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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The theme brings together artists and researchers interested in exploring the interconnections of sexuality, identity, and digital technology. This involves the ways in which digital media shapes and channels sexual desires and identifications, as well as the kinds of sexual dynamics that become attached to encounters with and through media technologies. Rather than being approached as mere instruments for exploring identities, sexualities, or desires, digital media is understood as facilitating certain kinds of interactions between people, technologies, representations, and platforms -- giving rise to new kinds of affective intensities, sociabilities, and networked experiences.

The topics presented under the theme include gender, desire and identity in virtual worlds; epistemologies of transition; queer sexuality, aesthetics, and sexual politics; international pornography and cultural identity; biopower, knowledge production, and sexual practice; fetishes and fantasies of mechanicity; and sensuous intimacies with new technologies. This range of topics and approaches makes evident the complexity of issues categorized under the deceptively simple terms sex and sexuality. Unpacking these terms and their associations, the presentations in "Sex and Sexuality" open up new spaces for thinking about sexuality and technology beyond binary concepts like embodiment and disembodiment, the factual and the virtual, or the offline and the online -- revealing forms of mediated intimacy, sensuous intensity, and connective presence.

Theme Leaders:
Susanna Paasonen, research fellow
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
Jordan Crandall:

Cover page of Sensuous Extimacy: Sexuation and Virtual Reality. Taking on a Gender Identity in Second Life

Sensuous Extimacy: Sexuation and Virtual Reality. Taking on a Gender Identity in Second Life


When people meet they apologize for their bodies: their bodies are never perfect, never adequate, and never quite behave exactly how people want them to. Today it seems that the virtual reality of cyberspace offers itself as an effective medium that can transport its users into a different universe, freed from the burden of the body and from the necessity of any such apology. The quickly growing number of the networking users demonstrates the rising demand for a new kind of symbolic realm, whether it be in the form of the user-friendly layout of a website or the appealing architecture of a simulated space, where one can easily inscribe oneself by obtaining a two-dimensional profile or a threedimensional digital body.

This paper addresses one of today’s myths about cyberspace that pictures it as a realm where users can discover their “true selves” or acquire new identities (and especially sexual identities), and by performing them, users may eventually become what they have created on-line. Today we inquire about the role of digital media in shaping and channeling sexual desires, dynamics and identifications attached to encounters with and through media technologies. I use Jacques Lacan’s theory of a subject and his theory of the three orders of the imaginary, symbolic and real to interpret the logic of sexuation (or taking on a gender identity regardless of biological sex) in virtual reality. Drawing on Lacan’s concept of “extimacy” that helps to escape a bipartition between interior and exterior, my paper focuses on a series of displacements occurring in and through cyberspace, exploring the dynamics of sexuation as it occurs in the 3D world of Second Life (

Cover page of International Video Pornography on the Internet: Crossing Digital Borders and the Un/disciplined Gaze.

International Video Pornography on the Internet: Crossing Digital Borders and the Un/disciplined Gaze.


How does engagement with internationally produced pornography function to underscore or to undermine the full human subjectivity of ethnic, racial, national Others? I argue that contemporary global sociopolitics and the changing structure of the distribution of video pornography online (specifically the emergence of free “sex tube” video hosting sites), create a moment with particular potential for resistance to the forces disciplining Western engagement with unmediated cultural products from outside the U.S.

Cover page of GRID: Viral Contagions in Homosexuality and the Queer Aesthetics of Infection

GRID: Viral Contagions in Homosexuality and the Queer Aesthetics of Infection


This paper seeks out a new queer viral aesthetic configuration that binds, interconnects, extends, and reproduces the biosocialities of homosexuality. The digital art and activist organization Queer Technologies presents their project “GRID” as viral methodologies for reconstructing the dominant GRID of homosexuality, working from Alan Liu’s call for destructive creativity—a creativity that goes “beyond the new picturesque of mutation and mixing to [. . .] the new sublime of ‘destruction.’ [. . . a] viral aesthetics.” Such an aesthetic tactic would be a viral exploitation of the homosexual’s self.

Cover page of Is There Life on Adult FriendFinder? Sex and Logic with the Happy Dictator

Is There Life on Adult FriendFinder? Sex and Logic with the Happy Dictator


This paper investigates web users and their sexual behaviors and pornographic self-representations as observed on the sex and dating site The website is a social network and encourages members to find real-life partners for sex whether it be casual sex affairs between singles, swinging couples, or polyamorous extra-marital affairs between “aba” (“attached but available”) individuals and their lovers. The analysis is based on theories of ethnography and social networking and analyzes the effects of corporate networks and homogenizing “sex scripts” on sex lives and Internet culture in Hong Kong.

Cover page of Command and Control: Cybernetics and BDSM

Command and Control: Cybernetics and BDSM


This paper explores correlations between restrictive interfaces in computational systems and restrictive interfaces in BDSM (Bondage & Discipline/Dominance & Submission/Sadism & Masochism) culture. Novel technologies often serve as pet fetish objects, but how do technologies perform as subjects in fetish culture? When digital technologies appear to us as objects, they present us with an illusion of mastery. In reality, technologies are active subjects and we, their "users," must bend to their requirements. In gaming scholarship, the process by which users must first internalize machinic logic in order to win mastery over a machine is termed learning the algorithm. Indeed, in cybernetics command and control through communication has much in common with sexual power dynamics. Both involve getting a partner to do what one wants and to not do what one doesn't want. The dominant consumerist relationship with technologies is already sexually charged. But in order to imagine an alternative, it becomes crucial to ask where power accumulates and how power functions in our interactions with devices. In a given moment of Human-Computer Interaction, who or what is a master and who or what is a slave?

Cover page of Islam, Sexuality, and the Internet: A Historical Reflection of the Shifting Sexual Self in Turkey

Islam, Sexuality, and the Internet: A Historical Reflection of the Shifting Sexual Self in Turkey


From the mid-1990s onward, the internet has stimulated the unprecedented development and growing tension between cultural values and identity. This is evidenced in the relationship between the dissemination of cultural values and the formation of identities on national and individual levels. The growing tension in this relationship is most particularly overt in societies that have a history of well-developed moral mechanisms of cultural protectionism.

This paper looks at the effects of internet culture on Turkish sexual identities, and its role in changing socially acceptable sexual codes and norms. It explores the developmental process of Turkish internet culture through a comparative analysis between two distinct framings of sexual identify: 1) as a product of historical and religious suppression and, 2) as a reflection of cultural rendering in electronic environments. When vectors of sexual behaviour, both explicit and implicit, are translated across cultural boundaries they begin to alter the conglomerate of religious values and socially experiential knowledge of participants. This is particularly apparent within the terrain of new media with its instant and widely available access, and its impact on the cognitive and emotional experiences it supports. This change in values manifests itself in dissonant sexual codes which form a new system of sexual awareness. In most Western societies, expanding perspectives of human sexuality emerged in the 60’s and 70’s evidencing a change in social values linked to the prosperity of modernity. In the case of the Muslim world, and in particular Turkey, this process was largely triggered with the appearance of the internet. The electronic environment provided an instant access to an open source of sexual perspectives which played upon stigmatized ethics and sexual taboos. The focus of this paper is to examine this particular breaking of sexually related religious stereotypes after the appearance of new media in Turkey and the changes it caused that resulted in new sexual self-definitions.