About this blog: Sex in the Public Square is my home for thoughts and frustrations that don’t fit neatly into my other work. Yet.

The name suggests a couple of things to me. One thing it suggests is that we should encourage more public displays of sexuality. I think the more visible the real sexual diversity of our communities becomes, the better our chances at developing sensible policies around such vital issues as sex education, sex work, and civil rights. Another thing the name suggests to me is that sex is already a part of our public squares and our public discussions, and it’s important to talk about how those discussions are conducted. Often our discussions of sex-related issues disenfranchise or stigmatize groups of people because of their sexual behaviors, identitities or desires. One of my goals is to point out such instances and suggest alternative ways of talking about the same issues.

About me: I am a sex-radical, feminist sociologist. (Sex-radical folks are those who begin with the assumption that no kind of consensual sex or gender identity should be stigmatized and that honest, clear information about sex — what people do, what it means to them, and how they think of themselves — is essential for healthy communities.) I like sex. I like talking about sex. I like hearing about other people’s sexual experiences. This is not purely intellectual. This is an integral part of who I am. That I have been able to incorporate these interests into my professional life is an enormous privilege!

I study sexuality in the United States broadly speaking. More specifically, I study sex-work, sexual identity and community, the commodification and consumption of sex and love. I have lots of related interests that touch on issues of sexuality, social justice, and commodification: human trafficking, internet communities, sex-radical social movements and other social movements aimed at achieving equality for people of all genders and orientations, intersections between race/ethnicity/class/gender. My research is primarily qualitative. (I love participant-observation and interview research).

I was born in Kentucky but moved from there before I could really develop any memories of the place, and have lived in eastern Massachusetts (several small, formerly industrial cities north, south, and west of Boston), Pennsylvania (suburbs north of Philadelphia), and New York (on a boat on the south shore of Long Island, and now in Queens). My partner grew up on a dairy farm in north western New York, and we visit there regularly. I have a real affinity for rural and urban settings, but a sort of intellectual fascination with the social structure and landscape of suburban sprawl.

As an undergraduate I majored in sociology because it seemed the best way to get at the social justice issues about which I was so passionate as an undergraduate, and about which I still care tremendously today. I stayed in school and earned a Ph.D. (Brandeis University, 1999) and became a professor because I loved college so much I couldn’t imagine living in any other world. I teach at a community college (Nassau Community College, a unit of the State University of New York) because it satisfies my need to continue working for social justice while residing in the intellectual and scholarly world of academia.

I invite you to engage in dialogue with me and with each other through these pages! (NOTE: Comments are moderated — in other words, I read them before I let them be posted — so they might take a little while to appear. This way I can filter out spam. I’m not otherwise editing or censoring for content.)

Elizabeth Anne Wood

25 responses to “About

  1. Max G. Faraday

    Whoa, Mz. Wood…
    You are an inspiration. I am glad I stumbled onto your blog. It seems that we are like minded individuals. Keep fighting the good fight!

  2. Max, thanks, and first of all, it’s Elizabeth, please. 🙂

    Glad to have like minded individuals — and others — here. It keeps the place interesting!

    I hope you’ll be back. Bring friends.

    In solidarity,

  3. Good cause, great blog. Not sure I’m comfortable linking from my current blog, but heaven knows more teachers should be familiar with these issues.

  4. Ed, thanks for the compliment, and I agree that teachers — and everyone else — ought to be familiar with these issues. No need to link here from your blog, but I’d love to know more about why you might not be comfortable. Seems to make it even clearer why we need to talk more about sex.

    Cheers, and hope you drop by again.

  5. In the school districts I work, the filters would block a goodly number of the blogs you link to. I suspect a number of your posts would be blocked as well, for content.

    Consequently, linking here poses the danger that my own blog would be filtered, making access by students and teachers difficult or impossible. I’m not certain I’d be comfortable with students checking out some of those blogs, myself (we’re talking high school aged students here).

    Odd world we live in, no?

  6. elpolaco

    Hope this doesn’t sound sexist or condascending but a good looking, female, intelligent, pro-sex feminist radical sexologist … a breath of fresh air. I thought this sort of stuff only existed in sitcoms like Sex and the City but no, its right here in blogosphere. I will be returning for sure. Like many guys, I think, I have given up on feminism in the 1990’s in when I discovered how anti-sex it was, but then I read Camille Paglia. Curious about your views on her. She’s pro-sex and pro-beauty from the stuff I read ‘Vamps and Tramps’. I write on sex from a more philosophical perspective on my blog but would definitely want to go for more sex stuff. I might get inspiration from you!
    Thanks for making this available,
    Tom 😉

  7. I love intelligent discussions on sex. It brings it to a new level of understanding on it and can effect personal change. I’m glad you are here to make that happen. I’ll keep tuned.

