New piece published in Catalyst

“Between the Screens: Brain Imaging, Pornography, and Sex Research”

This essay focuses on the use of brain imaging technologies to understand sexual arousal and orgasm and the issues that this practice raises for feminist theories of embodiment, visuality, and gender. In the first section, the paper examines the use of brain imaging technologies to measure the brain’s role during sexual arousal and orgasm and its circulation in popular culture, with a particular focus on fMRI and PET technology. The second section examines the interplay between brain imaging technologies as the means of measurement and film pornography as the means of arousal, bringing together scholarship on pornography studies, visual studies, and science and technology studies. By interrogating the technology behind research into the neurology of sexual response and critically examining the use of one representation of sexuality to produce another, the paper investigates how gendered difference is manifested in this research and how the body is produced as a site of intervention.

New piece in documentary film anthology

Thrilled to be involved in a new anthology on documentary film, edited by the fabulous Alexandra Juhasz and Alisa Lebow, and published by Wiley: 

My piece in the collection is "Capturing the Labors of Sex Work: The Pedagogical Role of Documentary Film."

Here's the publisher's description of the collection: 


A Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film presents a collection of original essays that explore major issues surrounding the state of current documentary films and their capacity to inspire and effect change.

Presents a comprehensive collection of essays relating to all aspects of contemporary documentary films
Includes nearly 30 original essays by top documentary film scholars and makers, with each thematic grouping of essays sub-edited by major figures in the field
Explores a variety of themes central to contemporary documentary filmmakers and the study of documentary film – the planet, migration, work, sex, virus, religion, war, torture, and surveillance
Considers a wide diversity of documentary films that fall outside typical canons, including international and avant-garde documentaries presented in a variety of media

Writing Playlist

When faced with finishing a book, it's important that one's writing playlist is up to the task. The prerequisites of mine: 1) It must be looooong;  2) It should be interdisciplinary, of course ; 3) Every song must make me sublimely happy in some way and bonus points if the song comes with a heaping dose of nostalgia. That's it. 

1. Pedestrian at Best - Courtney Barnett

2. Jane Says - Jane's Addiction

3. Give Em What They Love (f. Prince) - Janelle Monae

4. People Mover - PPL MVR

5. Good to You - Talib Kweli

6. I Need a Friend - Curtis Harding

7. Love Me Tenderly - The Felice Brothers

8. A Little Light - Sturgill Simpson

9. Shake, Shake, Shake - Bronze Radio Return

10. Lights Please - J. Cole 

11. Electric Love - BORNS

12. Better Man - Leon Bridges (Can't get enough of him right now)

13. Baby Baby Baby - TLC (Because of my undying crush on TBoz)

14. Rattlesnake Charm - Sean Hayes

15. Stand Back - Stevie Nicks (Because wind machines, twirling, and women that sound like they smoke a pack a day. Oh and dancers doing high kicks!)

16. Queen - Perfume Genius

17. Sin - Nine Inch Nails (Because this is what angst sounded like in 1990)

18. Kill Screen - Jean Grae

19. Running Up That Hill - Kate Bush (Because the 80s)

20. Don't Save Me - HAIM

21. What's Love Got to Do With It - Tina Turner (Because one day the phone will ring and it will be 1984 calling to let me know that Ms. Turner is on the line. And then I can die.) 

22. Electric Feel - MGMT

23. Laid - James

24. The Show Goes On - Lupe Fiasco

25. Important - Mz. 007 (Because St. Looooooouis)

26. Hipster Shakes - Black Pistol Fire

27. Collard Greens - Schoolboy Q

28. Gold Mine Gutted/James Figurine Remix - Bright Eyes ("Living the good life/I left for dead/The sorrowful midwest/Well I did my best/To keep my head") 

29. Deceptacon - Le Tigre

30. Tell Me Good Something Good - Rufus & Chaka Khan

31. Sock It 2 Me - Missy Elliott f. Da Brat (Because ME was and will always be perfection and this song brought Da Brat back with a vengeance. And the video!)  

32. Flashed Junk Mind - Milky Chance

33. Jackie and Wilson - Hozier

34. Thing Called Love - Bonnie Raitt (I know BR has become synonymous with the soft rock station, but you know what - to my little bd self, she was everything. Top ten slide guitarists in the world and some sass? And the grey stripe of hair? Perfection. And lil Dennis Quaid!)    

35. Birmingham - Shovels & Rope

36. Talk of the Town - The Pretenders


37. Nightswimming - R.E.M. (Because it's my funeral song)


38. Shattered & Hollow - First Aid Kit

39. This Must Be the Place - Talking Heads

40. Human Thing - The Be Good Tanyas

41. Night Moves - Bob Seger and The Silver Bullets (Because one of my first jobs in high school was driving a truck around and refilling vending machines at factories and offices. The truck didn't get too many stations, but the classic rock station came in loud and clear. I drove around, smoked cigarettes, and listened to the radio all day long. Best job I ever had. This song reminds me of that time and, as terrible as it is, I adore it. Which I think makes me an old white man...) 

42. When I Leave - Parker Milsap

43. The Weight - Aretha Franklin

44. Not Right Now - Ashton Shepherd (If you're going to go contemporary country, go Ashton Shepherd) 

45. Shotgun - Jr. Walker and the Allstars

46. 7 Days - Craig David (This song is ridiculous but the subject of too many inside jokes to not adore it. And you must appreciate that he rests on the seventh day.)

