The De-Naturalization of Sexuality in 21st Century Psychology

Professor Peter Hegarty
26 May 2015

Do the psy- disciplines inevitably discipline and punish, naturalize differences, and individualize in the service of normativity? I will argue that they don’t, by describing psychologists’ attempts to retain authority over the contested terrain of sexuality in recent decades. Since the 1990s, scholars have increasingly claimed that the psychological category of ‘sexuality’ is on the one hand biological, and on the other hand, historical. Here I tell the story of how psychological theories of sexuality have adapted and changed in this changing disciplinary landscape, as the human experience of sexuality was itself in rapid flux. I argue that psychologists de-naturalized sexuality without historicizing it in the 21st century, aligning narratives drawn from biology, and by incorporating an ahistorical notion of sexual fluidity from feminist critics of biology. The view that LGBT people are first and foremost a stigmatized minority is the current consensus in psychology, wherein it remains legitimate to consider nature/nurture as covering the range of ways that sexualities take their psychological shape. I will conclude by considering the stakes in such ahistorical thinking for psychological theory and its capacity to support diverse flourishing as the psychological sciences cede ground to the neurosciences and questions about the sexualization of culture loom large.

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