IT Sligo conference examining sexuality issues


IT Sligo conference examining sexuality issues in social care

Wednesday 28 April 2010-  9.30am -4.00pm


‘When is Sex Bad?’ is the title of the keynote address at the IT Sligo annual Irish Social Science Platform conference on Wednesday 28 April 2010.  Dr Hera Cook from the University of Birmingham will be looking at the ‘moral panic’ in society in discussing over-sexualised commerce and culture.  She will raise questions concerning boundaries between pleasure and abuse.

Natalie Delimata of IT Sligo will speak on ‘Articulating Intersex: A Crisis at the Intersection of Science and Society’.  Delimata will explore societal and scientific debates around intersex individuals who are classified as male or female while not fitting fully into either category.  Within the context of a heated debate between psychologists, medical practitioners and the intersex patient advocacy movement, she will look at how best to ‘treat’ intersexed patients.

Grace Kelly of University College Cork will look at, ‘Rights, sexuality and relationships in Ireland: ‘It’d be nice to be kind of trusted’’.  She will explore the cultural and legal restrictions placed upon the sexual dimensions of the personal lives of people with intellectual disabilities in contemporary Ireland.  Kelly will suggest a new approach derived from field research in which people with disabilities spoke about their experiences of relationships and sexuality.

Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre Sligo, Leitrim and West will give a presentation on ‘what constitutes sexual violence’ and discuss the kinds of encounters involved in working with people who have  undergone this experience.

Three afternoon workshops will look at  issues around:  sexuality for people with disabilities; the proliferation and normalisation of pornography and caring for survivors of  sexual violence.

Participation at the conference is free.  To register, contact Dr Chris Sparks on 071 9155262, or Jessica Mannion/Marie McGloin at  071 9155464.

Summary of   presentations

Dr Hera Cook –‘When is Sex Bad?’ 

Current sexual discourses, especially those on children and sexuality, make it evident that many people feel, as they did in the early twentieth century, that sexuality per se is inherently dangerous or bad or damaging – in other words sex does not have to be linked to violence or exploitation or abuse to be a negative force. This is fundamental to many people’s fears about the ‘sexualisation’ of children and it seems to have been felt by many with equal force throughout the 20th century, regardless of the extent to which the experience of sexuality had changed. Those who do not share this belief (of whom I am one) tend to reject it without examination. But sex involves taking pleasure in another person as a body; where are the boundaries between pleasure and abuse? What is the difference between sexual need and other forms of intense desire for a person – for a friend, for a baby, for a mother? How, in what fashion, or to what extent, might sexual desire be inherently corrupting? One possible  route to this is asking when and how does sexual desire create what Martin Buber called I-it relationships in which the other is used rather than being considered as a person with whom ‘I’ might have an I-thou relationship, one in which I recognise their needs, desires and vulnerabilities? And how then is abuse differentiated from positive experiences in contexts such as bathhouses where sex involves no intimacy? And what of those who actively reject the 1970s search for equality in sexual relationships?

Natalie Delimata – Articulating Intersex: A Crisis at the Intersection of Science and Society

In an attempt to resolve the moral, legal and social discordance presented by the bodies of sexually ambiguous patients, clinicians have tried to identify the key biological signifier for sex through close inspection of the intersexed body. Following a century of anatomical investigation increasingly complex interpretations of sex were produced but none that could resolve the issue of intersex ambiguity (Dreger 1999, Fausto-Sterling 2000). Given that our culture operates in accordance with a two-sex model this lack of clear definition between the sexes threatened the authenticity of this model on which many social structures depend (Fausto-Sterling 2000). During the 1950’s a psychologist Dr. John Money presented a resolution to this problem. By arguing that gender is learned through socialisation rather than biologically innate, Money took the body out of the equation. He argued that as long as the appearance of the genitalia was in accordance with the assigned gender, parents would unambiguously rear their child in the appropriate gender role. In order to ensure that the child develop a healthy gender identity Money advocated surgical ‘correction’ of ambiguous genitalia, hormone therapy and the elimination of any gender ambiguous terms in dealing with intersexed patients or their parents (Money et al. 1972). For forty years Money’s intersex treatment model was practiced throughout the West rendering intersex almost totally culturally invisible (, Kessler 1998). However the collapse of his most influential case study (Diamond et al.1997a) and the emergence of a highly critical intersex patient advocacy movement has, in the last decade, brought about a crisis within this medical field sparking a heated debate on how best to treat intersexed patients (Harper 2007, Preves 2005, Diamond et al. 1997b, Sytsma 2006, Dreger 1999).

Drawing on Foucault’s account of the power structures within society, and Kuhn’s account of scientific paradigms this paper aims to explore sex and intersex within the context of this debate (Foucault 1972, Foucault 1980, Kuhn 1996). In doing so this paper hopes to describe how social practices have evolved in order to eliminate sex variation. Drawing on my current research into the treatment of intersex in Ireland I hope to demonstrate how the cultural invisibility of intersex, coupled with stricter ethical practices, particularly with regard to diagnostic disclosure, are leading clinicians into the very difficult situation of describing their patients’ sex in culturally unintelligible terms. Clinicians appear to be operating across two incompatible paradigms; the social and the biological. The former recognises only two sexes while the latter describes sex as multiplicitous. The close relationship between the body and identity within our culture means by ascribing a diagnosis of intersex, clinicians are reifying gender identities that are culturally meaningless which has a profound effect on their patients.

Grace Kelly – ‘Rights, sexuality and relationships in Ireland: ‘It’d be nice to be kind of trusted’’

How to translate the right of people with intellectual disabilities to a full sexual and intimate life into proactive support remains a challenge for disabilities services in Ireland. Little formal research has been undertaken in this country into what people with intellectual disabilities think about these issues and what they would like to see happen in this area of their lives. This paper presents a preliminary analysis of the first author’s PhD research into the views and experiences of a small group of Irish people with intellectual disabilities in the area of sexuality and relationships. Initial findings suggest that people with intellectual disabilities are getting insufficient sex education and that changes are needed at a disabilities service level to ensure that people with intellectual disabilities can express their sexuality in an open and supportive climate. At a government level, changes will need to be made to Irish

legislation concerning the sexuality of vulnerable adults so that this country is meeting its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006). The authors argue that people with intellectual disabilities’ views must come first in all debates concerning their sexuality.

For further information contact:

Click here to download event brochure

Dr Chris Sparks on 071 9155262,


Jessica Mannion/Marie McGloin at  071 9155464.


10.00 Dr Hera Cook (Dept of History, University of Birmingham When is Sex Bad?
10.45 Natalie Delimata (Dept of Humanities, IT Sligo) Articulating Intersex: A Crisis at the Intersection of Science and Society.

11.30am  Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre Sligo, Leitrim and West

12.15 Grace Kelly (Department of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork), Rights, sexuality and relationships in Ireland: ‘It’d be nice to be kind of trusted’.

2.00pm-3.30pm Concurrent Workshops Workshop A. Chaired by Jessica Mannion, run with ’Connect” Irish sex education peer support group:  Issues of sexuality for people with disabilities.
Workshop B. ( (Chaired by Jackie O’Toole run with DVAS (Domestic Violence Advocacy Service, Sligo, Leitrim and West ) ‘Issues around the proliferation and normalisation of pornography’
Workshop C. Chaired by Dr Kate Duke run with Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre Sligo, Leitrim and West the: Workshop on caring for survivors of  sexual violence.

3.30-4.00pm  Plenary and conclusion