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Edited by Carey Noland, Jimmie Manning and Janet MacLennan, Case Studies in Communications About Sex, is a compilation of 21 fictive case studies concerning sexuality and communication. The book is divided into six parts, covering a broad range of topics that relate to communication, sex, sexual behavior, and sexual orientation. After each chapter the author(s) introduce questions for thought, discussion and reflection. There are also sections of sources for further reading and references at the end of each chapter.
Part 1, Sex and Relationships works on providing an overview of sex by discussing definitions of sex, prostitution, dating, marriage, heteronormativity and commitment. In doing so, the authors showcase the range of definitions and behaviors comprised and included by individuals in terms of sex and relationships. They also display the diversity of human sexuality and how personal characteristics, beliefs, and group discussions can contribute to a greater understanding of human sexual behavior and of committed and casual relationships.
Part two is titled Things Sometimes Left Unsaid and focuses more on couple's communication skills, or lack of communication concerning sex. Topics included that illustrate how difficult it can be to discuss sex includes; prior sexual experiences, prior (sexual) relationships, sexual fantasies, and faking an orgasm. The authors focus on honesty and direct communication in this part, stating that even though it can be awkward and unsettling to discuss intimate details with a partner, a sincere conversation of expectations, wants, needs and desires can contribute to increased intimacy, a greater understanding of the other person as well as a better intimate relationship. It is however important to handle the situation with caution and sensitivity, as the partner may feel hurt, blamed, rejected or inadequate.
Part three, Broadening Perspectives, takes a different turn by focusing on a more global perspective based on the intersection of race, class, gender, nationality and sexuality. When doing so, the authors focus on various classifications of sexual orientation and gender identity (such as heterosexuality, homosexuality and transgender), on the LGBQT community, on being assigned male at birth but wanting to live as a woman, as well as on going through the transition phase of hormones and surgery. The authors also focus on cultural expectations based on gender roles and sexual orientation and how these can be limiting to individuals. Part three therefore extends the discussion of sexuality and sexual orientation to include a more multifaceted examination of human sexuality.
Part four The Impact of Media focuses on the integration of media in our lives, as well as the impact media can have on individuals. One example is the sexualization and hyper-sexuality of young girls and women in magazines and advertisements. Another example discusses the influence of television programs containing sexual material and how this affects younger viewers. At the same time, the author discusses television programs that viewers might find appealing due to the fact that they showcase diversity in terms of sexual orientation, and viewers may therefore relate more to such material. Even though sexually charged television programs and advertisements are not by any means new, the authors do include more recent interventions spurred by technology, such as sexting (using one's cell phone to share sexy pictures and messages). When discussing sexting, the authors use the case study to discuss whether or not sexting is common and if it is considered "normal".
Part five, Health Perspectives, changes the focus to discussing sexuality and health. In doing so, the cases studies include; taking a person's sexual history from the perspective of the physician, trends in medicine in terms of communication, to cybersex, sexual addiction, sexual anorexia, counseling and sex therapy. Part five works on extending the discussion of sexuality and health, by including various examples related to health. Communication is yet again an important aspect of sexuality. For example, the article on taking a person's sexual history focuses on communication between the physician and patient and what communication tools the physician can implement to encourage trust, openness and a frank discussion with patients. The article on counseling does the same when discussing how counseling can help a couple open up to each other in terms of their sexual relationship and how they can improve their communication concerning their sexual lives.
In the final part, The Dark Side of Sex and Sexuality, the authors discuss acquaintance rape, date rape, rape myths, alcohol use, relational aggression, sexual harassment, body image, marital communication and sex in marriage. These chapters focus on when communication between people fail, when one person feels harassed, violated, abused, or when someone is physically hurt, raped or molested, and the consequences of engaging in sex. Part six could perhaps be the most difficult one for students to engage in, especially for someone with a history of sexual violence, or someone who is the survivor of rape. At the same time, such material is imperative in our understanding of sexual violence and it is a vital part of the book.
In terms of discussing and providing various definitions of terms, such as sexual anorexia, sexual orientation, cybersex and heteronormativity, the authors are able to explain these terms, provide examples and still maintain the feeling that a person is reading an informational case study. Even though the case studies are interesting and well put together, they are fictive. Perhaps non-fictive case studies would be more powerful to read and use in the classroom. At the same time, it would be very difficult to compile so many real life stories while maintaining diversity in what is being discussed and explained.
The book is aimed at being used in the classroom and the target audience is therefore students. The way that the book is put together caters to this audience by providing questions for reflections that can facilitate discussions in the classroom. The references at the end of each chapter are included for students and teachers to look up articles and books that are similar to or extend the knowledge of the particular chapter they are reading. Students in human sexuality, sociology, psychology and any studies that focus on communication as well as sexuality could use the book in the classroom. The book works well at both the undergraduate and graduate level.
© 2012 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.