Stiftelsen för forskning inom områden med anknytning till Östersjöregionen och Östeuropa

Rethinking sexuality: A geopolitics of digital sexual cultures in Estonia, Sweden and Finland 


Projektledare: Jenny Sundén
Startår: 2020

The Internet has for decades been imagined as a safe space for sexual exploration. But with the current popularity of social media, platform politics moderating sexual content are growing increasingly tight. In December 2018, Tumblr issued a ban on adult content, joining Facebook and Instagram in their strict policies. While motivated as actions against child pornography and human trafficking, these purges also result in a dismissal of LGBT, queer and kink communities who rely on digital networks for sexual self-expression and belonging. It is thus crucial to ask how human sexual rights—including the rights to bodily integrity and sexual pleasure free from discrimination—can be reconciled with a social media economy ruled by conservative, U.S.-specific notions of appropriate content, as well as what other avenues may remain available. Our project thus aims to investigate digital sexual cultures on three local online platforms in Estonia, Sweden and Finland devoted to communities around nudity and kink from three co-constitutive perspectives: (1) digital platforms as intermediaries shaping and constraining sexual cultures and their public visibility, (2) negotiations of sexual norms and hierarchies, and (3) national selfunderstanding and discourses of sexuality. In which ways do these platforms shape marginalized or non-normative sexualities? How are notions of sexual liberation and oppression; normalcy and deviance; privacy and publicness; pleasure and play embodied and imagined in these digital sexual cultures? How are these emergent sexual cultures experienced in relation to hegemonic (neoliberal, national, Nordic, post-soviet) self-understandings? Building on ethnographic case studies of these platforms, including interviews with users, we explore how platform politics are entangled with sexual and national cultures. Importantly, we trace ideas of who gets to be sexually liberated, and how, within as well as between our case studies. By investigating what could be called “digital sexual geopolitics” across Nordic and Baltic contexts, the project contributes to a conceptual de-centering of sexuality by questioning the Anglocentrism in sexuality studies, challenging the idea of the Western, liberated, sexual subject as a measure of progress and futurity. Our case studies move partly within sexual margins in ways that provide friction in binary machineries of oppression and liberation, “East” and “West,” and make space for contradiction and dissonance.