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Scholarly vs. Popular Media Focus on Human Sexuality

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Human sexuality has always been an intriguing research topic for both science and pop culture. Though tabooed for a long time, it still has the attraction of a forbidden fruit and, hence, causes a great deal of subjectivity in interpretation. This kind of subjectivity is backed up by emotionality and cultural patterns, which explains why the data provided by the media are mostly invalid or far-fetched. Thus, in case no method of objectivity is used, as is the case with scientific research, the final result is bound to be biased and lacking depth; this will be demonstrated below when comparing two samples of writing on sexuality.

‘Psychoanalysis and Women’s Experiences of “Coming Out”’ is an essay by M. Magee and D. Miller; it is part of a collection devoted to homosexuality as seen from psychoanalytic perspective. In their essay, the authors explore historical and cultural dimensions of female homosexuality and experiences of its revelation in society. They step back in history to 1920 when Freud wrote his vision of the issue in “The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman”. Using Freud’s opinion as a background, the authors claim the controversy and importance of the coming-out stage in terms of its impact on a social and private identity. The article states the idea of repression, which is both a barrier and a resource in coming out. Although threatening with failure as a social object, it is claimed that coming out is a healing process for a homosexual person. The point about it is that it gives a stressful resource for acting out the situation of conflict that has been kept inside for a long time (Magee, 1995, p. 98). The article deals with the challenges and uncertainties that a lesbian woman faces in her daily social interactions. The authors refute some critic’s statement about provocative and unnecessary character of coming out. Instead, they focus on coming out not as a public act but as a whole series of small choices and strategies that are followed in daily life. The research demonstrates how conscious and unconscious bias works in the aspect of sexuality against homosexual people. Thus, unless revealed, a woman is considered heterosexual by default and, hence, can be treated in the manner that is not always appropriate to her. Consequently, coming out becomes forced as a reaction to social inadequacy. In this way, the authors reveal how it can be actually imposed from outside rather than felt as necessary by participants. In each small situation the woman has to decide to which extent she wants to reveal truth about herself, her relationship, and her orientation. Thus, keeping sexual orientation secret can be stressful in this case as it is related to lies and not accepting one’s own identity.  Finally, the article traces how special disorders, caused by female homosexuality and clashes of identity, developed throughout history.

Another article is entitled ‘Girls Want to Talk About Sex — With Dad?’; it was written by Belinda Luscombe and published in The Times magazine. The work focuses on a sensational study conducted by New York University; it claims that girls would prefer to discuss sexual issues more openly with their fathers. The survey demonstrates that, according to the 250 female participants, very little is done by fathers to participate in their daughters’ sexual education. The reason for this is having certain cultural patterns, which makes it tabooed or uncomfortable to discuss sexuality-related matters with fathers. However, there has been a trend of more openness on the matter in recent years, and now it appears that young women need even more involvement of their fathers. Among the topics to be discussed, the following ones are most frequently named: they want to know how sex and relationships look from the male perspective; they need advice on the proper communication with men, and they want male secrets to be disclosed. At the same time, some experts believe that discussing sex issues with parents is not quite normal in terms of social and family roles. They believe, however, that the correct sexual education is still to be provided by both mothers and fathers.

Comparing the two articles, it is worth noting that they are rather diverse because they have different purposes. The scholarly article aims at giving a thorough analysis of sexuality within a larger scope of issues. In contrast, the magazine article is just a glimpse of a trend that seems interesting to the author. Thus, the first article is more profound in terms of research, as it dates back to 1920 to the sources of psychoanalysis in order to illustrate Freud’s opinion on female sexuality and his methods of treatment. The article includes multiple dimensions and, hence, may be appreciated by different groups of people. It can appeal to psychiatrists, who have lesbian patients. as the article provides the audience with a picture of challenges, symptoms and reactions, which can be common in the situation of coming out. Hence, the works can be partially considered as guidelines to experts on a sensitive issue that is still not so readily discussed. Second, the article gives a sociological perspective of how society is organized to make coming out a painful process.  It demonstrates how treating heterosexuality as an absolute norm can force homosexual people into harmful strategies about themselves.  The work shows why coming out is necessary, although it is criticized by some experts. The bias discussed in the article is an aspect that makes hesitation between safe lies and harsh truth especially acute, so the article’s benefit is providing a true characterization of society.

Similar to ‘Psychoanalysis and Women’s Experiences of “Coming Out”’, the second article deals with the issue that is quite up to date and is based on true-to-life experiences. However, a broader and more significant topic is raised by the first article, so it is quite understandable that the theme requires a more scientific approach and giving profound background with historical references. In contrast, Belinda Luscombe’s article lacks substantial ground and is rather a momentary flash of interest in the topic than a serious research. It appeals to a common reader with no special psychological background to account for a new trend. In fact, the aim of such type of media writing is to keep the pace with fast changes, which characterize the epoch of 2010s. So, catching new trends of reality is rather a social than a scientific issue, which poses the difference between the two articles.

There is no good reason stating that either scholarly or popular approach should be exclusively applied when dealing with sexuality. Scholarly techniques and methods are better in case of research, which is aimed at a narrow group of people who are either scholars or belong to a certain community with particular interest in the topic. It is true that such research is more balanced, more objective and valid. However, speaking about the general public, it is obvious that scholarly research can be poorly understood by many people. So, a simpler description is needed in order to get people involved in the situation. Besides, media articles are more dynamic as they catch small trends immediately, unlike scholarly ones, which take time to gather the data.

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