47. Coming Home - Leon Bridges

48. And It Stoned Me - Van Morrison

49. Look At Miss Ohio - Gillian Welch

50. Jack & Diane - John Mellencamp (I'm still convinced it's about two Midwest lesbians. Jackie and Diane? Yeah, totally knew those girls. They brought their dog everywhere.)   

51. Snaggle Tooth Mama - Those Darlins

52. I Gotta Get Drunk - Willie Nelson ("There's a lot of doctors tell me/That I'd better start slowing it down/But there's more old drunks than there are old doctors/So I guess we better have another round")

53. She's Got You - Patsy Cline (Patsy. Patsy. It's always been Patsy.) 

54. I Need a Man to Love - Janis Joplin/Big Brother & The Holding Company

55. Providence - Ani Difranco (Because Ani and Prince in the same song blew my mind)

56. Purple Rain - Prince & The Revolution

57. The Root - D'Angelo

58. Break You Off - The Roots

59. i - Kendrick Lamar

60. Clean Up Your Own Yard - Jackie Moore 

61. Fire Sign - Gossip

62. The Emperor's New Clothes - Sinead O'Connor (Oh, Sinead)

63. Modern Girl - Sleater-Kinney

64. A Case of You - Joni Mitchell (Never cared much for Mitchell's voice, but that's the point. I love that she got up the nerve to start singing her own songs, instead of just writing them for others. The writing is divine in this song.)   

65. Fade Into You - Mazzy Star (Because this is what sex sounded like in the 90s)

66. Chi (Need to Know) - Angel Haze   

67. Beast of Burden - The Rolling Stones

68. Still Not a Player - Big Punisher f. Joe (I don't care. LOVE THIS SONG.)

69. I Wanna Know - Joe (Speaking of Joe, this song is R&B perfection)

70. Stay - Maurice Wiliams

71. Make Me Smile - Suzi Quatro

72. Get Down On It - Kool & the Gang 

73. It's Not Right But It's Okay Thunderpuss Mix - Whitney Houston (Because this is what the boys' clubs sounded like. The dramatics on the dance floor to this song were something special. And because WHITNEY forever.)

74. Touch It - Monifah (This is what the girls' clubs sounded like. Because lesbians are wrong.)

75. Mellow - Tricky (Because this is what the after party sounded like)

The End

"Her last resistance is gone..."

Some authors claimed that female “frigidity” was a result of women’s active resistance to sexual awakening. In Norman Haire's Encyclopaedia of Sexual Knowledge (1934), women’s resistance to sexual awakening and orgasm is put in rather stunning terms, “The woman knows that with the orgasm her resistance melts, her last defence is gone, she surrenders, she foregoes her personality, ‘the man can do as he likes with her’. And this is precisely the cause of her rebellion; she is willing to give herself, but not lose herself, and therefore wants to avoid the orgasm.”[1] Here, a woman’s resistance to complete sexual awakening becomes almost a political act, an act that willfully challenges her proper place within the sexual union and the larger social order.

Oh, Norm.

[1] Norman Haire (Ed), Encyclopaedia of Sexual Knowledge, 318-19.

Female Libido Drug

NPR did a solid piece on the FDA's rejection of Sprout Pharmaceutical's application for flibanserin that's worth listening to:

It's bizarre to hear Terry O'Neill's, president of the National Organization for Women, take on this issue:

"We live in a culture that has historically discounted the importance of sexual pleasure and sexual desire for women," says Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. "And I fear that it's that cultural attitude that men's sexual health is extremely important, but women's sexual health is not so important. That's the cultural attitude that I want to be sure the FDA has not, maybe unconsciously, imported into its deliberative process."

Because we wouldn't want to be left out of the pharmaceutical trainweck that has been the FDA's hasty approval of libido and arousal drugs targeted at men. Sprout has already resubmitted their application (press release below). The press bit also provides a handy explanation of how the drug works: 

