a trans person may be due to a lack of proper education on the topic of trans intimacy. School sexuality education typically discusses straight cisgendered relationships and may briefly touch on cisgendered gay/lesbian relationships, but generally ignores other sexual or gendered subjectivities.[15] Standard sexual health education rarely discusses the needs of transgender people; dominant discourses pathologize and sexualize transgender people, combined with general narratives of childhood innocence and sexual health education ‘corrupting’ the youth, has led to a drought of education and knowledge about transgender sexuality and relationships.[16]

Despite the grouping of transgender, genderqueer and intersex in the acronym of ‘LGBTQI’ and its various forms, these identifiers reflect one’s relationship with gender rather than sexual subjectivities.[17] The ‘LGBT+’ community and acronym blend gendered and sexual subjectivities to better reflect the group’s collective interests and signify their “community as sexual and gendered minorities.”[18]

While ‘transgender’ and ‘genderqueer’ describe a person’s gendered subjectivities, there is a vast spectrum of sexual subjectivities among trans and genderqueer people. Common understandings of relationships frequently base themselves on sex essential perspectives, in which relationships are to be defined by the sexes of the people involved, rather than their identities. The terms ‘opposite-sex’ and ‘same-sex’ are used to describe straight and gay relationships and are expected to describe most forms of intimacy, even if. Framing intimate relationships as being between specific sexes flatten genderqueer and intersex people into categories that have been assigned to them by others, just as many of them had been at birth.[19] Many trans and genderqueer people identify with labels like ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ and many identify with terms like ‘queer,’ ‘pansexual’ and ‘bisexual.’[20][21] There also exists a substantial community of genderqueer intersex people; while many intersex people identify along the gender binary—though this may or may not coincide with their assigned sex at birth—many have found that non/extrabinary identities more adequately reflect them, rather than the categories that were debated for them at birth.[22]

Genderqueer Pride Flag, by Marilyn Roxie, via Wikimedia Commons

The labels ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ lean on the same gender binary that many genderqueer people outright reject, as they imply the gender of both the speaker and their partner(s), while terms like bisexual and pansexual avoid this.[23] Many genderqueer people have struggled with identifying terminology that they feel accurately describes themselves and sexual subjectivities.[24] Though genderqueer people are more likely to identify with sexual labels that do not reflect gendered language, some still identify with labels like ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’, as they feel it reflects their complex relationship with gender, expression and the related subcommunities.[25]

Some genderqueer and transgender people find greater acceptance communities other than general LGBTQ communities, whether in sexual subcommunities—such as poly groups or other ‘non-standard’ sexual communities—or in queer/ethnic subcommunities—like queer-PoC groups, i.e., Indigenous Two-Spirit communities.[26] Queer and trans Indigenous communities conceptualize being Two-Spirit differently than cisgender and heterosexual communities, as non-queer Indigenous people tend to assume that a ‘Two-Spirit’ identity pertains solely to one’s sexuality, lumping together gender and sexuality in a manner that is common from non-queer communities.[10] As a term, ‘Two-Spirit’ is extremely loose definitionally, every Two-Spirit individual will have their own conceptualization of what it means, in part because of the complex history that the term is attempting to encompass.[27]

Genderqueer and transgender individuals are “forced to choose between key identities or needs" in their day to day lives.[28] Trans and genderqueer people—especially non/extra-binary genderqueer people—experience difficulties with having their identities understood by those outside their communities. Their sense of self, an identity that fundamentally rejects participation in the traditional gender binary, is seen as too challenging and ‘unintelligible’ to grasp, leading to a compromising of identities for the sake of incomplete acceptance.[29]

Consensual Non-Monogamy

Consensual (also called ethical or responsible) non-monogamy has recently re-emerged as an alternative way to engage in love and intimacy that poses a timely challenge to the assumptions of mononormativity. While monogamous relationships are committed to sexual and romantic exclusivity with one partner, non-monogamous relationship styles in contrast “refer to relationships between more than two adults who feel an affinity toward or kinship with each other, and they share some kind of mutual, if temporary, interdependence and responsibility.”[30] Consent is essential, as this form of non-monogamy is distinct from acts such as adultery that cause non-monogamy in monogamous relationships. Amongst contemporary scholarship, the general term poly is somewhat interchangeably used with consensual non-monogamy, and simply means plurality.