  8. Wow, amazing. I’m always amazed to find such barbaric laws.

    Basically, if you don’t derive sexual satisfaction from a man, then you are abnormal and your behavior needs to be corrected.

    How enlightened of Alabama’s legislature.

  9. I found you after reading a comment you wrote on Neal’s blog. I’m of like mind with you about openness about sexual matters. I’m a self-identified libertine, and have written often about sex-positivity on my blog.

    I’ll be back to read your blog again.

  10. Welcome to Libertine, Raven, Tomachfive and Elpolaco. Glad to have you all around. I hope you’ll find more stuff worth reading and commenting on! The Public Square is always most interesting when there are lots of different voices!

  11. Hello Rachel! Great site. I’m linking you to our (UBUNTU’s) blog – yay sex positive!

  12. Dear Ms. Wood.

    Yours is, by far, the MOST deeply intellectual blog that I have read.

    It is one of those that I *DO NOT* read, at times, while at office, as then I get lost in thoughts regarding the topic. The topics are, usually, oh-so-globally-topical!!!

    Keep the good work up!



  13. Hallo Elizabeth! Wonder if wrong people with wronger intentions que up in your blog. It will add fodder to your studies, though 🙂

    I am writing from Kolkata, India. Have a couple of wordpress blogs, the one you arrive when you click my name is overwhelmingly poetic, but here is where I deal with ideas on sexuality more, if you kindly have the patience of browsing through my pages and posts you will understand. But warning, it is too poetic (not academic)!

    Have another blog, very underwritten, where I wish to bring up such issues later:

    Wishes and regards

  14. This comment is not to lead you to my blog. I just want to draw your attention to a brilliant writer, a friend of mine, who shies away from attentions. But she has written a very touching piece on certain things which has happened to her friends. I think it is topical and she deserves to be read.


  15. Guillermo

    Hello Elizabeth! I am curious about something you say in your autobiographical summary above. You state that you “begin with the assumption that no kind of consensual sex or gender identitity [sic] should be stigmatized “. I have some questions.

    1. Is it okay to physically injure your sexual partner if they consent to the injury? Is consensual sadomasochistic sex a healthy behavior that should not be stigmatized?

    2. Along that line, is it okay to psychologically abuse your sexual partner if they consent to the abuse? (For example, the henpecked husband or the fearful wife.) Is consensual psychological abuse in a sexual relationship a healthy behavior that should not be stigmatized?

    3. Is consensual sex between humans and animals (such as dogs, horses, sheep, etc.) a healthy behavior that should not be stigmatized?

    4. On a side note, can sex between humans and animals be considered consensual?

    5. Do you approve of consensual penile and clitoral circumcision? Is it a healthy practice that should not be stigmatized?

    6. Do you approve of the extreme body modification of the sexual organs? For example, one such practice is for a man to (voluntarily) dissect his penis to evert his urethra for direct sexual stimulation. Is that a healthy practice that should not be stigmatized?

    I have many more questions along this line. But your answers to the ones above will at least begin to satisfy my curiosity about your stated position to a large degree. Thanks for your answers and for the interesting blog.

  16. I meant to get to your questions before now, Guillermo, and haven’t. Let me give you the short answers quickly and I’ll try for a longer post later.

    (And recall that I wasn’t claiming healthiness for practices, but arguing that people should not be stigmatized for consensual sexual practices. I am doing my best not to evaluate consensual practices.)

    So, short answers:
    1. I do not think consensual BDSM should be stigmatized.
    2. I do not think abuse can ever be consensual. (BDSM is not abuse precisely because it is consensual.
    3. and 4. are questions I’ve been reading about because they touch on my own sense of taboo. I do think that sex with animals can be consensual when the animal is not prompted, rewarded or punished to try to alter its behavior but is simply given an opportunity and takes it. I do not think that people who enjoy this should be stigmatized.
    5. I do think there are reasons that people consent, as adults, to circumcision and that this should not be stigmatized.
    6. I do not think extreme body modification should be stigmatized.

    I do think these are all examples of practices that should be discussed openly. I do think that the possible outcomes or effects of the practices should be discussed openly. I think in an environment that fosters such discussions, people are best able to make informed decisions.

    In general, I think we do more for our communities when we try to understand each other and approach each other with compassion rather than with condemnation.

