CLAM at the VIII IASSCS Conference

The Latin American Center on Sexuality and Human Rights (CLAM) participated at the VIII International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS) Conference, “Naming and Framing: The Making of Sexual (In)Equality”. The meeting took place in Madrid, Spain, from 6th to 9th July 2011, and focused on the multiple ways that equality and inequality are articulated through sexuality.

Research investments on sexual rights in Latin America

This panel presented by a team of CLAM researchers highlighted the sexual and reproductive rights debates which have recently taken center stage in Latin America, as a result of decades of social, political, and academic activism in response to a panorama of acute gender inequity and discrimination against sexual minorities in the region. The polarization of public opinion generated by religious conservative resistance to equal marriage legislation and to the decriminalization of abortion poses challenges to how gender equality and sexual justice may be theorized and implemented. By means of collaborative research carried out in six countries of the region, CLAM has set to explore the legal, political, socio-cultural, scientific, and intellectual aspects of these disputes, and their impact on public discourse and subjectivities. The panel showcases key empirical approaches to the field of sexual rights in Latin America, examining the process of dislocation of sexuality debates from the private to the sphere of public regulation.

Paper abstracts for this panel:

Sexuality and Rights in Latin America: balance of an intellectual movement

Presenter Mario Pecheny (UBA/CONICET/CLAM, Argentina); co-author Sérgio Carrara (CLAM/IMS/UERJ) 

This paper is based on forty interviews with intellectuals whose work travels the intersection between sexualities, politics, and rights in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru. It is a critical systematization of the diversity of approaches which mark the emergence of a “Latin American” theoretical, methodological, and political tradition in this subject area. The interviews were taped, transcribed, and edited with a critical apparatus; the edited version was revised by the interviewee. This paper focuses on theoretical trajectories. In different countries of the region, various trends in Latin American thinking merge in current ways of thinking about the linkages between sexuality, politics, and the role of intellectuals. The research team included members from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico.

Female sexuality facing abortion: a social-anthropological study with young women in three Latin American cities

Presenter Maria Luiza Heilborn (CLAM/IMS/UERJ, Brazil); co-authors Mónica Petracci (CEDES, Argentina) and Mara Viveros Vigoya (Universidad Nacional de Colombia)

Contraception and abortion, as social practices, respond to specific logics, which involve gender relations, sexual and reproductive norms, and links between social actors and institutions. Those elements interact in the decision-making processes binding voluntary abortion in contexts of illegality. In this paper, we analyze the connections between the exercise of heterosexuality and issues of contraception and abortion, based on 45 testimonies by young women of different social strata residing in three large Latin American cities: Bogota, Buenos Aires, and Rio de Janeiro, interviewed for HEXCA, a research project on heterosexuality, abortion, and contraception, promoted by CLAM.

The women (ages 18 to 27) expressed themselves with great detail in relation to the decision to have an abortion. They highlighted the partnership context which engendered the unanticipated pregnancy; the number of children prior to the event; expectations toward motherhood; and material conditions, both theirs and their partner’s. Significant social changes in the field of sexuality and gender relations have not altered the fact that contraceptive management still is a female-exclusive burden. The event of an abortion expresses elements of both the autonomy and subjection of women.

The emergence, development and contradictions of sexology in Latin America: between globalization and national approaches

Presenter Jane A. Russo (CLAM/ IMS/ UERJ, Brazil); co-author Alain Giami (Inserm, France)

We address sexology as a field of knowledge, a science, and a professional practice. We studied its emergence and development in six Latin American countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. Ethnographic studies, including participation in congresses and conferences, interviews with key informants and field professionals, social-historical analysis of professional and scientific publications, and a contextualization in the larger cultural and political national milieu were carried out by a partner research team in each country. The results offer a comprehensive overview of the field, where sexology, sexual health, sexual rights and sexual medicine appear in complex interaction, showing a different configuration in each country. Moreover, sexology appears strongly embedded in each national context, marked by the presence of dictatorships, the influence of catholic and evangelical religion, and patterns of economic development. Our analysis involves a comparative approach, which also includes European country cases. Our theoretical considerations address the dynamics and contradictions between global and national approaches on sexuality and gender.

