What are you thinking about sex?

Symposium Uses Psychoanalytic Discussion to Question the Definition of Sex

By CLAUDIA ORNIS
On April 27, 2014

  • Eugenie Brinkema, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, talks about the issue of willingness in the pornography industry. Yusong Shi, The Spectrum

Kathryn Bond Stockton, a professor at the University at Utah, is not a "lesbian," nor is she a "homo." But, as Stockton explains, she has been "creating lesbians" since she was a child.

 "I was the ultimate straight man, seeking morally feminine women," Stockton said.

The world saw her as a female so she received the label "lesbian," though she did not consider herself to be one.

About 175 students, faculty and speakers from the psychoanalytic community piled into 120 Clemens on Friday to take part in a discussion around the elusive and daunting question: What is Sex?

Stockton spoke of her interactions with the label "lesbian." The notion of the word was part of the basis of her "Sex with Signifiers: 'Lesbian Barebacking?' discussion.

The event was coordinated by the English 371 class - a Queer Theory Honors seminar taught by Timothy Dean, an associate English professor and director of the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture. The event took 10 months of planning and consisted of five speakers from around the United States and Europe.

"Virtually everyone, regardless of educational attainment, is capable of answering the question 'What is Sex?' Dean said. "But ... in a psychoanalytical universe, sex takes unexpected forms, straying ever further from nature, from reproduction, and from so called normality."

Patricia Gherovici, and Philippe Van Haute were the first speakers in the symposium. Gherovici, a psychoanalyst in New York and Philadelphia, gave a speech entitled "Plastic Sex? The Beauty of It!"

 Van Haute, a professor of philosophical and a practicing psychoanalyst in Radboud University in the Netherlands, focused on the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, in his speech, "Freud Against Oedipus," which confronted definitions of sex.

Stockton focused on several different signifiers in the discourse surrounding sex and sexuality. She cited the works of Dean and Leo Bersani,as she discussed the phenomena of "barebacking" or unprotected sex amongst men, and its connection to HIV.

Eugenie Brinkema, an assistant professor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, broke her segment, "Irrumation, the Interrogation: Form, Rhythm, Pornography" into two sections. Each section of her speech was headed by a question.

"What does it mean to say I offer you my mouth?" was the first focus of her speech. Brinkema explained the historical difference between "irrumatio," a form of oral sex in ancient Roman vocabulary, and fellatio.

In this ancient context, "fellatio" could be something as intimate as breast-feeding. Irrumatio, on the other hand, was thought of as a punishment, or something that was done to one's enemy.

Her second question asked, "What does it mean to be willing to do what one is unwilling to do?"

Brinkema used the medium of pornography to call into question the definition of willingness. The film clip "Meatholes 2, Hunter's Break" portrayed this question in the emotional breakdown of seasoned adult film star Nikki Hunter during the filming of an anal sex scene. 

The clip showed Hunter going from experiencing an emotional breakdown to finally deciding to participate in the next scene.

"You do what you can sell," Hunter said when one of the men behind the camera asked if she thought less of him. 

In the next scene, Hunter is shown in an edited and brief double penetration sex scene.

Brinkema argued that the progression of the scene is an example of when "one is constituting and ceasing at the same time." Because these two things were happening at once, the scene showed Hunter's "willfulness to dispose of her body as property."

 The final speaker in the symposium was Bersani, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. In his segment, "Why Sex?" Bersani used the works of noted psychoanalysts, such as Freud, Jean Laplanche and Michel Foucault to explain what "drives" sex and sadism.

After each segment, the speakers opened their discussion so that the audience could voice any questions it may have. This time allowed for everyone who was less familiar with the work to ask for more clarification.

Jordon Maxfield, a senior film studies major, had several questions by the end of the symposium.

"I'm not very knowledgeable in the area of study that was focused on today, which was prohibitive in my understanding of everything" Maxfield said.

Although Maxfield did not ask any questions himself, he said that the symposium inspired him to look more into the topic of sex in psychoanalysis.

This desire to gain more knowledge was the goal of the symposium, according to Dean. 

"I want people to question fundamental things," Dean said. "The goal of education is not just transmit knowledge or skills, but to pose questions that cut to the core of who we are and who we want to be."

Dean's hope was that the five talks that occurred on Friday, would lead to this "questioning" that would continue long after the symposium ended.

email: features@ubspectrum.com


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