BSA Youth Sexualities Conference: Durham 18/10/2013

This was a well-organised, well run conference as you would expect from the BSA Youth Group.

I’m not sure I totally agree with Jo Phoenix’s opening remarks – that there are no more sexual pioneer researchers. I don’t consider myself one, but I’m not sure that I’d want to close the door to another generation taking our disciplines into completely radical directions.

Matthew Waites’ keynote was a quantitative analysis of Age of Consent debates across the globe (especially in Commonwealth countries). He pointed out quite interesting trends: for example, the centralising moves towards an age of 15/16 in many countries. He also quickly discussed the recent Teddy Bear Clinic judgment in South Africa which decriminalised consensual sexual activity between young  people between the ages of 12 and 16 (where the judgment views young people and their consenting bodies in a very different light from standard recent British juridical-medical discourses).  Given the time restraints, and much of the material being quantitative, there wasn’t much opportunity to offer a cultural context for the data presented though some was offered in relation to India which helped illuminate the figures.

Mark McCormack’s keynote on the social mechanism of decreasing homophobia was full of cultural context. For me – this was one of the best papers of the day; not least because the content was matched by the presentation (is learning to use Prezi that hard for most people).  I thought he raised important issues about how Stonewall report on homophobia. How these may not be a moral panic, but have some of the features (of a sexual panic?) (which would be picked up on by Clarissa Smith on porn discussing Simon Watney’s conception of a sexual panic). He also discussed homohysteria as a concept (the fear of being socially perceived as gay) and outlined a model of homohysteric language. What kind of factors might impact upon this.  I thought that this was a incredibly strong paper; the only thing I would have liked was more clarity on the specific youth populations his work was speaking to.

Clarissa Smith’s paper on porn anxiety and children was, for me, the stand-out paper of the day.  As mentioned before, Smith distinguished between a moral and a sexual panic. Sexual panics involve anxieties that may flare up into moral panics, but mostly they exist all the time in our media and society. They are dominant narratives about sexual fears that exist at a low to medium level at all time in our society which the media both fuel and feed off. Porn and children involve a dominant model of porn, easily understood by adults. It engages with the rhetoric of the child in danger, framing risk, exposure and addiction. The difficulty is that when young people are spoken to about porn, they also frame their public accounts in accordance with this public model available in the media. Smith then offered ethnographic accounts of young people speaking about their porn use (where they’d been offered the opportunity to reflect rather than simply say what they felt was socially acceptable). The accounts were so considered and challenged how we view youth sexuality, youth agency and the use of porn.

Most of the other papers that I saw were postgrads. Although the standard was very high with one glaring exception; I’m not going to comment as I wouldn’t want someone to comment on my work at this stage.

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