Sprout Pharmaceuticals Resubmits Flibanserin New Drug Application For The Treatment Of Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder In Premenopausal Women
Posted on February 17, 2015 by Sprout Pharmaceuticals in News
Raleigh, N.C., February 17, 2015 – Sprout Pharmaceuticals announced today that it has resubmitted a New Drug Application (NDA) to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for flibanserin, an investigational, once-daily, non-hormonal pill for Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) in premenopausal women. If approved, flibanserin will be the first and only FDA-approved treatment for HSDD. “This NDA resubmission marks the completion of the additional clinical studies requested by FDA,” said Cindy Whitehead, CEO of Sprout Pharmaceuticals. “The FDA has devoted significant resources to understand HSDD and the need for medical treatment. I believe that the Agency’s efforts to bring together panels of patients and clinical experts will prove to be a significant step in bringing about a solution for women with HSDD to market. This year, I am optimistic that women and their partners affected by the life impact of HSDD will have their first potential medical solution” The resubmission comes after Sprout received a Complete Response Letter from the FDA for flibanserin in 2013. Sprout appealed the FDA’s decision, and at the request of the Agency, completed a Phase 1 pharmacokinetic study and a Phase 1 driving study. Results from these studies were included in the resubmission package. “The brain plays an important role in regulating a woman’s sexual desire, and one of the root causes of persistent and recurrent low sexual desire, or HSDD, stems from an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain,” said Stephen Stahl, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, School of Medicine. “Flibanserin is believed to work by correcting this imbalance and providing the appropriate areas of the brain with a more suitable mix of brain chemicals to help restore sexual desire.” Flibanserin was evaluated in three pivotal Phase 3, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group North American studies of premenopausal women with a mean age of 36 years. In all trials, flibanserin demonstrated a statistically significant difference compared to placebo on three key endpoints: an increase of sexual desire; a decrease in distress from the loss of sexual desire; and an increase in the frequency of satisfying sex. The flibanserin safety profile has been well characterized in clinical trials. The most common side effects observed were dizziness, nausea and sleepiness. About Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) HSDD is the most commonly reported form of female sexual dysfunction. HSDD has been medically recognized for more than 30 years and is defined as a persistent or recurrent deficiency or absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity that causes marked distress or interpersonal difficulty, and which is not better accounted for by a medical, substance-related, psychiatric (e.g., depression) or other sexual condition. About Flibanserin Flibanserin is a novel, non-hormonal drug that has been clinically studied in over 11,000 women. Flibanserin is a Multifunctional Serotonin Agonist Antagonist (MSAA) and, if approved, would be the first and only post-synaptic 5HT1A receptor agonist and 5HT2A receptor antagonist available to prescribers for the treatment of premenopausal women with HSDD. It is believed that flibanserin helps restore prefrontal cortex control over the brain’s motivation/rewards structures enabling sexual desire to manifest. This is thought to be accomplished by the rebalancing of neurotransmitters that influence sexual desire. Specifically, flibanserin increases dopamine and norepinephrine (both responsible for sexual excitement) while transiently decreasing serotonin (responsible for sexual satiety/inhibition) in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. This is likely accomplished by reduced glutamate transmission. In clinical studies, flibanserin was evaluated for its ability to increase the frequency of satisfying sexual events, increase the intensity of sexual desire and decrease the associated distress women feel from its loss. About Sprout Pharmaceuticals Sprout Pharmaceuticals is passionate about women’s sexual health. With a breakthrough concept for women, the company “sprouted” out of Slate Pharmaceuticals in 2011. Based in Raleigh, NC, the company is focused solely on the delivery of a treatment option for the unmet need of women with HSDD. Sprout is pursuing the FDA approval of flibanserin to treat HSDD in premenopausal women, for which there is currently no FDA-approved treatment.

Epilepsy and the History of Orgasm Research

Early attention to the brain, specifically in relation to orgasm rather than broader questions of sexuality and biological sex, was significantly driven by research concerning epilepsy. Yet another instance of Canguilhem’s argument that “the scientific study of pathological cases becomes an indispensable phase in the overall search for the laws of the normal state,” the experiences of individuals with epilepsy fascinated researchers who hoped to understand the biological bases of sexual functioning and remains a robust field of inquiry. Indeed, Komisaruk et al., in their recent book The Science of Orgasm claim, “Much of what is known about how the brain produces orgasms is based on studies of epileptic seizures.”[1]

            What is the connection between epilepsy and sexual functioning and how did epilepsy research come to play such a pivotal role in research on sexual functioning? Epilepsy’s role in research concerning the relationship between the brain and orgasm is a direct result of the wide berth given researchers to radically manipulate epileptics using invasive techniques. In other words, given the degree of stigmatization epileptics experienced and the infancy of ethical standards in scientific research during the early and mid-twentieth century, scientists were given tremendous freedom to conduct highly invasive experimentation on epileptics, experimentation that would have been unacceptable on subjects deemed “normal.” Scientific attention to the relationship between epilepsy and sexual functioning was piqued as a result of perceived “abnormal” sexual behavior by individuals classified as epileptic, sexual behavioral changes in epileptics following brain surgery, and the sexual effects of brain surgery performed on animals.

The relationship between epilepsy and sexual aberrations became a subject of interest in the 19th and early 20th century. A 1907 text on epilepsy, for example, claimed that “various bizarre and criminal actions, more particularly with reference to sexual perversions” were a “psychical epileptic equivalent.”[2]

            Attention to the relationship between the brain and sexual functioning was also piqued by observations of epileptics post-surgical intervention.  Research on animals helped encourage attention to the effects of removing various parts of the brain. Klüver and Bucy (1939) found, in addition to a wide range of effects, that rhesus monkeys demonstrated marked hypersexuality following bilateral temporal lobectomy,[3] suggesting the influential role of the temporal lobes in sexual function. Several studies reported individual instances of hypersexuality following lobectomy in human male subjects in the 1950s.[4] For example, Terzian and Dalle Ore (1955) reported hypersexuality, exhibitionism, and homosexual behavior following bilateral temporal lobectomy.[5] The association between changes in sexual behavior and lobectomy is evident in Levine and Albert’s 1951 article, “The question is frequently asked, particularly by patients’ families, if prefrontal lobotomy will result in impulsive, unpredictable sexual behavior” suggesting that this association had reached mainstream culture.[6] This is not surprising given Freeman and Watt’s (1950) advice to wives of husbands who have undergone brain surgery and are noticeably more hypersexual:

Physical self-defense is probably the best tactic for the woman. Her husband may have regressed to the cave-man level, and she owes it to him to be responsive at the cave-woman level. It may not be agreeable at first, but she will soon find it exhilarating if unconventional.[7]

Thus, the widespread acceptance of radical surgical intervention into epilepsy provided researchers an opportunity  to observe and collect data on the role of various brain structures by noting behavioral changes in individuals after having undergone surgery.

