Both inside and outside of the Communication Studies discipline, the place of sexuality scholarship is unsettled—and that shaky ground materializes especially around the discussion of sexual pleasure in the field and beyond. Candid discussions of sex, pleasure, desire, sexual tastes, fantasies, and bodily responses have long inspired heavy-breathing anxiety inflected by a reach for “propriety.” This anxiety envelopes public discourses of what feels good—especially things that feel really good under less-than-great conditions and things that deviate from what normative structures say should feel good. There are three areas in which pleasure emerges in the field of queer communication studies: analyses of representational pleasure, resistance to normative public discourses, and embodied autoethnographies of pleasure, which trace moments of queer sexual pleasure articulation in communication research despite disciplinary attempts to elide this field of study.
Carly Leilani Fabian
There are various academic and activist perspectives on sex work as an area of inquiry at the intersection of queer, feminist, and class politics. Exploring this topic with an eye toward a communicative ethic helps to foreground consent and mutuality when considering some of the major theoretical topics connected with sex work. A historiography of the sex wars of the 1970s and 1980s illuminates how public discussions about feminism and sexuality were influenced by the emergence of pornography as a major media force. Taking seriously the refrain “sex work is work,” how labor can be a useful analytic for connecting sex work to the broader economy is considered, while also pointing to the limits of categories such as “sex,” “work,” and “labor.” Situating sex work in the contemporary context of neoliberal and paternalistic rationalities of the state, how advocates for sex workers are caught in a communicative double bind is discussed. Taking into account shared commitments among scholars of sex work in the communication discipline, alternatives to criminalization provide scholars and activists a place to start in imagining a future that is safer for queer bodies and practices.
E. Michele Ramsey
Given the impact of gender on health, healthcare decisions, and treatments for illness, as well as the increased inequities encountered by non-white men and women, messages about health and health risks are affected by purposeful assumptions about gender identity. While the term sex denotes the biological sex of an individual, gender identity is about the psychological, cultural, and social assumptions about a person associated with that person because of his or her sex. Gender and health are intimately connected in a number of ways, and such connections can differ based on race, ethnicity, age, class, religion, region, country, and even continent. Thus, understanding the myriad ways that notions of gender affect the health of females and males is fundamental to understanding how communicating about risks and prevention may be tailored to each group. Gender role expectations and assumptions have serious impacts on men’s health and life expectancy rates, including self-destructive behaviors associated with mental health and tobacco use, self-neglecting behaviors linked to the reluctance of men to seek treatment for ailments, reluctance to follow a physician’s instructions after finally seeking help, and risk-taking behaviors linked to drug and alcohol use, fast driving, guns, physical aggression, and other dangerous endeavors. Because gender role expectations tend to disfavor females, it is not surprising that gender generally has an even greater impact on women’s health than on men’s. Even though biological factors allow women, on average, to live longer than men worldwide, various gendered practices (social, legal, criminal, and unethical) have serious impacts on the lives and health of women. From sex discrimination in research and treatment regarding issues linked to reproductive health, depression, sexual abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, the sex trade, and normalized violence against women (such as rape, female genital mutilation, forced prostitution/trafficking, and domestic violence), women’s lives across the globe are severely affected by gender role expectations that privilege males over females. While some general consistencies in the relationships between gender, women, and health are experienced worldwide, intersections of race, ethnicity, class, age, country, region, and religion can make for very different experiences of women globally, and even within the same country. The recent years have seen an increasing call to reconsider the binary means by which we have defined sex and gender. Advances in our understandings of lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, and transgendered individuals have challenged traditional notions and definitions of sex and gender in important and complex ways. Such an important shift warrants a stand-alone discussion, as well as the recognition that sexual orientation should not be automatically linked to discussions of sex and gender, given that such categorization reifies the problematic sex/gender binaries that ground sexist and homophobic attitudes in the first place.
Brandon T. Parrillo and Randal D. Brown
Effective communication is vital to any relationship, and sexual communication is no different. Given its importance, sexual communication and its relation to a variety of topics has been studied in recent years. Included among these are its relation to safer sex behaviors, sexual and relationship satisfaction, and fertility and family planning among heterosexual partners. Yet, for queer partners, the data reflect interest in sexual communication as it relates to safe sex behaviors such as condom use and HIV status. Further, the current base of published literature on sexual communication among queer partners focuses almost exclusively on men who have sex with men and leaves out other types of queer partnerships. To be truly inclusive, it is imperative that sexual communication research broaden its focus to include topics that do not medicalize queer couples, such as sexual pleasure, satisfaction, and relationship well-being.
