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Title [en]
Rethinking sexuality: A geopolitics of digital sexual cultures in Estonia, Sweden and Finland
Abstract [en]
The Internet has for decades been imagined as a safe space for sexual exploration. But with the current popularity of social media, platform politics moderating sexual content are growing increasingly tight. In December 2018, Tumblr issued a ban on adult content, joining Facebook and Instagram in their strict policies. While motivated as actions against child pornography and human trafficking, these purges also result in a dismissal of LGBT, queer and kink communities who rely on digital networks for sexual self-expression and belonging. It is thus crucial to ask how human sexual rights—including the rights to bodily integrity and sexual pleasure free from discrimination—can be reconciled with a social media economy ruled by conservative, U.S.-specific notions of appropriate content, as well as what other avenues may remain available. Our project thus aims to investigate digital sexual cultures on three local online platforms in Estonia, Sweden and Finland devoted to communities around nudity and kink from three co-constitutive perspectives: (1) digital platforms as intermediaries shaping and constraining sexual cultures and their public visibility, (2) negotiations of sexual norms and hierarchies, and (3) national selfunderstanding and discourses of sexuality. In which ways do these platforms shape marginalized or non-normative sexualities? How are notions of sexual liberation and oppression; normalcy and deviance; privacy and publicness; pleasure and play embodied and imagined in these digital sexual cultures? How are these emergent sexual cultures experienced in relation to hegemonic (neoliberal, national, Nordic, post-soviet) self-understandings? Building on ethnographic case studies of these platforms, including interviews with users, we explore how platform politics are entangled with sexual and national cultures. Importantly, we trace ideas of who gets to be sexually liberated, and how, within as well as between our case studies. By investigating what could be called “digital sexual geopolitics” across Nordic and Baltic contexts, the project contributes to a conceptual de-centering of sexuality by questioning the Anglocentrism in sexuality studies, challenging the idea of the Western, liberated, sexual subject as a measure of progress and futurity. Our case studies move partly within sexual margins in ways that provide friction in binary machineries of oppression and liberation, “East” and “West,” and make space for contradiction and dissonance.
Publications (3 of 3) Show all publications
Paasonen, S., Sundén, J., Tiidenberg, K. & Vihlman, M. (2023). About Sex, Open-Mindedness, and Cinnamon Buns: Exploring Sexual Social Media. Social Media + Society, 9(1), Article ID 20563051221147324.
Open this publication in new window or tab >>About Sex, Open-Mindedness, and Cinnamon Buns: Exploring Sexual Social Media
2023 (English)In: Social Media + Society, E-ISSN 2056-3051, Vol. 9, no 1, article id 20563051221147324Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

General purpose social media platforms—often incited by American legislation—increasingly exclude sex from acceptable forms of sociality in the abstract name of user safety. This article analyzes interview data (four developer interviews and 56 user interviews) from three North European sexual platforms (Darkside, Alastonsuomi, and Libertine.Center) to explore what follows from including sexual sites in definitions and analyses of social media and, by extension, in including sex in definitions of “the social” itself. We found that instead of context collapse, the users and developers of the studied sites operate with what we call context promiscuity, blending boundaries, but maintaining their structural integrity. This allows for a particular silosociality to emerge based on experiences of safety, risk, and consent. Building on this, we propose thinking of sexual expression as something not contained by, but put in motion across platforms, user cultures, content policies, and sexual norms. Rather than framing sexual social media exchanges in terms of their perceived risks and harms, we would do well to also inquire after the risks and harms involved in ousting sex from networked forms of sociality. Deplatforming of sex truncates our ways of understanding what interests, forces, and attachments drive our sociality. Yet, when analyzing social media as if the socio-sexual matters, platforms designed to support sexual displays and connections become vital nodal points in social media ecologies. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Sage Publications, 2023
Keywords
context promiscuity, deplatforming of sex, safety, silosociality, social media
National Category
Gender Studies
Research subject
Baltic and East European studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:sh:diva-51145 (URN)10.1177/20563051221147324 (DOI)000998755800001 ()2-s2.0-85148292667 (Scopus ID)1035-3.1.1-2019 (Local ID)1035-3.1.1-2019 (Archive number)1035-3.1.1-2019 (OAI)
Funder
The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies, 10/2019
Available from: 2023-03-06 Created: 2023-03-06 Last updated: 2023-06-15Bibliographically approved
Sundén, J. (2023). Digital kink obscurity: A sexual politics beyond visibility and comprehension. Sexualities
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Digital kink obscurity: A sexual politics beyond visibility and comprehension
2023 (English)In: Sexualities, ISSN 1363-4607, E-ISSN 1461-7382Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