            Most published accounts of the effects of lobectomy on epileptics were limited to individual or small numbers of cases. Lobectomy, however, was not only invasive intervention widely acceptable as a treatment for epilepsy; stimulation of the brain was also a common treatment. In a 1972 article “Pleasure and Brain Activity in Man,” published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Dr. Robert Heath provides detailed accounts of electrode and chemical stimulation of the brain in two epileptic patients. The patients were admitted to the Tulane Department of Psychiatry and Neurology, a program developed in 1950 focusing on “implanting electrodes into predetermined deep brain sites of patients with intractable behavioral and neurological illnesses.”[8] The program, now notorious for its highly invasive procedures on patients and for its Cold War-era CIA connections,[9] originally focused on schizophrenia but quickly began experimentation on persons with a wide range of illnesses. The implantation of electrodes in patients allowed researchers the ability to examine, not only behavioral and neurological illness, but also use these test subjects as a means to investigate the function of the brain more generally.

            As the article’s title suggests, Heath’s focus in this particular report is on the relationship between pleasure and the brain, specifically where in the brain pleasure is located. Several animal studies influenced researcher’s focus on pleasure sites in the brain, including James Olds and Peter Milner’s 1954 study that found that rats would self-stimulate electrodes in the septal region of the brain upwards of 2,000 times an hour to produce a pleasurable sensation. Also, using electrodes implanted in monkeys, John Lilly found, “Given the apparatus by which he could stimulate himself once every three minutes for twenty-four hours a day, the monkey stimulated the site and had orgasms every three minutes for sixteen hours and then slept eight hours and started again the next day,”[10] effectively “produc[ing] virtually continuous orgasms.”[11] The influence of animal studies on Heath’s work is direct, as he states clearly that the “the design of [the self-stimulating transistorized device] was based on the technique introduced by Olds and Milner in 1954 to demonstrate the pleasure response in animals.”[12] Old and Milner’s techniques were “incorporated and modified by the Tulane researchers in human studies, enabling them to extend their scope to man.”[13] With Old and Milner’s technique, and subsequent developments by Olds, “the need to depend largely upon verbal reports of the subjective response was eliminated”[14] as direct brain activity could be measured with electrodes.

            In an earlier study published in 1964, Heath’s team found that, in 54 patients with a variety of mental and nervous disorders, pleasurable feelings and a degree of sexual response was consistently elicited with stimulation.[15] The experimentation at Tulane provided a wealth of data for researchers to cull through and synthesize, generating a tremendous wave of publications covering a broad array of issues. The experimentation performed on the two patients described in the 1972 publication was separated by almost a decade and provides an in-depth analysis of two patients. The first patient, “Patient B-5” (as she is referred to throughout the article), is a woman 34 years of age with “psychomotor and grand mal epilepsy” and “borderline defective intelligence.” Over the course of 1960 and 1961, Heath’s team implanted electrodes in the deep tissues of patient B-5’s brain and administered dosages of “acetylcholine and levarterenol bitartrate through the intracerebral cannulas implanted into the septal region.” In response to the introduction of these chemicals, Heath reports “development of a sexual motive state and in most instances, within another 5 to 10 minutes, this culminated in repetitive orgasms,” confirmed by the patient as well as “her sensuous appearance and movements.”[16] The relationship between the septal region of the brain and orgasmic sensations had already been reported by Heath’s team at Tulane, detailing a case in 1963 of a patient who repeatedly stimulated the septal region because the “feeling was ‘good’; it was as if he were building up to a sexual orgasm.”[17]

            The other patient described in the article, “Patient B-19,” is a 24-year old man with temporal lobe epilepsy and a “5-year history of overt homosexuality and a 3-year history of drug abuse” and “chronic depression, characterized by inability to experience pleasure.”[18] In 1970, “Electrodes were stereotaxically implanted into a variety of deep sites and over the cortex of the brain.”[19] During the first phase of research, patient B-19 “responded with pleasure only when electrical stimulation was applied [by the researcher] to the septal region, responses to stimuli to other sites being neutral or adversive.” A subsequent phase of research allowed patient B-19 to self-stimulate himself using a device with three buttons corresponding to different electrodes placed at deep sites of the brain. Each push of a button was recorded by a counter and a 1 second stimulus was delivered to the patient. As Heath explains, “The patient was permitted to wear the device for 3 hours at a time: on one occasion he stimulated his septal region 1,200 times, on another occasion 1,500 times, and on a third occasion 900 times. He protested each time the unit was taken from him, pleading to self-stimulate just a few more times.”[20] The patient reported “feelings of sexual arousal and described a compulsion to masturbate” with self-stimulation to the septal region. In addition to generalized research into pleasure areas of the brain, “One aspect of the total treatment program for this patient was to explore the possibility of altering his sexual orientation through electrical stimulation of pleasure sites in the brain.” As Heath and his colleague Charles Moan remark in another article, “considerable interest has…fastened on the fact that a pleasurable response can be induced by direct activation of the brain and raised hopes that this might be applied to the treatment of disordered human behavior.”[21]

            Prior to the beginning of stimulation experiments, patient B-19 was shown 8-mm silent stag reels featuring heterosexual intercourse to which he reportedly responded with revulsion. After a series of stimulation experiments, both administered by the researchers and through self-stimulation described above,  the patient was again shown the stag film to which “he became increasingly aroused, had an erection, and masturbated to orgasm.”[22] Heath’s team obtained EEG readings during the film showing and the results are discussed in detail. After the film screenings:

The patient’s conversation was preoccupied with sex; a continually growing interest in women culminated in his expressed wish for heterosexual activity. A twenty-one-year-old female prostitute agreed, after being told the circumstances, to spend time with the patient in a specially prepared laboratory…EEG’s were obtained throughout his             relationship with her. He reported, and she later verified in her account of the experience, that as he started to be aroused, he felt the need to confess his homosexuality and generally presented himself negatively, seemingly as a defense against progressing further. During this phase, which lasted about 20 minutes, she continually reassured him. Later, the patient began active participation and achieved successful penetration, which culminated in a highly satisfactory orgiastic response, despite the milieu and the encumbrances of the lead wires to the electrodes.[23]