Claire Sisco King
Within the field of communication studies, critical cultural scholarship examines the interarticulation of power and culture. Drawing from critical theory and cultural studies, this research offers analysis of texts, artifacts, practices, and institutions in order to understand their potential to promote or preempt equality and social justice. Critical theory, which has Marxist origins, uses theory as a basis for critiquing and challenging systems of domination or oppression. The field of cultural studies focuses on social formations with a particular emphasis on media texts and the reception practices of audiences. Both critical theory and cultural studies emphasize the important interrelationship between ideology, or structures of belief, and the material conditions in which people live. Critical cultural research examines discourse and representation, including language and visual culture, as well as social relations, institutional structures, material practices, economic forces, and various forms of embodiment. Central to critical cultural scholarship is attention to the construction, regulation, and contestation of categories of identity, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, and class. A significant branch of critical cultural studies examines how ideas about gender and sex develop and circulate, asking how and why some constructions of gender and sex become normative and gain hegemony—or, cultural privilege—in a particular context. For example, such scholarship might critique the idealization of certain performances of masculinity and the attendant devaluation of femininity or other subordinated masculinities; or, this research might consider how particular iterations of masculinity or femininity may be counter-hegemonic, operating in opposition to prevailing ideologies of gender and sex. Critical cultural approaches also emphasize the intersectionality of gender and sex with other categories of identity. For instance, ideas about masculinity or femininity can rarely be separated from assumptions about race and/or sexuality; as such, prevailing ideologies of gender and sex often reflect the presumed normativity of whiteness and heterosexuality.
Stephen M. Haas
Same-sex couple relationship maintenance involves the exchange of communication and relational behaviors to sustain these romantic relationships. In communication studies, same-sex couple relationship maintenance began in the late 1990s, and while it remains understudied, research in this area continues to grow and illuminate understanding of how communication plays a central role in the maintenance of same-sex couple relationships. Social exchange, along with minority stress, have been the predominant theoretical frameworks in studies of same-sex couple relationship maintenance. Overall, evidence suggests that relational maintenance behaviors (assurances, shared tasks, openness, positivity, conflict management, advice, and shared networks) are associated with positive relational functioning and quality in same-sex couple relationships. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer+ (LGBTQ+)-specific relational behaviors, such as being “out” as a couple and seeking out LGBTQ+-supportive environments, also have been highlighted. Research also points to the positive impact of partner social support and same-sex marriage on same-sex couple commitment and satisfaction, and a negative relational impact from concealing LGBTQ+ identity and same-sex relationship status. Future research is needed to continue to illuminate the evolving impact of increasing social legitimacy (e.g., same-sex marriage) on same-sex couple relationship maintenance.
Yvonnes Chen and Joseph Erba
Media literacy describes the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce media messages. As media messages can influence audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward various topics, such as attitudes toward others and risky behaviors, media literacy can counter potential negative media effects, a crucial task in today’s oversaturated media environment. Media literacy in the context of health promotion is addressed by analyzing the characteristics of 54 media literacy programs conducted in the United States and abroad that have successfully influenced audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward six health topics: prevention of alcohol use, prevention of tobacco use, eating disorders and body image, sex education, nutrition education, and violent behavior. Because media literacy can change how audiences perceive the media industry and critique media messages, it could also reduce the potential harmful effects media can have on audiences’ health decision-making process. The majority of the interventions have focused on youth, likely because children’s and adolescents’ lack of cognitive sophistication may make them more vulnerable to potentially harmful media effects. The design of these health-related media literacy programs varied. Many studies’ interventions consisted of a one-course lesson, while others were multi-month, multi-lesson interventions. The majority of these programs’ content was developed and administered by a team of researchers affiliated with local universities and schools, and was focused on three main areas: reduction of media consumption, media analysis and evaluations, and media production and activism. Media literacy study designs almost always included a control group that did not take part in the intervention to confirm that potential changes in health and risk attitudes and behaviors among participants could be attributed to the intervention. Most programs were also designed to include at least one pre-intervention test and one post-intervention test, with the latter usually administered immediately following the intervention. Demographic variables, such as gender, age or grade level, and prior behavior pertaining to the health topic under study, were found to affect participants’ responses to media literacy interventions. In these 54 studies, a number of key media literacy components were clearly absent from the field. First, adults—especially those from historically underserved communities—were noticeably missing from these interventions. Second, media literacy interventions were often designed with a top-down approach, with little to no involvement from or collaboration with members of the target population. Third, the creation of counter media messages tailored to individuals’ needs and circumstances was rarely the focus of these interventions. Finally, these studies paid little attention to evaluating the development, process, and outcomes of media literacy interventions with participants’ sociodemographic characteristics in mind. Based on these findings, it is recommended that health-related media literacy programs fully engage community members at all steps, including in the critical analysis of current media messages and the production and dissemination of counter media messages. Health-related media literacy programs should also impart participants and community members with tools to advocate for their own causes and health behaviors.