Normalizing or dissent: the legalization of same-sex unions in Mexico City

Presenter Rodrigo Parrini (UAM-Xochimilco); co-author Ana Amuchástegui (UAM-Xochimilco)

The same-sex marriage debate may potentially become a moral struggle, full of contradictory injunctions. From those who wish that every gay and every lesbian be wed, form a family, buy a home, a car, and live in long lasting monogamous union, to those who demand that they break with every tradition, invent new forms of love and pleasure, and contest every social arrangement to create freedoms and forms of entertainment still unknown. We believe that, in that peculiar oscillation between the most tedious normality and the most illusory exceptionality, a desire less spectacular, but perhaps deeper, is missed: the longing for equality motivating the actions and political initiatives of sexual minorities in Mexico and Latin America.

Based on an analysis of the public debates on gay marriage, and interviews with persons who have signed domestic partnerships in Mexico, we address claims regarding marriage, civil unions, and adoption, as demands for equality. Follow Rancière, Badiou, Laclau and Mouffe, we read into that longing and its realization under the form of laws and institutions as a desire that is fundamentally political. As such, it is not limited to the conquest of certain rights, or the access to certain institutions, but aims at the heart of the hetero-normative order, its exclusions, discriminations, and violence.


CLAM was also involved in the panel “Electronic Sociability, Gender, Sexuality and Internet Regulation”, organized by the Women’s Networking Support Programme of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC-WNSP). This panel showcased the preliminary findings of an international collaborative research project, conducted in Brazil by CLAM and Sexuality Policy Watch (SPW). Sponsored by APC (Association for Progressive Communications), the ERoTICs Project – Exploratory research on sexuality and ICTs – is an exploratory investigation on issues of Internet and sexuality, conducted in India, Brazil, Lebanon, South Africa, and the United States.

Paper abstracts for this panel:


Presenter Horacio Sívori, co-authors Bruno Zilli, Sonia Correa

The EROTICS Brazil research project addressed sexuality issues related to Internet use and regulation in Brazil. From May 2009 to July 2010, three lines of investigation were explored: 1) observation and analysis of current developments in public debates, legislative, and policy-making landscape as regards to Internet regulation, identifying and describing the main political arenas, arguments, agencies and institutions engaged, as well as governmental, law-making, law-enforcement and civil society actors at play; 2) application of an exploratory survey on online practices by LGBT and feminist activists; 3) observation and analysis of online social networking for sexual identity affirmation purposes on Orkut, an important brazilian social network, identifying two particular cases: i) an online community engaged in legitimating adult-adolescent relationships, and ii) women who respond to online lesbophobic harassers. Some 26 strategic actors in the IT field, internet regulation, women and LGBT rights were contacted, and 14 interviews were conducted. Participant observation was conducted at 19 Internet regulation public debates. These revealed the wide scope of Brazilian Internet regulatory practices, where the issue of child-pornography has become pivotal in law-making processes and debates that also affect Internet users’ privacy and freedom of expression. An ethnography of two Orkut communities was drafted, based on online observation and text analysis. Internet usage was analyzed as a site of agency through (sexual) self-expression. While LGBT and feminist constituencies seem absent from Internet regulation debates, as indicated by the survey, online mobilization is construed as an alternative to other conventional forms of gender, sexual rights, and freedom of speech activism.

Professional Affiliations: Sexuality Policy Watch (SPW) is a global forum of researchers and activists. The Latin American Center on Sexuality and Human Rights (CLAM) regional coordinator is a sexuality research regional resource center. Both initiatives started in 2002 with support from the Ford Foundation. Horacio Sívori, PhD, is an anthropologist. He is currently regional coordinator at CLAM, and post-doctoral fellow at State University of Rio de Janeiro’s Institute of Social Medicine. Bruno Zilli is a PhD candidate in Social Sciences and CLAM researcher. Sonia Corrêa is the Co-Chair of the Sexuality Policy Watch (SPW) and Associate Researcher of the Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association (ABIA).