Heath and Moan report that since the studies were conducted, despite two sexual encounters with men “when he needed money,” the patient had a “close sexual relationship with a married woman for almost 10 months” and “indicates he is definitely motivated to continue” pursuing sexual relationships with women. The authors argues that “the success reported points toward future effective use of septal activation for reinforcing desired behavior and extinguishing undesired behavior.” [24]

            Heath’s report on both patients is important to the scientific history of orgasm as he was able to obtain EEG readings during visually-induced arousal, masturbation-induced orgasm, and heterosexual intercourse. He provides extensive description and charts of the EEG readings corresponding to various levels of arousal, suggesting that the research “has helped to demarcate the pleasure areas of the human brain (the medial forebrain bundle and interpeduncular nuclei of the mesencephalon), roughly corresponding to pleasure areas of brains of animals.”[25] Given the highly problematic acceptance of invasive brain procedures on individuals with mental and nervous disorders still prevalent at the time, research on epileptics provided scientists interested in brain correlates of sexual arousal and orgasm with a wealth of data.

            Research on epilepsy, conducted by Heath and others, also pointed to corollaries between epileptic seizures and orgasm that fascinated researchers. While Heath is quick to point out differences, he does devote discussion to the “seemingly similar recordings…obtained from the septal region in association with the dysphoric, psychotic state, and the intensely pleasurable orgastic state.”[26] Several research studies documented genital sensations, sexual arousal, and even ejaculation in individuals preceding, during, and following seizures. Kennedy (1959), Bancoud (1971), Warneke (1976), and Remillard et al. (1983) reported instances in which sexual arousal and/or orgasm or orgasm-like sensations were associated with seizure. Several studies also reported sexual automatisms during seizure that the patients subsequently did not recall, including making sexual statements, masturbation, simulated intercourse, and exhibitionism.[27]

            Research on epilepsy was also used to speculate on differences between male and female brains as well as sexual deviancy. Based on his findings and the finding of others, Remillard et al. argue, “The increased incidence of erotic ictal manifestations in women, as opposed to the more common occurrence of nonerotic ictal genital sensations in men, suggests that the neural organization of psychosexual behavior differs in human male and female brains.”[28] Thus, research on epileptic seizures is used as an indication of sexual dimorphism of the human brain with respect to sexual arousal. Quite a few studies also examined associations between male temporal lobe epileptics and “sexual deviancy,” including transvestitism, pedophilia, homosexuality, fetishism, and sadism. Hunter et al., in their 1963 article claimed, “Since the days of Hippocrates sexual disturbances have been linked with epileptic convulsions in the relation of cause and effect.”[29] According to Hunter et al., “The last decade has seen as upsurge of interest in [sexual perversions in epileptics], especially in relation to temporal lobe epilepsy, because of their possible relief by surgery.”[30] This observation is borne out by numerous publications devoted to sexual perversions in epileptics in the mid-twentieth century.[31] Threaded across these discussions is the implicit, and at times, quite explicit, suggestion that sexual perversions, particularly transvestism, are caused by damage to the brain—leading some researchers to wonder whether all cases of sexual deviancy are caused by as yet unrecognized brain damage or disease. As Hunter et al. suggest, attention to what were considered sexual abnormalities was heightened by the possibility that surgery may act as a curative. Blumer (1970), based on research conducted with 50 temporal lobe epileptics, found that a lobectomy could resolve hyposexuality (lack of libidinal and genital arousal) commonly associated with temporal lobe epilepsy, arguing that  “these findings document the role of the temporal limbic structure in the regulation of sexual arousal.”[32] As noted earlier, however, published accounts of the effects of invasive procedures were more likely to report causing sexual disturbances, rather than curing them.

[1] Komisaruk et al., The Science of Orgasm, 214.

[2] Quoted in R. Hunter et al., “Temporal Lobe Epilepsy Supervening on Longstanding Transvestism and Fetishism,” 60.

[3] See Heinrich Klüver and Paul C. Bucy, “Prelimary Analysis of Function of the Temporal Lobes in Monkeys.,” Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry 42.6 (Dec 1939):  979-1000. The effects Klüver and Bucy documented became known as Klüver Bucy Syndrome. Other symptoms, in addition to hypersexuality, include visual agnosia, hyperorality, hypermetamorphosis, and emotional changes.  

[4] See Hill et al. (1957) and Terzian (1958).

[5] Terzian and Dalle Ore, “Sydrome of Klüver and Bucy reproduced in man by bilateral removal of temporal lobes,” 373-380.

[6] Julius Levine and Harold Albert, “Sexual Behavior After Lobotomy,” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 113.4 (April 1951), 332. The authors, in their study, found little evidence supporting the association between hypersexuality/sexual deviancy and frontal lobotomy. Nonetheless, they seemed sympathetic to this cultural association and their language is interesting in this regard, “Any therapeutic procedure which involves a destructive attack on the higher association areas inevitably raises the problem that the ethical, more or religious behavior may be impaired; and in so far as it is generally believed that the cortex acts to modify and inhibit the more primitive urges, it may be expected that lobotomy will blunt man’s finer sensibilities.”

[7] Quoted in Komisaruk et al, The Science of Orgasm, 244.

[8] Heath, “Correlation of Brain Activity with Emotion: A Basis for Developing Treatment of Violent-Aggressive Behavior.”,” Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis 20 (1992): 335-346.

