We thought of culture as a disinterested activity but sociologists showed long ago that it is a form of capital, used to gain power, status or money. This book does to sex what other sociologists did to culture: it shows that sex, no longer defined by religion, now plays a role in the economy and can yield tangible benefits in terms of money, status and occupation. How do people accumulate sexual capital, and what are the returns for investing money, time, knowledge and affective energy in establishing and enhancing our sexual selves?
Dana Kaplan and Eva Illouz disentangle the current cultural politics of heterosexual life, arguing that sex – that messy amalgam of sexual affects and experiences – has increasingly assumed an economic character. Some may opt for plastic surgery to beautify their face or body, while others may consume popular sex advice or join ‘seduction communities’ in order to train their sexual subjectivity to become more confident. These different investments generate a better position in order to compete for sexual access to the bodies of others. But beyond these purely sexual competitions, oriented towards pleasure maximization or the mere feeling of being desired by others, the authors trace an emerging, novel, neoliberal kind of sexual capital. This ‘late modern sexual capital’ is the ability to glean self-appreciation from sexual encounters and to use this self-value to foster employability. It is responsible for phenomena as diverse as Silicon Valley sex parties as expressions of high-tech ideals, genital plastic surgery among upper middle-class patients and even some sex workers’ belief that through their services they are able to garner self-esteem and develop emotional resilience and other employable skills.
This highly original book will appeal to students and scholars in sociology, anthropology, gender studies and cultural studies, and to anyone interested in the nature of sex and how it is changing today.