The Moral Panics of Sexuality, edited by Breanne Fahs, Mary L. Dudy and Sarah Stage is a collection of writings on various forms of moral panics surrounding sexuality. The editors draw on the definition of moral panic from Sociologist Stanley Cohen and expand on the definition, stating that "...we understand the dominant approach to sexual practice as driven by a normative teleology that is very often (though not exclusively) based in political hegemony and restrictive religious practices that distrust sexual impulses, condone sexual double standards between men and women, and despise same-sex relationships. As such, panic about sexuality gains its power through the often thoughtless adherence to symptomatic and ideological models of thought that become ingrained and second-nature: in other words, if you're panicking, you're not thinking" (p. 2). These practices therefore condone certain forms of sexuality, while portraying others as deviant, most often focusing on and delegitimizing what the editors call "the Others", "...particularly female, queer, colored, poor, fat, old, "foreign," and disabled bodies" (p. 5). The book therefore focuses much on moral panics surrounding "the Others", displaying how the moral panics operate and how they focus on sexuality as their target.
The book consists of twelve chapters, divided into five parts, all focusing on various aspects of moral panics and sexuality. Gender (by focusing on women's sexuality) is at the forefront of the book with chapters focusing on morality and women's sexuality, such as "vagina dentata" (the toothed vagina), vampires and border-crossing, the discourse of the popular television show Glee, menstruation and menstrual activism, as well as at the end of the spectrum, hormonal menstrual suppression. The book also focuses closely on sexual orientation through its descriptions and analyses of travel writings during colonial times, "cyber pinkwashing", pornography (namely barebacking), as well as focusing solely on public figures, such as Steve Gunderson (the first out gay man elected to Congress). There is less focus on disability and ageism, but the book also covers some ground here, discussing disability along with sex surrogacy and freedom, as well as age appropriate sexuality based on a historical perspective. As the editors mention, the book closely covers moral panics based on "the Others", those whose sexuality is often marginalized, framed as deviant and in some cases also illegitimate, bringing these panics to the forefront while simultaneously displaying how discrimination and hegemonic thinking works to undermine the legitimacy of "the Others".
As much as these chapters display moral panics successfully, the order in which they appear sometimes seems random. For example, the authors use their own classifications as they divide the chapters into various parts, under which the chapters are selected. The chapter titled Raising Bloody Hell: Inciting Menstrual Panics through Campus and Community Activism by Breanne Fahs is placed in the category Creating Norms, whereas the chapter titled No to the Flow: Rejecting Feminine Norms and the Reproductive Imperative through Hormonal Menstrual Suppression by Bianca Jarvis is in the category Critical Panics. As both of these chapters discuss ways in which norms are created relating to menstruation, and they both are critical of the policing of women's bodies and menstrual blood, they could be in the same category, and it would perhaps be beneficial for readers if they were read one after another. Of course it is at the discretion of the editors to place chapters where they deem them fit, but the various parts breaking up the chapters may not be needed.
The Moral Panics of Sexuality is both interesting, timely, and thought provoking. The intended audience is both scholars interested in or teaching subjects such as sexuality, feminism and gender studies, as well as students of these disciplines as the book would work well in the classroom. The introduction sets up the rest of the book in a clear way by discussing moral panics as well as the direction of the book while the afterword works to bring the book together.
© 2014 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.