[9] For more on the program’s CIA connections, see Mohr and Gordon’s Tulane: The Emergence of a Modern University, 1945-1980. For broader discussions of connections between psychological research and the CIA, including Tulane, see Harvey M. Weinstein, Psychiatry and the CIA: Victims of Mind Control (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1990); John Marks, The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate": The CIA and Mind Control (New York: Times Books, 1979); and George Andrews, mkULTRA: The CIA’s Top Secret Program in Human Experimentation and Behavior Modification.

[10] Lilly, The Scientist, 90.

[11] Mohr and Gordon, Tulane: The Emergence of a Modern University, 1945-1980, 122.

[12] Heath, “Pleasure and Brain Activity in Man,” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 154.1 (1972), 6.

[13] Moan and Heath, “Septal stimulation for the initiation of heterosexual behavior in a homosexual male,”  23.

[14] Heath, “Electrical Self-Stimulation of the Brain in Man,” 571.

[15] See Heath, “Pleasure Response of Human Subjects to Direct Stimulation of the Brain: Physiologic and psychodynamic considerations,”,” in The Role of Pleasure in Behavior, Ed. Heath, New York: Harper & Row, 1964: 219-43.

[16] Heath, “Pleasure and Brain Activity in Man,” 12.

[17] Heath, “Electrical Self-Stimulation of the Brain in Man,” 573.

[18] Heath,  “Pleasure and Brain Activity in Man,” 4.

[19] Ibid, 5.

[20] Ibid, 6.

[21] Moan and Heath, 23.

[22] Heath, “Pleasure and Brain Activity in Man,” 7.

[23] Ibid,  9.

[24] Moan and Heath, 29.

[25] Heath, “Pleasure and Brain Activity in Man,” 17.

[26] Ibid, 16.

[27] See Hooshmand and Brawley (1969), Freemon and Nevis (1969), and Currier et al. (1971).

[28] Remillard et al., “Sexual Ictal Manifestations Predominate in Women with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy: A Finding Suggesting Sexual Dimorphism in the Human Brain,” Neurology 33 (March 1983), 329.

[29] Hunter et al., 60.

[30] Hunter et alIbid., 60.

[31] For examples, see Blumer (1967); Davies and Morgenstern (1960); Epstein (1961); Erickson (1945); Hooshmand (1969); Hunter et al. (1963); Kolarsky et al. (1967); Mitchell et al. (1954); Taylor (1969).

[32] Blumer, “Hypersexual Episodes in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy,” 1105. Savard and Walker (1965) and Falconer et al. (1955) are examples of research claiming hyposexuality is resolved after lobectomy.


Queer Ecstasies

Michael Warner offers useful insight into the ecstatic, specifically as it relates to contemporary conceptualizations of queer. In the piece, “Tongues Untied: Memoirs of a Pentecostal Boyhood,” originally published in the Voice Literary Supplement in 1993, Warner reflects on his Pentecostal upbringing and offers surprising insights into the function of religion in contemporary cultures and even more surprising corollaries between fundamentalism and queer identities. He responds to a passage from 18th century theologian Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (1741) by remarking, “When I read this my blood heats up. I can hardly keep from it reading it aloud.”[1] The passage reads:

The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood…It is nothing but His mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction.

It is the last line in particular, “It is nothing but His mere pleasure…” that causes such a profound reaction in Warner. He begins the piece by reflecting on the way he typically responds to the surprise of others when he speaks of his Pentecostal past: “It was another life.” Yet, “for us who once were found and now are lost,” Warner recognizes a function of religious life that “secular culture can only approximate.” “What if,” Warner asks, “I were to stop saying ‘It was another life’? What if that life and this one are not so clearly opposed?”

            Warner offers several ways in which “that life and this one” bear strange resemblances. First, Warner draws a comparison between theological textual analysis and literary textual analysis, a comparison that, in many ways, leaves theology on top. He explains that “in the heart of splinter-mad American sectarianism,” textual analysis of particular works, particular passages, and particular words even, help to buttress the claim that “the sub-denomination you belong to is bound for heaven; the one down the road is bound for hell.” Within these “profoundly hermeneutic cultures[s],” Warner recalls being “surrounded by textual arguments in which the stakes were not just life and death, but eternal life and death.” For Warner, this “saturation of life by argument” is simply not matched in academic debates, “Being a literary critic is nice, I have to say, but for lip-whitening, vein-popping thrills it doesn’t compete.”[2] These sectarian textual debates, according to Warner, also drive minoritarian identifications, particularly amongst Pentecostalists. The second overlap between “that life and this one” then is the discursive similarities between religious and queer articulations of what it means to be part of a “minoritarian culture.” Pentecostalists and other fundamentalist religious denominations see themselves at odds with mainstream culture; “the dominant culture is one of a worldliness they have rejected, and bucking that trend comes, in some very real ways, with social stigmatization.” According to Warner:

The bliss of Pentecostalism is, among other things, a radical downward revaluing of the world that despises Pentecostalists. Like all religions, Pentecostalism has a world-cancelling moment; but its world-cancelling gestures can also be a kind of social affirmation, in this case of a frequently despised minority. I suspect that the world-cancelling rhetorics of queer sexuality works in a similar way. If you lick my nipple, the world suddenly seems comparatively insignificant. Ressentiment doubles your pleasure.

The Pentecostal version of “coming out,” witnessing, is articulated “in much the same language of necessity, shame and pride, stigma and cultural change” as queer articulations.

