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Sex and intimacy in modern times

Offer semester
1st semester

Lecture time
Wednesday 16:30 – 18:20

Lecture venue

Course description

Great transformations have been taking place in the realm of intimacy – the rise of non-monogamous and non-marital forms of intimacy, the increasing visibility of lesbian and gay existence, the well-established commercial sex industry, the popularized public report of private stories, the huge development of the popularity of cosmetic surgery, and numerous possibilities for intimacy in the cyber world, just to name but a few.

New forms of identity, intimacy and sexuality have emerged in the era of the globalized world, which blur the boundaries of what constitutes private matters and public issues and challenge the meanings of normal/abnormal citizen, natural/artificial body, real/virtual relationship, authentic/counterfeit intimacy, and so forth.

Course learning outcomes

On completing the course, you will be able to:

  • Identify key concepts in understanding intimacy using contemporary sociological and political theories of identity, gender and sexuality.
  • Demonstrate critical understanding of the complexity of issues of intimacy in their everyday lives through examination of the interplay between the self and society, i.e. how social, economic, political and cultural forces shape our intimate choices and decisions; and between private and public, i.e. how our most private decisions are bound up with public institutions such as the state, the law, the media, and medicine.
  • Express an appreciation of the distinctiveness and inter-relatedness of their own and other intimate cultures and demonstrate a cultural sensitivity with people of diverse cultures.
  • Behave as responsible global citizens who respect individual differences and preferences and uphold the core values of a democratic society: human rights, justice, equality and freedom of speech.

Study load

ActivitiesNumber of Hours
Reading / Self-study20
Assessment: Essay / Report writing20
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation)20
Assessment: Group project50


Problem-based learning tutorial20%
Individual essay30%
Group project40%
Report writing20%

Required reading

Giddens, A. (1992). The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Jamieson, L. (1998). Intimacy: Personal Relationships in Modern Societies. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Plummer, K. (2003). Intimate Citizenship: Private Decisions and Public Dialogues. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. [Key reading]

Rubin, G. (1993[1984]). “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” In The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, eds. Abelove, Henry, Michele Aina Barale and David M. Halperin. London, UK: Routledge, pp. 3-44.

Recommended reading

Attwood, F. (ed.) (2009). Mainstreaming Sex: The Sexualization of Western Culture. London: I.B. Tauris.

Bell, D. and Binnie, J. (2000). The Sexual Citizen: Queer Politics and Beyond. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2004). Love Online: Emotions of the Internet. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Berlant, L. (ed.) (2000). Intimacy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Bernstein, E. and Schaffner, L. (eds.) (2005). Regulating Sex: The Politics of Intimacy and Identity. New York, NY: Routledge.

Chu, C. S. K. (2018). Compensated Dating: Buying and Selling Sex in Cyberspace: Palgrave Macmillan.

Duncombe, J., Harrison, K., Allen, G., and Marsden, D. (eds.) (2004). The State of Affairs: Explorations in Infidelity and Commitment. London, UK: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Foucault, M. (1980). The History of Sexuality. Volume One: An Introduction. New York, NY: Vintage.

Gamson, J. (1998). Freaks Talk Back: Tabloid Talk Shows and Sexual Nonconformity. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Haritaworn, J., Lin, C. J., and Klesse, C. (eds.) 2006. Special Issue on Polyamory, Sexualities 9(5).

Illouz, E. (1997). Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Illouz, E. (2007). Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Kong, T. S. K. (2011). Chinese Male Homosexualities: Memba, Tongzhi and Golden Boy. London, UK: Routledge.

McLelland, M. and V. Mackie (eds.). (2015). Routledge Handbook of Sexuality Studies in East Asia, London, UK: Routledge.

McNair, B. (2002). Striptease Culture: Sex, Media and the Democratization of Desire. London, UK: Routledge.

Padilla, M. B., Hirsch, J. S., Munoz-Laboy, M., Sember, R. E., and Parker, R. G. (eds.) (2007). Love and Globalization: Transformation of Intimacy in the Contemporary World. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

Plummer, K. (1995). Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change and Social Worlds. London, UK: Roultedge.

Seidman, S., Fischer, N. and Meeks, C. (eds.) (2011). Introducing the New Sexuality Studies: Original Essays and Interviews. London, UK: Routledge.

Wolmark, J. (ed.) (1999). Cybersexualities: A Reader on Feminist Theory, Cyborgs, and Cyberspace. Edinburgh, UK: University of Edinburgh Press.

Zelizer, V.A. (2005). The Purchase of Intimacy. New Jersey, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Course co-ordinator and teachers

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