“It is really weird that doctors should be the reigning experts on sex.”

Leonore Tiefer, Sex is Not a Natural Act

In challenging the dominant view that sex is a “natural act” or a “biological function” and thus that it is best studied by scientists such as biologists, doctors, and psychiatrists, Foucault and Tiefer call into question who our sexual experts should be. Interestingly, although they have been described as “Masters of Sex,” sexologists William Masters and Virginia Johnson initially turned to sex workers to learn about sex.

Masters of Sex was a 2016 Showtime television series on the lives and work of William Masters and Virginia Johnson

In Orgasm Inc., we saw Kim Airs introduce herself to a room full of doctors by explaining that in addition to having a sex shop, she has always had a very active sex life. Having ample sexual experience, these examples suggest, may be a better way of defining sexual expertise than medical licenses or scientific degrees, particularly if we challenge the idea that sexuality is a merely biological phenomenon.

Sex toy entrepreneur Kim Airs

As Tiefer argues and the film Orgasm Inc. explores, far from sex being a merely mechanistic and natural act, it is an activity laden with cultural meaning and psychological significance. It is highly socially conditioned and may be emotionally fraught. It is caught up with issues of body image, yearnings for intimacy, connection and love, and often trauma. We have sex the ways that we do not just because of biological instincts that we share with other mammals, but because of the ways in which we (and our partners) have been socialized to understand sex and its relationships with gender, love, attractiveness, beauty, and normalcy. We are impacted by the representations of sex that we have seen in film, in pornography, and in advertising, and the ways that sex has been talked about in our communities. People have sex for many reasons other than as a straightforward response to instincts or desire, including for money and security, to avoid conflict, and to feel connected. Given all of this, who do you think our sexual experts should be?

Knowledge Check


The Sciences of Sex

CHALLENGE ONE: Write a short film review (500 – 750 words) of either Orgasm Inc. or Pharma Sutra, providing not just an overview of the documentary you have chosen but also your insights and reflections. Your film review should show engagement not just with the film but with the ideas and lesson in this module. Share your film review in the Challenge Sharing Forum by Friday at noon.

The Sciences of Sex

CHALLENGE TWO: Read some of the essays in Leonore Tiefer’s Sex is Not a Natural Act & Other Essays, or in her co-edited volume, A New View of Women’s Sexual Problems, and write a book report (500 – 750 words) on what you’ve read. Your book report should not only summarize the sections of the book that you’ve read but should also engage with them intellectually. Your report should also demonstrate engagement with the ideas and lesson in this module. Share your book review in the Challenge Sharing Forum by Friday at noon.