            Perhaps the most provocative aspect of Warner’s discussion, and the most relevant to the focus of this project, is his discussion of the “enthusiasm” associated with certain religious sects.[3] Contrary to the conflation made between religious enthusiasm and “an unrecognized form of sexuality” by many Western philosophers, Warner retorts, “You can reduce religion to sex only if you don’t especially believe in either one.” Thus, Harold Bloom’s claim that “[religious ecstasy is] an ecstasy scarcely distinguishable from sexual transport,” misunderstands both religion and sex. To this, Warner replies, “When I learned what orgasm felt like, I can’t say that the difference between it and speaking in tongues was ‘scarcely distinguishable.’” However, there is something to these discussions for Warner that are helpful. He argues, “What I think critics like Bloom are trying to say, against their own an-erotic reductivism, is that religion makes available a language of ecstasy, a horizon of significance within which transgressions against the normal order of the world and the boundaries of self can be seen as good things.”[4] So it is not so much that religious ecstasy is fundamentally about sex, but rather that the ecstatic, in its transgressive functions, can have a sexual mode and vice versa. Religious ecstasy and sexual ecstasy both transgress boundaries of normality and the self and render these transgressions (potentially) positive. Indeed, the identitarian “rupture[s]” so fundamental to queer theorizations are intrinsic to many religious discourses, “For both the notion of having a rupture with your self and the notion of narrated personal coherence are Protestant conventions.” The “coming out” associated with Pentecostalism is a discourse of identitarian deconstruction and renewal. Warner argues, “Conversion religion[s]…offer you a new and perpetual personality and they tell you your current one was a mistake you made. They tell you to be somebody else. I say: believe them.”[5]

            Warner’s proclamation that “Jesus was my first boyfriend” then is not intended (at least not entirely) as a humorous trivialization and sexualization of the symbolism of Jesus as a religious figure but rather as a statement regarding the development of his own relationship to the realm of the ecstatic, sexual and otherwise. Warner raises the question as to whether the religious discourse he rehearses throughout the piece should be understood as queer and he answers this affirmatively. Here though, I am less concerned with Warner’s explication of how and why religious enthusiasm should be understood as queer than with what this affirmation reveals about the notion of queer itself. In many ways, this project gestures towards Warner’s suggestion that “a language of ecstasy” provides “a horizon of significance within which transgressions against the normal order of the world and the boundaries of self can be seen as good things.” Warner’s inquiry into the possibilities that religion opens up shares much in common with Bataille’s inquiry into the function of both religious and mystical experience, and his work is valuable in terms of understanding how the language of ecstasy might relate to queer theoretical projects and to queer politics.

            Given the genealogies mapped throughout this project, it may be useful to think about how ecstasy might relate to history and to the issue of temporality. In this respect, the work of Elizabeth Freeman provides a relevant examination of queer history and temporalities in relation to pleasures and the body. Freeman offers the notion of erotohistoriography, or, “a politics of unpredictable, deeply embodied pleasures that counters the logic of development.”[6] Her argument is, in part, a response to the explosion of work across a range of fields, but particularly within queer theory, focusing on forms of loss. She argues, “[T]his powerful turn toward loss—toward failure, shame, negativity, grief, and other structures of feeling historical—may also be a premature turn away from a seemingly obsolete politics of pleasure that could, in fact, be renewed by attention to temporal difference.”[7] While Freeman finds this turn towards loss both insightful and necessary, she insists that “we might imagine ourselves haunted by ecstasy and not just by loss; residues of positive affect (erotic scenes, utopias, memories of touch) might be available for queer counter- (or para-) historiographies.”[8] She relates this to Toni Morrison’s notion of “skin memory, the body’s recollection of pleasure” in order to think critically about how pleasure connects across temporalities and across bodies. She suggests that “queers survive through the ability to invent or seize pleasurable relations between bodies” and that this is done “across time.”[9]

            Judith Butler, who has written extensively on melancholy and grief, and who Freeman, to some extent, differentiates her work from, nonetheless, allows for the importance of pleasures across bodies and across time. She argues, “We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact. It may be that one wants to, or does, it may also be that despite one’s best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, by the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel.”[10] The “prospect of the touch” and the “memory of the feel” call up different temporalities in relation to the negotiation of pleasures and the body. Just as Butler offers an understanding of grief in relation to history, she offers an understanding of how we are “undone” through, what Freeman calls, “residues of positive affect” as well the anticipation of positive affective futures. The “undone” to which Butler refers is, of course, the ecstatic. She explains, “To be ec-static means, literally, to be outside oneself, and this can have several meanings: to be transported beyond oneself with passion, but also to be beside oneself with rage or grief. […] In a sense, the predicament is to understand what kind of community is composed of those who are beside themselves.”[11] Butler’s question of what kind of community is created through ecstasy directly relates to Freeman’s suggestion that  “queers survive through the ability to invent or seize pleasurable relations between bodies.”

As Warner explains, the ecstatic involves transgressions against the boundaries of the self. Part of this transgression may involve having to risk that the boundaries of the self will not be transgressed, that we may not be transported, undone, or satisfied at all. Orgasm, and sexual pleasure more generally, must retain a relationship to absence, even as we incessantly seek its presence. Our attempt to eliminate the uncertainty of pleasure risks eliminating the pleasure of uncertainty. The uncertainty of pleasure must be operating; if it’s not, then we’ve left the realm of the ecstatic, and perhaps, the realm of pleasure itself. To answer Butler’s query, the kind of community that is composed of those who are besides themselves is the kind of community that recognizes the pleasure of uncertainty—and insists upon it.


