Having sex with words: sexuality, technology and the body. An ethnographic exploration of phone sex
Department of Sociology and Social Research University of Trento Trento, Italy
In the daily lives of people sex is an embodied experience. However, nowadays technologies have made possible a disembodied experience of sexual interactions. We can "have sex" through chat lines or web games and even over the phone. In the 90's social theorists of cyberspace welcomed these new technologies as the "liberating media" of sexuality claiming that these new opportunities of sexual encounters would have allowed people to be free of their bodies, and therefore of their gender and race positions, and to explore a "pure" experience of sexuality and desire.
But what does it mean to experience sexuality without the body? Are body and sexuality meaningful only in physical terms? Can we be "free" from our body, gender or race? These are the questions that guide this contribution which is aimed at exploring the social construction of sexuality in erotic interactions performed through the phone. More precisely I will focus my attention on the role of the body in sexual interactions over the phone: I will explore how the body, even if it is not physically present in the interaction, becomes "sticky" by actually remaining a necessary arbiter of meaning and a signifier of sexual action. Moreover, I will explore how the discursive construction of sex over the phone it's performed using exactly gender and race features as a sort of social repertoire which is marked out by the same stereotypes people experience in their embodied life. I will argue that, concerning sexuality and the body, the social (and sexual) opportunities offered by technologies rather than free people from their actual positioning in terms of gender, race or erotic desire, put into practice a reinscription of them in a new code of interaction. In these terms, this contribution offers also a hint of reflection on the social and cultural nature of sexuality and of its relations with the physical body.
From an empyrical point of view, this study draws on ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews carried out in 2008 in two erotic call center in the north of Italy where women operators perform phone sex for male costumers.