Research Showcase: Chris Haywood

This is a guest post by Chris Haywood, Reader in Critical Masculinity Studies in the School of Arts and Cultures.

What happens in sex club…’: Erotic Hierarchies, Affective Atmospheres and Cultures of Desire 

As I look through the calendar of events, I see a list of themed evenings that include Greedy Girls nights, an evening for Couples and Unicorns, Black Man Fan Clubs, daytime meetings with MILFs and a night with the Young and Hung. I am in the world of the sex club, clubs that are marketed to heterosexual men and women. These are not strip clubs, lap dancing clubs, gay/lesbian bars or sex entertainment venues; rather, they are often simplistically and heteronormatively referred to in the popular media as ‘Swingers’ Clubs’ or ‘Swap Clubs’. Such clubs provide a collective sex environment for men and women to have (often anonymous) sex with other individuals, couples and groups.

Despite their prominent online marketing and their episodic spectacularizing in the media, sex clubs are quite difficult to find. By day, a sex club might be mistaken for a hotel, a recently closed pub or a factory lock-up. As such, they often appear emblazoned by the ordinary; remarkable and unique places erased in their pursuit of discretion. However, by night, clubs become transformed into what Delph (1979) refers to as ‘erotic oases’: places for ‘edgy sex’ or ‘sexual behaviours and activities that might be considered to be at the borders or the edges of the permissible, desirable or conceivable’ (Pheonix and Oerton, 2013, p.163). Despite recent media reports estimating that in the UK alone, there are over one million visitors per year, we continue to know very little about what happens in a sex club, who visits them and why they continue to grow in popularity.

That is until now.  

Through the use of ethnographies, online profile data and in-depth interviews, I have been mapping out and exploring cultures of desire with the aim of providing an insight into the ways that sex, sexuality and desire are configured in clubs. Whilst sex clubs have primarily been used as a place to access and understand the identities, cultures and practices of the swinging communities, the transgressive and transformative potential but also the scope for social and cultural inequalities impact of the sex club has been underplayed.

Sex clubs are ultimately involved in the selling of fantasies. By using concepts such as affective atmospheres, de-subjectification, abjectivity, sexual hierarchies and commodity fetishism, I capture how the commodification of the erotic both reinforces and transcend traditional gender, sexual and racialized identities and practices.    The research provides an insight into how clubs with their classic pornscapes, their highly theatrical wipe-clean faux satin and leather furnishings and voyeuristic spatializing, provide the erotic circuitry for charged moments of staged desire. It is a desire that is always haunted by a temporary resolution that has visitors to the sex club, always coming back for more.

Sex Club: Recreational Sex, Fantasies and Cultures of Desire by Dr Chris Haywood is due to be published by Palgrave later this year.

Research Showcase: Mary-Jane Holmes

Mary-Jane Holmes is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing in the School of English. Here, she answers some questions about her project.

What is your research project about? 

Drawing on feminist translation theory and poetic formalism to investigate whether translation can be successful in releasing the target text from its own gendered constraints, my PhD investigates the ancient poetic form called the Muwashshaha (Arabic for ‘girdled’; plural Muwashshahat) to ask whether translation of form across languages can create a new route to understanding how gender can be voiced in poetry today. I am working on a sequence of English ‘girdle songs’ in order to enact and respond to the effects of formal transference while critically exploring the regenerative act of performative and dialogic translation. 

How do you tackle topics of gender, the body, and/or sexuality? 

Through the study of poetic form. Many feminist poets have considered formalism to be a legacy of patriarchy and thus relinquished it, others find it compatible with progressive, feminist political engagement. The central drive of this research is to test and explore the nuances of those opinions by investigating the relationship between fixed form and female identity in poetry being written now in English. Its central aim is to ascertain the ways in which a new form in English language poetry might open a discursive space that facilitates the amplification of the female voice through the development of innovative formal strategies ‘carried over’ from another time and culture. 

What prompted you to do research in this area? 

The muwashshaha was a love poem written in either classical Hebrew or Arabic, but its last stanza, called the Kharja or exit stanza was often spoken in Vernacular Arabic or in Andalusi Romance (the language of the colonised) and by a speaker different from the speaker in the rest of the poem. This ‘other’ was often a female voice, a rare event at the time.  For modern readers, the kharja opens a window to the hidden domain of women: to that realm where women do speak and sing and love. But also underscores the tension between this male-authored first person female persona and the general paucity of recorded female voices form the time. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say about the relationship between your research project and the study of gender? 

‘The future of feminisms is in the transnational and the transnational is made through translation’ Olga Castro states. Over the last hundred years poets such as Phyliss Webb with her ‘Anti-Ghazals, Jo Shapcott’s ‘rebukes’ to Rilke, the American haikus of Amy Lowell, have looked to other voices, cultures and contexts via translation to find ‘other ways of thinking’ (Marilyn Hacker). Hacker, who engages with various Eastern forms and languages, describes her poetic vision as a ‘colloquy’:  ‘an ongoing, open-ended conversation with poets both contemporary and long-gone, spanning generations and transcending national boundaries.’ I hope to further this conversation.