  17. Guillermo

    Hello Elizabeth. Thank you for your answers to my questions. I look forward to any elaboration you care to make on your views.

    While I see your statements that you weren’t “claiming healthiness for practices” and you are doing your best “not to evaluate consensual practices”, I ask you to please address those aspects of my questions in your extended answers.

    Specifically do you approve of the listed practices?
    And do you believe they are healthy practices? One can infer that you do so believe from your statement that they should not be stigmatized. But I would appreciate an explicit answer.

    I look forward to reading your extended answers. Thanks.

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  19. Guillermo

    Hello Elizabeth. I have been waiting patiently for your answers to my questions (see my post of July 17th) but you have not responded. I am really curious to hear your honest answers to my questions. Perhaps if I reduce the list to just two questions you can find time to answer:

    1. Is consensual sadomasochistic sex, wherein you physically injure your sexual partner, a healthy behavior?

    2. Is sex between humans and animals (such as dogs, horses, sheep, etc.) a healthy behavior?

    Now I read your short answer in which you said that neither of these practices should be stigmatized. To me that implies that you think they are healthy, non-harmful behaviors. Am I wrong in that inference?

    A simple yes or no answer to my questions will be just fine. But if you would care to elaborate on your reasoning that would be great. I like to try to understand why people hold to the opinions they do; and so I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

    I look forward to your answers to my questions. Thanks!

  20. Guillermo, my apologies. I’ve been pretty busy over at SexInThePublicSquare.org and I lost track of this thread.

    I think that it’s impossible to say that any sexual behavior is, in itself, healthy or unhealthy because any sexual behavior can be performed in ways that are dangerous. Heterosexual penis-vagina intercourse has health risks associated with it, can be rape if done unconsensually, and can be a source of abuse. Yet it isn’t generally those things. So I guess I’m a little confused by what you mean when you use the word “healthy.”

    I do think that the kinds of sex acts you mention, BDSM and sex with animals, can be done in ways that are relatively safe. I don’t think the desire to do them is bad or wrong.

    For me, it’s a lot easier to say that about BDSM then to say it about zoophilia because BDSM is something I enjoy parts of, where zoophilia causes me to confront my own internalization of social taboos. One resource that helped me think about zoophilia from a different perspective way was “Profile of a Zoophile: Bill Brent Interviews Clive Grace” in Russ Kick’s Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong. And one of the best introductions to BDSM that I know of is Patrick Califia’s Sensuous Magic: A guide for adventurous couples.

  21. voicefromthevoid

    An excellent blog, Elizabeth. Very thoughtful.

    I live in the UK where we have a terribly hypocritical attitude towards sex. Men ogle topless page 3 pictures of teenage girls in the tabloid newspapers whilst the average person blushes if you say “orgasm” or “vagina”.

  22. fal25

    My name is Fallon and I’m organizing with other women of color around the Dunbar Gang Rapes and West Virginia Torture/Rape case. Well, I was wondering if you have time to participate in a phone conference on Friday, September 28, 2007 at 9pm/central about organizing to end silences surrounding Megan Williams’ torture and rape in Logan and the gang rape of several Black women in West Palm Beach Florida as well as stories that go unheard because it involves a woman of color such as the Newark imprisonment of the four lesbians for protecting themselves from a male aggressor.
    Well, I’ve been circulating a 2 minute movie entitled, “How do you keep a Social Movement Alive.”
    This movie documents the silence surrounding Megan Williams’ torture and rape in Logan and the gang rape of several Black women in West Palm Beach Florida. The purpose of this movie is to document the silences within our relationships, within our homes, within our families, within our communities, within our jobs, within our schools, within our churches, temples, and synagogues, within our governments, and within our world.
    We have a blog, but given the organizing we are trying to do, I need to reorganize the blog and use wordpress instead of blogger. This is the current blog,
    If you can’t do the phone conference would you interested in being apart of the Women of Color Bloggers Breaking the Silences Contingency on the Web which would mean inundating the web with information about Wearing Red Campaign on October 31, 2007 as well as circulating clips and other media trying to inundate the web with stories of violence committed against women of color.
    I look forward to connecting with you,
    You can email me at beboldered@gmail.com.

  23. Elizabeth,

    It was lovely meeting you today. Thank you for such lovely conversation and witty banter.

    Phil – aka Boymeat

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  25. Some years after writing these words I’m now seeing them repeated out of context and it occurs to me that there is one important thing I should clarify about consent. Consent is a legal concept that applies only to humans. We even establish ages at which a human is considered competent to give consent. What I wrote about zoophilia means that I think that kind of sex can happen in nonabusive ways.

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