What Creates Sexuality?

John Storey’s book on power presents a new way to think about sexuality. We commonly associate the Victorian age with hypocritical views of sexuality that produced draconian laws, but Storey writes that the Victorians did not repress sexuality, they actually invented it (Cultural Theory and Popular Culture 130). Storey expands on his unorthodox view by explaining how suppression causes creation. Even though the Victorian era produced laws that imposed moral disapproval of certain sexual behaviors, this also created a reverse effect of the suppressed behaviors becoming a subculture of society. This is similar to the “Barbra Streisand effect”, in which by suppressing a certain behavior or bit of knowledge ends up creating greater media coverage. After Barbra Sterisand tried to hide pictures of her house, the media ended up covering the story and she got more unwanted exposure due to her actions. In a way, the power struggle of Victorian morals moved the more open sexual environment underground and made it look “cool” to engage in culturally unapproved sexual behavior.

As society exerted its power in order to educate people that sexual behavior was immoral, a power struggle sprung up in that people who were used to open sexual discussion had to go underground. The power of the state influenced sexuality by censoring speech and media that it deems obscene, but this in turn can make it all the more interesting due to the “unlawfulness” of partaking in sexual media. For example, nudity in modern day America is not as tolerated as nudity in modern day Europe. In America it is only acceptable for adults to look at genitalia, whereas in Europe you can find nudity in something as widely available as a shower ad in a weekly supermarket flyer.

3 responses to “What Creates Sexuality?

  1. Just a small but important note — Storey is only providing a summary and introduction to Foucault’s work on sexuality, in The History of Sexuality.

  2. This reminds me of a Jon Oliver report of Last week tonight on the bill called “The right to be forgotten”. This bill will allow people to request search engines to remove an article about them that they do not like, and they must comply. The first man that tried to have his information removed was a man from Italy, and he did not want people to know about the overdue mortgage that he has. Oliver states that “The only thing that this man does not want me to know about him is the only thing that I know about him.” This is an example of the “Barbara Streissan Effect” and it shows that suppression causes creation.

  3. I saw that episode of Last Week Tonight, it brought up many good points about the power struggle of privacy in the age of the Internet. Power struggles have the ability to create subcultures and misinformation as in the case of enforcing Victorian morals. As suppression seeks to reduce the power of certain establishments, it can backfire and cause public awareness that suppression is happening. Afterwards, those responsible for the suppression will have to be accountable to the public resistance.

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