CFP for journal special issue on the politics of sex and drugs

Studies of the relationship between sex and drug use have historically been dominated by scholarly perspectives from the medical sciences and public health. This body of literature has tended to focus on the causes and motivations behind drug use in sexual contexts, as well as the consequences, risks and potential harms. While contributing to understandings of the health-related dimensions of sexualised drug use, these accounts tend to include a sub-text of pathology which constrains thinking in this field. Moreover, existing research has almost exclusively focussed on sexualised drug use within so-called ‘risky’ populations, predominantly men who have sex with men (MSM), and relies on the assumption that MSM involved in ‘chemsex’ are suffering from ‘internalised homophobia’1,2 and engaging in self-harm.3 Given the power of medical discourse to shape public views and norms surrounding sexuality, it is crucial to explore how the phenomenon of sexualised drug use might be understood outside the terms of ‘pathology,’ ‘risk’ and ‘deviance’.

A growing body of critical social research about the politics of sex and drugs has emerged in the last two decades.4-9 Recent special issues in the fields of alcohol and other drug (AOD) studies and sexual health have addressed the topic of sexualised drug use in relation to notions of pleasure,10 ‘chemsex’,11 ‘party and play’12, with particular reference to the sexual cultures of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM).13 The proposed special issue seeks to extend this corpus by challenging conventional understandings and adopting a critical, interdisciplinary perspective on the confluence of sex and drugs in contexts that include but also extend beyond GBMSM sexual cultures. Building on the existing AOD literature, the special issue will present interdisciplinary research that engages critically with sex and drugs, and their place in social life and culture. Its ambit includes papers that are theoretical in nature, close readings of key cultural texts, critical engagements with empirical data such as surveys, interviews and field notes, or a combination of all of these. We would welcome papers addressing questions such as:

  • ●  What are the gendered and sexualised dynamics of drug use in sexual contexts? How do these dynamics shape understandings of the body?
  • ●  How do other characteristics such as class, ethnicity and disability affect drug use in sexual contexts? How can we think critically about the complex interplay of these characteristics in relation to drug use? What are their implications for policy and practice?
  • ●  How does drug use in queer spaces contribute to practices of self-making and community-building in LGBTQ cultures?
  • ●  Given the long-standing connections between sexual minoritisation and the desire to chemically alter bodily experience, how does drug use among LGBTQ people disrupt normative regimes of sexuality and gender?
  • ●  In what ways have discourses about the risks and pleasures of sex on drugs changed over time?
  • ●  What are the broader cultural implications of current public health responses to ‘chemsex’?
  • ●  How is the use of drugs in sexual contexts presented in literary, artistic, audiovisual, pornographic and other cultural contexts?
  • ●  In what ways might conventional notions of sexual consent be transformed by the use of drugs?
  • ●  How might licit drug use in sexual contexts shape or transform discourses on illicit drugs and sexual practices?
  • ●  How do contemporary sociocultural, economic and legal discourses of drug use — such as debates about pill-testing and overdoses at music festivals in Australia; decriminalisation and drug policy liberalisation in the EU and North America and increasingly punitive responses in the Philippines — shape discourses of sex and sexuality?
  • ●  How does the policing of drug use shape sexual practices?

    These suggested topics are a guide only and we will also consider pieces addressing other conceptual, material and sociocultural issues related to the politics of sex and drugs. We would also welcome review articles, and interviews and commentary that present more discursive approaches to the topic. Papers which are not informed by a critical perspective (i.e. papers that present clinical data about drug use patterns without critically exploring the categories used to collect such data) are unlikely to be considered suitable for this special issue. We aim to include a wide range of disciplinary perspectives, and encourage authors to challenge and transverse disciplinary boundaries in their writing.

    We will be submitting abstracts to the journal Body and Society to form a special issue as per their guidelines. However, should it be unsuccessful as a team we would work with authors to find a suitable journal.

    Potential contributors should send an abstract of up to 200 words to chemsex@manchester.ac.uk by 24 July 2020. Please include with your response details of authors’ institutional affiliation(s), contact details and brief bios.