Sexual Citizens, Tomboys and Sexting

Reporting back from the 2013 Young Sexualities Postgraduate Conference at Cardiff University

On the 25th January, the Young Sexualities research network hosted a one day interdisciplinary postgraduate conference on the theme of ‘Young Sexualities’ at Cardiff University. Postgraduates and early career researchers attended the event from as far afield as Poland and the Netherlands, braving the snow to meet and to discuss their research on topics ranging from youth sexual health, the figure of the tomboy, and LGBTQ homelessness, to sexualisation, youth sexualities and disability, and child prostitution.

The aim for the conference was to create an opportunity to share emerging research in the field of youth sexualities and to facilitate productive discussions between researchers approaching the theme from different disciplinary contexts. Judging from the enthusiasm of the conversations during the coffee breaks, it seemed that the 42 speakers and delegates embraced this spirit of discussion and collaboration with gusto.

A very diverse range of papers were presented over the course of the day; all of the abstracts for the day’s presentations are available here, and audio recordings of the speakers will be available to listen to on the Young Sexualities website shortly. Of interest to many attendees was Jenny Slater’s (Sheffield Hallam University) analysis of the intersections between youth, sexuality and disability, highlighting how disabled young people may be under specific heteronormative pressures as the result of being discursively positioned as non-sexual. Dan Baker from Youth Chances shared the interim results of the Youth Chances survey conducted with 16-25 year old LGBTQ people in England, and Dawn Mannay (Cardiff University) talked about the policing of young working class Welsh women’s sexualities, and its impact on issues such as freedom of movement. Helen Williams (University of Leeds) critiqued the use of ‘sexualisation’ as a buzzword, suggesting that many of the proposed ways of addressing youth sexualisation, such as restricting access to pornography or inhibiting ‘sexting’, deny young people agency, privacy, and identity development.

After the morning parallel sessions and a particularly delicious lunch, we gathered to hear Diederik Janssen’s keynote address. Janssen, who travelled from Nijmegen to speak to us, is the editor of TYMOS: Journal of Boyhood Studies, and of Culture, Society and Masculinities, and has compiled two online bibliographies for the Oxford University Press, on ‘Queer Theory and Childhood’ and ‘Masculinities/Boyhood’. His prolific publications record focuses primarily on young male sexualities whilst also offering extensive comment on the development of queer theoretical approaches and issues surrounding sexual health and the role of sexuality in developmental psychology. In his keynote address, ‘Between Consenting Adults’, Janssen provided an anthropological critique of the construction of the consenting adult as the ultimate sexual citizen, reflected upon the changing cultural context of the incest taboo, and discussed the role of critical discourses in co-constructing the taboos they analyse.

The afternoon parallel paper sessions continued to be very stimulating, with Carin Tunåker (University of Kent) reporting on her research with homeless young people, and the relevance of the Q as Questioning in LGBTQ. In addition to the afternoon presentations, Helen Rowlands and Carole Evans of the Welsh Psychotherapy Partnership led a workshop that explored young LGBTQ identity experiences. The workshop was quite a change in pace from the rest of the conference, but in keeping with the collaborative and interactive atmosphere of the day, those who attended the workshop were keen to participate in the session activities, reinforcing the theme that had been emerging for many of us of ensuring that our research engages and communicates with practices and communities beyond academia.

The Young Sexualities research network was established in 2011 by Professor Emma Renold, Jennifer Lyttleton-Smith and Dr. Naomi Holford at Cardiff University, with the aim of bringing together academic researchers working in the fields of children, young people, gender and sexualities. As its website states, the Young Sexualities network ‘is planned as a hub of knowledge, connecting those who work in similar areas and acting as a central source of information for those wanting to find out more.’ With this in mind, at the close of the event, conference organiser Jennifer Lyttleton-Smith addressed the delegates to ask for suggestions for how we can improve the network for ourselves. The ideas generated were both creative and constructive, and foremost amongst them was an appetite for future events affiliated with the Young Sexualities research network.

Helen Sivey, PhD candidate at Cardiff University.

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