9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN07 Sociology of Culture

2009-09-03 15:30:00 2009-09-03 17:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 15:30 - 17:00 Cultural Diversity Building II, C4.08

Recreational sexuality as an upper middle-class distinction mechanism

Using the concept of recreational sexuality (to be distinguished from procreational), this paper addresses the absence of class analysis from the sociology of sexuality. It also stresses the potential contribution of cultural sociology in explicating contemporary sexualities.
Recreational sexuality refers to marginal sexual practices and new ways of managing sexual relations that have reshaped heterosexual lives. Anal intercourse, multiple-partners sex or BDSM serve as examples for this kind of sexuality, where pleasure becomes a fundamental 'right', and even more so, a condition for self-fulfillment. More often than not, this gradual socio-sexual shift has been conceptualized as both agent-less and structure-less ideological move towards an egalitarian yet hedonistic society. Furthermore, this move is seen as unrelated to emerging late-modernity's neoliberal policies and individualization discourses. In contrast, I will show how recreational sexuality, no longer a completely private conduct, forms a symbolic class boundary between the upper middle- and the lower classes.
Based on in-depth interviews I show how men and women of the upper middle-class use recreational sexuality to individualize themselves and exercise their cultural sophistication. However, and in lieu with recent transformations in taste formation processes, where "good taste" is more a function of idiosyncratic, omnivore selection skills than the safe old "high/low" culture snobbery, recreational sexuality should not be understood as "transgressive" or avant-garde. Rather, as a class practice it exemplifies a process of cultural hybridization, typical to contemporary upper middle-classes.