There is a consensus among scholars that monogamy was made compulsory and normative through sociocultural economic regulation rather than due to an inherent human inclination. As mentioned in the introduction, what is considered normative is not naturally so, but rather determined by a very specific agenda by those in power. Although poly lifestyles have historically always existed, they were and continue to be intentionally and systematically erased and dismissed, which constructs a mononormative version of history.[31] Ever since medieval times, marriage as the primary incentive of monogamous relationships has served as a central means of organizing power through forming political alliances or controlling specific populations. During these historical times, polygamy was a prevalent and legitimate non-monogamous way to form relationships, and widely spread and accepted across majority of human societies.[32] Polygamy is a form of "‘one-sided’ consensually non-monogamous relationship in which one partner has multiple committed partners, each of whom is only involved with that one person”[33] – primarily in the context of plural marriage. Polygamous relationship structures were mostly limited to a husband having more than one wife (polygyny), and not one wife having several husbands (polyandry) – even though it did occur occasionally. This illustrates a gendered double standard and exemplifies the pervasive patriarchal structure which benefits the men of society while limiting sexual access for women. Even further, polygamous systems were commonly associated with slavery.[34]

With the onset of colonialism and the spread of Western ideology, the regulation of sexual relations shifted toward compulsory monogamy, because marriage and sex were still employed as central tactics of establishing power and dominance in an era filled with violence and oppression.[35] Instituting non-monogamy however remained in use whenever it served a political purpose, thus illustrating the ideological and political notions of love, sex, and intimacy. This is most illustrative in the system of concubinage, which describes the domestic cohabitation outside of marriage between colonizing men and colonized women, through which the colonizers gained economic control, sexual contentment during times of separation from their wives back in Europe, and free domestic labor through such exploitation of local women.[36] Outside of these bounds, couple-centricity and monogamy were the (imposed) norm to govern land appropriation through property allotments given to men as the head of a household according to the number of household members in his nuclear family structure. Even after the wives of colonizing men were allowed to join their husbands on the stolen lands, state-sanctioned one-on-one marriage was a way to maintain “racial purity” and avoid interracial intimacy when it was no longer politically beneficial.[37] Since post-colonialism, the criminalization of non-monogamous sexual relations has persisted in many countries today and continues to be associated with “less civilized” ways of living. Compulsory monogamy is reinforced through criminal laws, marriage contracts, and various socioeconomic factors, thus perpetuating mononormativity and its underlying colonial logic.[38]

Polyamory Flag, by Emma Essex, via Wikimedia Commons

Recent studies have shown that current interest in polygamy specifically is comparatively low, but that there is increasing interest in non-monogamy more generally.[39] A poll conducted in 2020 showed that nearly 20 percent of Americans have considered or were actively engaging in a non-monogamous relationship.[40]

With this cultural trend, polyamory has become the most prominent and “modern” form of contemporary poly relating, particularly in North America and Western Europe.[41][42] Etymologically meaning “many loves”, it describes a philosophy of love that allows for maintaining multiple intimate relationships at the same time. While many people form long-term primary partnerships alongside which they occasionally engage in individual temporary sexual interactions or long-term secondary partnerships, others choose to form triads (also known as throuples) in which all involved partners are in romantic and/or sexual relationships with each other.[43] Polyamory is not inherently connected to marriage or gender inequality in contrast to polygamy, thus offering more freedom for all parties involved. Most essentially, polyamory is characterized by its emphasis on the formation of intimate emotional bonds rather than casual sexual interactions. In this light, polyamory can be considered as an attempt to “challenge the negative assumptions of non-monogamous people as promiscuous, over-sexed, self-obsessed, irrational, and pathological.”[44] Some poly persons develop meaningful polycules, which are networks of one’s partners and their partners (also called metamours) in which “the lines between partners, friends, companions, and lovers are blurred. […]”[45] They cherish compersion, which is essentially the opposite of jealousy in which one finds joy in their partner's enjoyment with another lover.[46] Polyamory activist Alex Alberto poignantly describes their relations as follows: “I like to see my loved ones as a group of stars of various distance and luminosity, connected together by threads of meaning. My constellation guides me, gives my life structure and purpose. A family.”[47]

