chapter  1
32 Pages

Let’s talk about sex, baby

At the bottom of the page she had written . . . BEWARE OF FOUCAULT, as if the philosopher was a particularly savage dog.1

‘The best orgasm of your life!’, ‘How to reach orgasm every single time!’, ‘When it’s ok to fake it’. For more than three decades now, articles in women’s magazines have urged young women to discover (or, more precisely, perform) heterosexual sexual bliss. But sex advice columns do much more than that. By reproducing a mode of very familiar sex talk, they enable us to listen – courtesy of a feminist adaptation of Gramsci’s theory of hegemony – to the sounds of hegemonic heterosexism clanking into gear. The neverending stream of advice to young women on how to be properly sexed, sexual and prepped to please their man also supplies a rich body of material for breaching – courtesy of Foucault – the self-evidence of ‘sex’. Indeed, magazines like Cosmopolitan, Cleo or She cry out for Foucauldian discourse analysis; that is, for testing Foucault’s famous assertion in volume 1 of his History of Sexuality that what matters, when it comes to sex, is not ‘whether one says yes or no to sex’, or ‘whether one formulates prohibitions or permissions, whether one asserts its importance or denies its effects, or whether one refines the words one uses to designate it’. What matters is to account for the fact that sex is spoken about and to discover:

. . . who does the speaking, the positions and viewpoints from which they speak, the institutions which prompt people to speak about it and which store and distribute the things that are said. What is at issue, briefly, is the over-all ‘discursive fact’, the way in which sex is ‘put into discourse’.2