[1] Michael Warner, “Tongues Untied: Memoirs of a Pentecostal Boyhood ,” Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children, 219.

[2] Ibid, 218.

[3] OED Enthusiasm: Possession by a god, supernatural inspiration, prophetic or poetic frenzy; an occasion or manifestation of these.

[4] Warner, 221.

[5] Ibid, 224.

[6] Elizabeth Freeman, “Time Binds, or, Erotohistoriography,” 59.

[7] Ibid, 59.

[8] Ibid, 66.

[9] Ibid 58.

[10] Judith Butler, Undoing Gender, 19.

[11] Ibid, 20.

“The Emergence of the ‘Precariat’”


RTP Conversation Series, January 2015


“The Emergence of the ‘Precariat’: What Does The Loss of Stable, Well-Compensated Employment Mean for Education?”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015, Noon to 2:00
555 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, DC
Lunch will be served


The emergence of the global knowledge economy has revolutionized the nature of work in America – for the worse. Unionized, well-paying private sector jobs that were once a ladder to the middle class have been decimated. Poorly compensated, insecure and precarious employment has grown dramatically. As a consequence, economic inequality has mushroomed. Perhaps nothing captures this transformation better than academia, where tenure-track positions have declined as the numbers of poorly paid, insecure adjuncts have swelled. What is the reality of life in the ‘precariat?’ What has the growth of the ‘precariat’ meant for the American economy? For the quality of American higher education? What are the prospects for union organizing among the ‘precariat?’



Barbara EhrenreichNew York Times Bestselling Author

Rosemay Feal,   Executive Director, Modern Language Association

 Andrew Ross,  Professor, Social and Cultural Analysis; Director, American Studies (interim), New York University

 Jennie Shanker,  adjunct professor, Temple University; member, Temple adjunct organizing committee

The livestream will be available here on January 14.

Sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers, this conversation series is designed to engender lively and informative discussions on important educational issues. We deliberately invite speakers with diverse perspectives, including views other than those of the AFT and the Albert Shanker Institute. What is important is that these participants are committed to genuine engagement with each other.

PSC-CUNY's statement

PSC-CUNY, the union that represents the 25,000+ faculty and staff at the City University of New York (CUNY) and the CUNY Research Foundation just issued a spot-on call for a moment of silence in memory of Eric Garber. A tremendous show of leadership by the Executive Council:

A message from Barbara Bowen, president of the PSC:

Dear Members,

The PSC Executive Council voted unanimously to call on all CUNY faculty and professional staff to observe a moment of silence at 11:00 AM this Thursday, December 11, in memory of Eric Garner. We have asked for an extraordinary gesture because this is an extraordinary moment. The failure to issue indictments in Ferguson and Staten Island—the decision not even to take the cases to trial—suggests that black and brown lives in the United States continue to be devalued. As educators at a university founded on the premise that “the children of the whole people” are entitled to equal education, CUNY faculty and staff have a special responsibility to challenge the devaluing of any lives in the diverse communities that make up our student body. By observing a collective moment of silence, we will send a counter-message of respect; we will silently make the public assertion that black lives matter.

Please incorporate the moment of silence into your normal work and fulfill your professional responsibilities as usual. The union leadership is not calling for a withholding of labor; we are asking you to observe a moment of silence as you would in other instances, invoking the traditional gesture of respect. By asking all CUNY faculty and staff to observe the moment together, we hope to magnify its impact and open a space for private reflection and public discussion of questions of history, race and justice. Nowhere are such discussions more appropriate or urgent than at CUNY. We also hope to express a connection to our students, many of whom live in communities where people of color are aggressively policed.

The moment of silence is called for 11:00 AM on Thursday, December 11 to recall that the video depicting Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the police showed him saying eleven times “I can’t breathe.” We could echo Martin Luther King’s statement on an injustice anywhere by saying that no one can breathe if anyone can’t breathe.

The PSC has a strong tradition of opposing institutional racism and calling for an end to the overuse of police force. We stand with our students. Many of us have already participated and will continue to participate in public protests demanding justice. Observing a moment of silence together is a way we can share our sorrow and anger about another needless death.

Be part of sending a message that will resonate across CUNY and New York City: observe a moment of silence at 11:00 on Thursday the 11th. Silence, as Audre Lorde said, must be transformed into language and action; collective silence can be a language of its own.

In solidarity,
Barbara Bowen


Rodriguez's Sexual Futures

From Juana Maria Rodriguez' Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings (NYU Press, 2014): 

For those of us marked us both shamelessly excessive and wholly deficient, understanding what has become our place in the world is a maddening, soul-crushing journey. And while we do well to shout back skillfully crafted retorts to artfully contest the confines used to discipline us, what might it mean to also embrace the irrational, those inchoate spaces where desire also spins its web? What if we allow ourselves to crumble into a fleshy funk of wet tears, to answer the hail of madness, to dwell in the spaces of unreason to which we have been assigned?   (p. 185)

Bully Bloggers on TW debate

Bully Bloggers is posting a series of pieces inspired by the recent panel at NYU:

"Taking Offense: Trigger Warnings & the Neoliberal Politics of Endangerment"

a panel discussion sponsored by the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality with Lisa DugganJack HalberstamTavia Nyong’oAnn Pellegrini, & Avgi Saketopouloumoderated Karen Shimakawa.  

Pellegrini's and Duggan's pieces are already up. Looking forward to hearing Nyong'o's take on this issue, but for now, take a look at his older BB piece "Civility Disobedience"