Based on an interview-driven ethnographic study of the Swedish digital BDSM, fetish and kink platform Darkside, this article explores digital kink expressions at a moment when kink communities are both marginalized and seemingly mainstream, navigating a tricky balance between visibility and invisibility, intelligibility and unintelligibility. Across queer, postcolonial, and digital media theorizing, "opacity" provides a way of rethinking these tensions, challenging the idea of public visibility and identification as that which legitimizes sexual otherness. Building on this work, I suggest the term "kink obscurity" as a way of conceptualizing a set of tactics for sexually marginalized groups to exist, resist, and transgress without becoming fully visible or graspable. To these ends, I foreground a "closet positive" analysis of Darkside, not primarily of shame, secrecy, and isolation, but of shared spaces of vulnerability and intensity, a temporary safe house which partly protects against normative regulation. Although the platform activist ethos speaks to the value of openness and outness for the sake of sexual justice, the users are quite invested in anonymous and pseudonymous online presence and sexual expression. Opacity implies a lack of clarity; something opaque may be both difficult to see clearly as well as to understand. Drawing on edouard Glissant's idea of opacity as a form resistance to surveillance and imperial domination, a digital sexual politics of obscurity could help provide recognition without a demand to fully understand sexual otherness, opening up for new modes of obscure and pleasurable sexual expressions and transgressions.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Sage Publications, 2023
Keywords
BDSM, digital kink communities, edouard Glissant, kink obscurity, queer opacity
National Category
Gender Studies
Research subject
Baltic and East European studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:sh:diva-50999 (URN)10.1177/13634607221124401 (DOI)000910676400001 ()
Funder
The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies, 10/2019
Available from: 2023-02-14 Created: 2023-02-14 Last updated: 2023-02-17Bibliographically approved
Tiidenberg, K., Paasonen, S., Sundén, J. & Vihlman, M. (2023). Vanilla normies and fellow pervs: Boundary work on sexual platforms. Sexualities
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Vanilla normies and fellow pervs: Boundary work on sexual platforms
2023 (English)In: Sexualities, ISSN 1363-4607, E-ISSN 1461-7382Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

Building on a study of three Nordic and Baltic digital sexual platforms, this article analyzes the perceptions of enjoyable sex and sexual belonging among 60 people, who self-identify as sexually liberal. In dialogue with Gayle Rubin’s formative work on sexual hierarchies and “good sex,” we explore our participants’ complex and often ambiguous sexual boundary work to delineate liberated sex. Independent of particular preferences (non-monogamy, BDSM, fetishism, and exhibitionism), liberated sex for our participants is definitionally enjoyable and articulated via an aspirational hierarchy based on willingness, diversity/variability, and self-reflexivity—partly set against national sexual imaginaries of vanilla normalcy, yet allowing vanilla some gradations and nuances.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Sage Publications, 2023
Keywords
Boundary work of “good sex”, digital sexual platforms, liberated sex, national sexual imaginaries, vanilla normalcy, article, BDSM, exhibitionism, female, human, male, monogamy, perception, sexual fetishism, Vanilla
National Category
Gender Studies
Research subject
Baltic and East European studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:sh:diva-52797 (URN)10.1177/13634607231215763 (DOI)001102022600001 ()2-s2.0-85176965204 (Scopus ID)
Funder
The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies, 10/2019Academy of Finland, 327391
Available from: 2023-11-29 Created: 2023-11-29 Last updated: 2023-12-04Bibliographically approved
Principal InvestigatorSundén, Jenny
Coordinating organisation
Södertörn University
Funder
Period
2020-01-01 - 2022-12-31
Keywords [sv]
Östersjö- och Östeuropaforskning
Keywords [en]
Baltic and East European studies
National Category
Gender Studies
Identifiers
DiVA, id: project:2042Project, id: 10/2019_OSS

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