Polyamory however is not the only poly way to form intimacies. Many people choose an open relationship model, which allows individuals to be sexually active outside of the relationship while being emotionally exclusive to only one partner. Something similar occurs within swinging culture, where individuals alone or couples together engage in sexual activity outside of their relationship but maintain their exclusivity otherwise. Sex work could also be considered in this broader framing of non-monogamous relationships, as sexuality is non-exclusive for relationships with sex workers. Lastly, hookup culture has emerged as a space in which language surrounding sexual interactions is kept strategically ambiguous under the guise of casualty to engage in multiplicity while attempting to avoid social sanctioning.[11]

Unfortunately, stigma plays a significant role in the discourses around and formation of many of these forms of poly intimacy. Non-monogamy is frequently portrayed and sensationalized “as an anomaly, a perverse surcoming to animalistic instincts, character flaws causing commitment issues, hypersexuality, a phase of immaturity and ultimately unsustainable, etc."[48] The term promiscuity has historically been used to describe the practice of frequently engaging in sexual activity while carrying significant associations of moral judgment.[49] However, upon critical consideration of poly, it becomes evident that poly love and intimacy actually offer the opportunity for “sexual and emotional freedom, personal empowerment, liberation from patriarchal oppression, ethical interpersonal behavior, […] non-possessive love and overcoming of jealousy.”[50] In this sense, Indigenous scholar Kim Tallbear has reframed promiscuity as an embrace of abundance and openness, rather than excess, to reclaim and deconstruct a previously oppressive narrative. When intentionally cultivated, “love and care can be enlarged, not compromised or lost, when we embrace a multiplicity of relations.”[35] This framing of relating paints a much more abundant and sufficient picture of love and intimacy than the narrow framework which mononormativity has presented as the only option.

Asexuality and Aromanticism

Asexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by the lack of sexual attraction to people, and individuals with this orientation are referred to as “asexuals” or shortened to “ace”. Aromanticism is a romantic orientation characterized by the lack of romantic attraction to people, and individuals with this orientation are referred to as “aromantics” or shortened to “aro”.

Both of these orientations are understood as spectrums, where different individuals that may both consider themselves asexual or aromantic have very different experiences with sex or romance. As an example, some asexuals react with total revulsion at the thought of sex, while others may have no personal interest in sex but are willing to engage in it for a partner.

Aromantic/Asexual (aroace) Flag, by Aroaesflags, via Wikimedia Commons

The split-attraction model is another important concept for understanding the asexual and aromantic spectrums. At its simplest it is a way to understand attraction by splitting sexual and romantic attraction into two different categories. Through this model, individuals can, for example, be both asexual – experiencing no sexual attraction – and homoromantic – experiencing romantic attraction to those of the same sex.

These two orientations tend to co-occur; a community survey of asexuals in 2021 showed that 42.1% of respondents consider themselves on the aromantic spectrum[51], whereas a 2016 survey showed that 1% of the general population consider themselves aromantic[52]. Individuals that are both aromantic and asexual are colloquially known as “aroace”. Due to this high co-occurrence rate and the fact that these two orientations challenge similar normativities and face similar oppressive structures, there is an overlap in community and activism. One of the main ways that asexuals and aromantics are marginalized is in the refusal by many both within and outside of the LGBT community to acknowledge them as marginalized sexual and romantic orientations and part of the LGBT community[53][54][55][56][57].

Though communities around these terms did not develop until the 21st century, the terms themselves have a long history. The concept of splitting sexual and romantic orientation was first recorded in 1879 by Karl Heinrich in his books, wherein he described a man that was romantically attracted to men and sexually attracted to women[58]. The coining of the phrase “split attraction model” is harder to pin down; the earliest recorded use of the phrase was in 2015, though search history on Google showed that it had been searched before then[59]. Since then, the term has gained immense popularity and usage within the aroace community as a useful way to explain orientations and the mixing and matching of various types of sexual and romantic attraction. Asexuality was first defined in 1897 by Emma Tross – a German activist that advocated for legal protections for gay people – as “individuals who possess no sexual desire”. While the term aromanticism wasn’t coined until the 2000s, words with similar definitions and understandings have been floating around for a while, such as the term “true non-limerence”[60]. As limerence is defined in as the feeling of “being in [romantic] love”[61], those that are truly “non-limerent” would be understood today as aromantic. Elizabeth Brake coined two important terms for the aroace communities[62]; allonormativity, the assumption that everyone experiences sexual attraction, and amatonormativity, the assumption that everyone experiences romantic attraction.

