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Professor Rebecca Plante –
The Sociology of Sexuality

Rebecca Plante is an associate professor of sociology at Ithaca College, specializing in the fields of sexuality and gender. Professor Plante has written multiple books, contributed to several academic journals and taught numerous classes on these complex topics.

In this episode, we start by talking with Professor Plante about her formative educational experiences and how she became interested in sexuality and gender studies. Then we dive into topics of the “hookup culture” on college campuses, how we identify our sexualities now and in the future, sexual communication and consent, and more!

Fair warning: in this episode we talk frankly but (mostly) maturely about sex and there’s a small amount of explicit language.

Below are 5 interesting snippets from the interview:

1 – How did Professor Plante become interested in studying sexuality? 

She remembers: “As far back as junior high and high school, I was the person my friends came to. I was the person who they’d come to and say, ‘Oh I just started dating so-and-so and this weird thing happened when we were making out…’ So I would get the details and also be called on to give the sage advice.”

Professor Plante isn’t entirely sure how she knew what she knew, but credits at least some of it to some influences from nighttime radio. “I listened to [sex therapist] Dr. Ruth religiously every Sunday night. And then [novelty DJ] Dr. Demento which was on directly afterward… and I’m sure those two things were very formative in many ways.”

2 – What exactly is the overlap between sociology and sexuality?

Professor Plante gives a nice abstract summary: “In sociology we’re interested in how the ‘big picture’ gives a shape to our experiences and our understandings of who we are, gives a shape to how we make sense of the world. We do that through our gender, our race, our ethnicity our social class and other statuses. Sexuality is just one of many ways of experiencing the self.” 

How we express our sexuality – and that encompasses more than just who we find ourselves attracted to – is one of the things that defines us as humans. Our collective attitudes and practices when it comes sexuality have been evolving rapidly over the past several decades, and that’s why the sociological lens is so important. 

3 – Why are sociologists interested in the on-campus “hookup culture”?

What’s been drawing sociologists to this topic is the fact that it has indeed become a culture unto itself – it’s practically an institution. Why students engage (or don’t) in hooking up, what the “rules” and expectations are and how it might affect them going forward are all ideas worth studying. 

“The biggest tenet of hooking up seems to be that this supposed to be a system by which people can get their sexual needs met with minimal commitment and the mistaken belief that it minimizes the ‘pesky interruption’ of feelings…” Professor Plante explains, “It’s sort of like the McDonald’s of sexual need. You just drive through, it’s really efficient, it’s hyper-rational, it’s ‘I know what to expect every time. You’re here, I’m here, but we’re not here with our feelings, right? Just our body parts.’” Often satisfying, but perhaps not always good for you… 

4 – What sort of progress has been made when it comes to sexuality and gender? 

Professor Plante feels that we’ve made a great deal of progress, but there can be not-so-obvious downsides that come along with that. “The fact that Laverne Cox [Orange is the New Black actress] who is transgender and African-American and very open and clear about herself and her journey… the fact that she’s on the cover of TIME is remarkable. 15 years ago, even 10 years ago I’d never have predicted that would happen.”

She also points to the momentum behind the legalization of same-sex marriage in the US and growing awareness about the HPV vaccine. At the same time, however, sexual assault victims are still often shamed into silence and never see their attackers brought to justice. Many LGBT people still remain closeted out of fear for their jobs or social lives – or in some places their actual lives. “There’s still a lot more work that we can do,” she says.

5 – What kind of resources are out there for people struggling with their sexuality? 

Professor Plante’s first recommendation isn’t a local one – she recommends reading and/or listening to Seattle-based sex advice columnist, podcaster and activist Dan Savage. You may also know him as the man who co-founded the It Gets Better project. 

For local help, though, she recommends Planned Parenthood here in Ithaca. “They’ve done a really good job of working with communities to develop information and resources for those communities. They have a lot of good resources for people who are queer, genderqueer, trans, for people who are multi-partnered. It’s really one of the shining beacons of non-judgemental, compassionate, careful, thoughtful, sexuality information education and sexual health care.”

Next week on the Ithacast: Alina Kim, founder of K-House Karaoke Lounge and Suites

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.