Presenter: Maya Ganesh; co-author Manjima Bhattacharjya

IT law and policy in India reflect anxieties around cyber-terrorism, a preoccupation with censoring ‘obscene’ content, and protection of children from online harm and sexual content. These concerns are not derived from an evidence base, and, users’ realities are notably absent. The EroTICs India Research aims to fill these gaps by documenting middle-class women’s experiences of internet use in urban India. This study records how women and young people access and use the internet in their everyday lives, in terms of social networking sites, blogging and online activism; their access of sexual content, experiences; how they negotiate its dangers, protect themselves and what they think about content regulation; their strategies to keep children safe online; and how the gendered politics of internet access impact on their lives. A feminist approach guided the design and execution of the research. The study comprised: a detailed mapping of internet use and regulation in India; a quantitative survey of 150 young people and a qualitative study of 31 women internet users. Young women find that social networking sites allow them freedoms that are regulated in their offline worlds but are cautious about how their online personas may have repercussions on their offline freedoms. Regulation of online content was not perceived as being a viable option because of the convergence of various media, and, because adults recognized their right to access sexual content for their own pleasure. Moreover, respondents themselves produce sexualized imagery and speech to share online. Women are also extremely concerned about how their personal images on social networking sites can be used and manipulated. There was little awareness of the IT act and the government’s role in regulation. Few favoured governmental control of the internet and the qualitative sample was generally against the idea of content filtering online.

Professional Affiliations: Maya Ganesh and Manjima Bhattacharjya are independent researchers based in Bangalore and Bombay. Both have a shared history of working in the Indian women’s movement as researchers and activists, which is how they met. Manjima holds a PhD in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India; her dissertation (which will be published as a book) was on women working in the glamour industry. Maya has a MA in Media & Cultural Studies from the University of Sussex and works at Tactical Technology Collective and takes on independent writing and research assignments.


Presenter is Kevicha; co-author Melissa Hope Ditmore

The United States (US) is perceived as a place where information is free, however, history has shown that access to information about sexuality in the US is fraught with contradictions. Information about sexuality has been restricted in different ways by the State for the few hundred years that the US has existed. Such laws have been created to protect the status of women, and throughout time extended to the protection of children as well. This history is presented as background to the ways information about sexuality is restricted online in the US today. Adults are affected by restrictions designed to protect children particularly when using computers available to the public in local libraries. Furthermore, these restrictions are implemented differently across the US. Consequentially, access to information about sexuality for people who use public computers varies widely. Lack of access to information about sexuality, including accurate information about transmission of infection and birth control, contributes to the fact that rates of incidence of HIV are highest among youth. This is in addition to the US having the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world. Restrictions are intended to suppress information deemed as “harmful.” However, lack of clarity of what is considered harmful creates blocks to accessing helpful and necessary sexuality information, which in fact can be harmful to both women and youth.

Affiliation: This project was undertaken by Sex Work Awareness as part of APC’s Women’s Networking Support Program ERoTics project. Melissa Ditmore holds a doctorate in sociology and a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies. She is a noted scholar of sex work with three books and numerous papers. Kevicha Echols is a doctoral candidate in the Human Sexuality program at Widener University.

EROTICS South Africa

Presenter: Relebohile Moletsane; co-author Jeanne Prinsloo

The argument has been made that Internet sites can provide a space for people to try out identities and begin to inhabit or practice those identities. This study considers the usage of the Internet by South African transgender people through the lens of gender, queer and transgender theory and the literature relating to the Internet and community. The research investigates the performance of transgender, both male to female and female to male, on a single South African transgender website. Critical textual analysis of the concerns and practices articulated reveal the forms and is supplemented with insights from interviews. The subsequent interviews with male to female (MTF) and female to male (FTM) respondents indicate the role that the mainstream media has played in their recognition of their sexual identities, generally as outside the normal, and how the internet enables different engagement and performance.