“Screw Health”: Representations of Sex as a Health-Promoting Activity in Medical and Popular Literature
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Recently, scientific and popular press articles have begun to represent sex as a health-promoting activity. A number of scientific studies have identified possible health benefits of sexual activity, including increased lifespan and decreased risk of certain types of cancers. These scientific findings have been widely reported on in the popular press. This "sex for health" discourse claims that sexual activity leads to quantifiable physical and mental health benefits in areas not directly related to sexuality. Analyzing this discourse provides an opportunity to better understand both broader health promotion discourses and current norms and anxieties about sexuality. In this article, I place this "sex for health" discourse within the context of broader health promotion discourses and within the context of a number of historical and contemporary discourses connecting health and sexuality. I argue that although the "sex for health" discourse may serve to de-stigmatize sexual activity for some, it may also increase pressure on others to be sexually active and may further pathologize sexual "dysfunction." In addition, these representations often serve to further privilege a normative form of sexual behavior - coitus in the context of a monogamous heterosexual partnership - at the expense of non-normative sexual desires, identities, and practices.