In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sexualities

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Classic Works
  • Theoretical Developments
  • Histories of Sexualities
  • Sexual Politics
  • The State and Sexual Regulation
  • Sexual Spaces
  • Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality
  • Transnational and Global Sexualities

Sociology Sexualities
Nancy L. Fischer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0168


The social study of sexuality encompasses investigating sexual practices and behaviors, sexual feelings, sexual orientation, and the ways in which particular sexual identities and behaviors are reinforced or discouraged by societal institutions and culture. Sexuality studies are interdisciplinary and include work from anthropology, gender and women’s studies, history, LGBT studies, psychology, queer studies, and sociology. The social study of sexuality contrasts with biological approaches to human sexuality, which frame sexual expression as resulting from anatomy and hormones. Contemporary social approaches to studying sexualities—the focus of this article—took shape during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when sociologists, feminists, and gay liberationists argued that sexuality (desire, orientation) was not innate, but socially constructed. Thus, contemporary research and theory operates under the assumption that sexual desires, identities, and behaviors are socially constructed. Sexuality studies seek to explain how social institutions and social interaction patterns shape sexual meanings and practices. A significant portion of sexualities work focuses on inequalities between genders, between heterosexuals and nonheterosexuals (of which there are an expanding array of identities, particularly as gender identities expand), races and ethnicities, and social classes.


Sexualities anthologies tend to fall into four categories: textbook overviews of the field for undergraduates; overviews of particular theoretical traditions; overviews of intersections of sexualities with particular ethnic/racial groups; and collections of articles around specific topics, such as sexual health or particular identities. This list provides a brief overview of some nontextbook anthologies. Other anthologies are included throughout this article as they pertain to the specific identities and intersections. This section focuses on collections that have become classic texts, as well as ones that forge new ground in terms of providing useful overviews of a particular area of study within sexualities research. Abelove, et al. 1993 is a collection of classic essays published early in the development of gay/lesbian studies as an academic field. The 1980s and 1990s work of LGBT studies scholars tended to disproportionately emphasize white middle-class perspectives. Johnson and Henderson 2005 charts where queer theory has headed in the 2000s, where the multiple intersections of sexuality, race, and class are articulated. Likewise, Hall and Jagose 2012 brings early statements in queer theory together with voices of newer scholars researching topics such as race, citizenship, and migration. Attwood 2010 looks at online pornography, and Ditmore, et al. 2010 represents the expanding area of researching commercial sex and sex workers. Finally, Aggleton, et al. 2015 addresses the important topic of sexual health, which is useful both for sexuality researchers and health workers.

  • Abelove, Henry, Michèle Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin, eds. 1993. The lesbian and gay studies reader. New York: Routledge.

    One of the first edited volumes in gay/lesbian studies, this collection of forty-two essays by highly respected authors has become a classic text in gay and lesbian studies/queer theory. It is essential reading that introduces scholars to the initial theoretical statements and empirical research in LGBT studies and queer theory.

  • Aggleton, Peter, Richard Parker, and Felicity Thomas. 2015. Culture, health and sexuality. New York: Routledge.

    International in scope, this collection brings together multidisciplinary perspectives on sexual health. It provides an excellent overview of contemporary sexuality and health research. Divided into sections on culture, sex and gender, sexual diversity, sex work, sexual violence, and migration.

  • Attwood, Feona, ed. 2010. Making sense of online pornography. New York and Oxford: Peter Lang.

    This collection of thirteen essays provides an introduction to porn studies and how it intersects with digital media. Media and communication studies scholar Attwood divided this collection into the following sections in order to provide an overview of recent online pornography studies work: Porn Practices, Porn Styles, and Porn Cultures.

  • Ditmore, Melissa Hope, Antonia Levy, and Alys Willman, eds. 2010. Sex work matters: Exploring money, power and intimacy in the sex industry. London: Zed Books.

    There are many books on sex work. This anthology provides a good overview of key writers who represent the perspective that sex work is similar to other kinds of labor in a capitalist economy. Organized into sections on sex work research perspectives, roles of sex workers, money, regulation, and activism.

  • Hall, Donald E., and Annamarie Jagose, eds. 2012. The Routledge queer studies reader. New York: Routledge.

    This edited volume marks the shift from GLBT studies to queer studies. The collection of thirty-three essays is divided into seven parts: Genealogies, Sex, Temporalities, Kinship, Affect, Bodies, and Borders. International in scope, this is a key text in queer studies that illustrates the development of queer scholarship.

  • Johnson, E. Patrick, and Mae G. Henderson, eds. 2005. Black queer studies: A critical anthology. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

    This is the first anthology whose emphasis is on queer-of-color perspectives. The eighteen essays featured in this collection are divided into the disciplinary tensions between black studies and queer studies; representations; race studies and queer pedagogy; and black queer fiction. Contains both classic and new queer theory works.

  • Seidman, Steven, ed. 1996. Queer theory/sociology. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

    Seidman’s book was one of the first works to explore the intersections of queer theory and sociological thought. Sections include sociological perspectives on homosexuality; sociology/queer theory: a dialogue; queer sociological approaches on identity and society; and queer sociological approaches to identity and politics.

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