The modern online aroace community formed around the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) in the early 2000s, as well as on social media platforms such as Tumblr. Other groups pushing for more recognition and understanding by the general public include the Aromantic Spectrum Union for Recognition Education and Advocacy (AUREA) or The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project (TAAAP). The aro and ace communities are considered fairly new ones in the queer community as most of the visibility and recognition of aromanticism and asexuality happened in the 21st CE, though scientific understanding of these ideas have been floating around for a long time.

The existence and recognition of aromantic and asexual people challenges multiple forms of normativity. For those in these communities, the hypothetical experiences and emotions attached to sexual and romantic attraction can be so foreign and inconceivable that they are "completely befuddled"[60] when these experiences are explained to them. Through something as simple as their existence, these communities challenge both amatonormativity and allonormativity.

One of the main facets of heteronormativity is hegemonic masculinity and the assumption that ones masculinity is directly correlated to sex, to a point where men will use strategic ambiguity in hookups to exaggerate their own levels of heterosexual sexual activity [11]. The mere existence of asexual men challenges this assumption and shows that it is possible to be both a man and have little to no sexual drive.

Aromantics and asexuals further challenge amatonormativity by revolutionizing the way society thinks about relationships through things like queerplatonic relationships (QPRs), questioning the idea of the boundary between platonic and romantic relationships and the elevation of romantic partners above friendships. Though QPRs look different for each partnership, the general idea of the term is that QPR describes the “social space between ‘friend’ and ‘romantic partner’”[63]. The use of the word “queer” in this sense is not in terms of gender of the individuals involved, but about challenging the social border between platonic and romantic. Some real-life examples of QPRs are ones wherein multiple partners got platonically married to “be legally and socially recognized as a family”[64], while giving each other the space to date and find romance outside of the marriage. The existence of asexual people who are still interested in romantic relationships forces people to confront their understanding of the feeling of “romantic love” when sexual interest is not part of the equation. Even for people who have experienced both and can tell they are different, it can be impossible to define the separation between platonic and romantic love; “[She] know[s] what a friend crush feels like[…] She still feels something different when it comes to her partner[…] It is impossible for her to describe anything more”[63].

Aromanticism and asexuality challenges mononormativity in a similar way to consensual non-monogamy by challenging the elevation of romantic relationships as the end-all and be-all of providing for all social, emotional, and economic needs. Similarities in the way the aroace and consensually non-monogomous communities view normativities like mononormativity, allonormativity, and amatonormativity; “too many of us conflate family… with this narrowly-defined structure… all of us have had settler norms about sex and family shoved down our throats… were you taught like I was that ethical sex must be accompanied by romantic love? And that “normal” romantic love is always accompanied by sex?”[35]. Both the aroace and consensually non-monogamous communities advocate for promiscuity in Dr. TallBear’s definition; openness to multiple (partial) connections instead of laying the responsibility of all emotional, social, and economic needs at the feet of one person.

Finally, aroaces challenge the colonial use of sex and romance as a means of control; sex and relationships are used by colonial powers to hold symbolic power and for economic gain[36]. By engaging in relationships without sex, asexuals reject the use of sex as a means of the colonial state gaining symbolic power over their body. By challenging the institution of marriage and advocating for similar privileges for those outside of marriages, aromantics work to dismantle the colonial institution of marriage and take power away from colonialism.

Sex Work

Sex work includes a wide range of activities, such as prostitution, escorting, pornography, webcam performing, and exotic dancing. Sex work can involve direct physical contact, such as in-person interactions with clients, or it can be conducted remotely through digital platforms. In a simpler way of putting this, sex work involves exchanging sexual services for financial gain[65]. The legal and social status of sex work differs depending on country, where some countries criminalize it while others set regulations on it. Historically, sex work can be seen in various cultures and societies and the attitude and regulations upon sex work has always been evolving. Sex work can be complicated to study since it can depend on an individual’s race, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and immigration status and these can all shape an individual’s experience within the sex industry. Some individuals may take on sex work out of economic needs or survival, others may do so as a means of autonomy, empowerment, or creative expression. Understanding the complexity and diversity of sex work requires consideration of various aspects of one’s experience.

