University of Sussex
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Consumer sexualities: women and sex shopping

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posted on 2023-06-08, 23:34 authored by Rachel Wood
The thesis investigates contemporary sexual cultures through the lens of British women’s experiences of buying and using sexual commodities. Sexual consumer culture offers women a comprehensive programme of what Foucault calls ‘technologies of the self’: a language, set of knowledge, and field of expertise through which the sexual self learns to articulate itself in order to become intelligible. Consuming and using sexual products to achieve ‘better’ sex and construct a knowledgeable and ‘confident’ sexual identity form a key part of the neoliberal project of the sexual self. Sex shopping culture reproduces a ‘postfeminist sensibility’ (Gill, 2007), representing a ‘double entanglement’ (McRobbie, 2009) with feminism by inciting and requiring women to construct and perform their sexualities through a narrow depoliticised discourse of sexual ‘choice’, ‘empowerment’, and consumerism. The thesis draws upon data from 22 one-to-one semi-structured interviews and 7 accompanied shopping trips to sex shops. A central contention of the analysis is that women use a diverse range of discursive, embodied and everyday strategies in order to ‘make do’ with the kinds of femininity and female sexuality that sex shop culture represents (de Certeau, 1998). The thesis investigates three key spheres of social and everyday life at which sexual consumer culture is negotiated: spaces (the location, layout and experience of sex shops); bodies (the forms of bodily ‘becoming’ offered by wearing lingerie in sexual contexts); and objects (using sex toys and the enabling and disabling of possibilities for sexual pleasures and practices). Each section demonstrates the constraints, anxieties and potential pleasures of constructing sexual identities in and through neoliberal and postfeminist consumer culture, whilst at the same time exploring the potential for contradiction, negotiation and resistance evidenced in the multiple ways in which women take up the sexual identities and practices offered by sex shopping.


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  • eng


University of Sussex

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