Call for Papers (AAA 2016 Panel): Sex, Drugs, and Anthropology

Panel Abstract:

At the intersection of bioscience, identity politics, and market economics, pharmaceuticals such as flibanserin (the “pink Viagra”), hormonal contraception, pre-exposure (HIV) prophylaxis (PrEP), and hormone puberty blockers for transgender youth significantly reframe cultural ideas about biology, identity, pleasure, and rights. Potential patients associated with these drugs simultaneously call for and critique medicalization as societies negotiate which aspects of sex, gender, and daily life should be pharmacologically mediated. As with Viagra, which initially emerged in cardiology trials, drugs that target sexual behavior often arise from accidental discoveries before going on to incite major physiological and social changes that both extend and reconfigure existing cultural logics.

This panel will extend extant critiques of the medicalization of sexuality into questions of fundamental interest to the discipline of anthropology: How do these drugs raise new or illuminate existing questions of embodiment and ontology? Which forms of inequality are challenged and which are stabilized via greater access to these pharmaceuticals? How do these intersect with other forms of inequality, for example those based on race, economic status, religion, and ability/disability? How do place, environment, and migration matter for these phenomena? As we move beyond the sex/gender divide, does medicalization of sexuality reconfigure established (hetero) normative scripts of sexual pleasure and/or pain? OR do drug interventions into sexual lives compel resistance to not only the medicalization, but also the normativity attached to pharma interventions?

The political economy of sexual pleasure allows us to not only look at pharmaceutical interventions as normative structures that work within and promote particular modalities, but also the resistance and alternative sexual identities and behaviors that emerge in such sexual assemblages. This panel then aims to create a conversation about what and how anthropology can contribute to a nuanced understanding of these entanglements.

The ideas that emerge will form the basis of the Science, Technology, and Medicine (STM) interest group’s upcoming Take-A-Stand (TAS) initiative. The TAS project will make public recommendations based on our discussion at the conference. We invite empirically grounded and theoretically driven papers for this panel. Please email an abstract of no more than 250 words by Monday, April 4th to Christine Labuski (