Why are sex workers predominantly women? Women make up the majority of the sex work population, with some estimates suggesting the proportion is around 85-90 per cent[66]. One of the reasons why the sex industry is mainly composed of women is because of the gender inequalities within society. Within patriarchal systems, women's bodies are often objectified and commodified, encouraging the notion of monetizing female sexuality. Financial and economic disparities further exaggerate this phenomena, where women are often faced with lower wages, limited resources, and high rates of poverty in comparison to men[67]. Marginalized women, such as women of color or transgender women, are additionally vulnerable to exploitation and may turn to sex work as a means of survival or empowerment in the face of limited resources and opportunities. In addition, the stigma revolving around sex work disproportionately affects women, causing them to experience judgement, moral condemnation, increased risks of violence, while impacting their health and heathcare access [68]. Legal regulations on sex work often fail to protect workers, leaving women in the industry vulnerable to exploitation, coercion, and criminalization.

As of September 2021, over 190 million active users use OnlyFans with 2.1 million of them being content creators. Between 2020 and 2021, OnlyFans’ revenue increased by 220%, a drastic rise from 375 million in 2020 to 1.2 billion in 2021[69]. Nowadays digital sex work is challenging normativity by providing means for women to have control over their bodies, sexuality, and economic agency. Online platforms like OnlyFans allow content creators, predominantly women, to monetize their own sexual content based upon their own terms. This goes against the traditional power hierarchies within the sex work industry throughout history. By directly engaging with clients and consumers and setting their own boundaries and prices, sex workers on OnlyFans can avoid being exploited and victimised by agencies within the sex industry. This challenges the traditional narrative of having a pimp who controls them and arranges clients for them while taking part of their earnings in return. Moreover, online sex work has allowed women to perform and connect with audiences world wide, overcoming geographical barriers while offering opportunities for financial independence and creative expression[70]. Through these platforms, sex workers are reshaping societal perceptions of sex work by challenging gender and power normativities within the industry.

A study conducted in the UK found that around 49% of workers in the sex trade reported having daily concerns regarding their safety. In addition there have been 152 murder cases of sex workers between 1990 and 2015. On the contrary, the study has also shown that 456 sex workers where prosecuted for loitering and soliciting in 2014-2015, but there hasn’t been much data regarding the number of men prosecuted for violence, rape, or sexual exploitation of sex workers[71]. One of the greatest challenges sex workers face is the stigma associated with their line of work. Often they experience judgement and moral condemnation from society. Sex workers are often marginalised, pushed to the fringes of society where they struggle to access basic rights and services. Discrimination in healthcare, housing, and legal protection further increase their vulnerability, leaving them without the support they need[68]. There are many dangers within the sex industry and there many cases where sex workers are prime targets of exploitation. Often they face coercion, abuse, and harassment, with few avenues for recourse or protection. Speaking out against injustices can be perilous, as it may lead to further victimisation or social isolation[67]. The combination of stigma, marginalisation, and danger creates a challenging environment for sex workers.

In the sex industry, the influence of hegemonic masculinity shapes power dynamics and social hierarchies. Hegemonic masculinity refers to the most dominant form of masculinity that is idealised within a given society, often characterised by traits such as strength, dominance, and sexual prowess. This hegemonic ideal not only shapes the behavior and attitudes of men but also influences the role of masculinity within the context of sex work. Male clients often embody traits associated with hegemonic masculinity, such as dominance and control, when engaging in activities with female sex workers[72]. This imbalance in power dynamics within sex work reflects the hegemonic masculinity rooted within society, where men have social, economic, and sexual power over women.

In conclusion, sex workers face many challenges, yet they show remarkable resilience. Many find themselves in the industry out of necessity, striving to support themselves and their families due to economic hardship and social exclusion[73]. Despite societal stigma, they unite to form communities, advocating for their rights and challenging oppressive structures within society.

Combined References

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