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Dying for Sex: Cultural and Forensic Narratives of Autoerotic Death Lisa Downing

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This article explores representations of autoerotic death in a range of discursive fields: the media, forensic pathology, the psy sciences, literary fiction, and internet humour. It adopts a broadly Foucauldian approach to the study of the topic; i.e., rather than interrogating what sexual practices leading to autoerotic death mean, or what motivates people to experiment with these 'extreme' practices, it explores instead what attitudes towards autoerotic death tell us about normative cultural understandings of sexuality and gender. The article interrogates the ways in which gender norms and roles are at play in the apprehension of autoerotic fatalities, marking some of the men who die in this way as effeminate, failed men; while others are represented as hypermasculine misadventurers. It also discusses why the rare female autoerotic fatality troubles assumptions about the nature and role of women. The biases guiding definitions of 'normal' and 'abnormal' sexuality and gender are thus revealed in particularly striking ways by moving the focus of interrogation away from the pathologised practices and the bodies they produce, and onto the discourses that pronounce about them.
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Keywords: AUTOEROTIC DEATH; EROTIC ASPHYXIATION; FOUCAULT; GENDER; PERVERSION; SEXUALITY

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2016

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  • new formations is an inter-disciplinary journal of culture, politics and theory. It covers a wide range of issues, from the seduction of perversity to questions of nationalism and postcolonialism.

    'essential reading for those who want to understand politics in the light of the most important trends in contemporary theory' Chantal Mouffe.

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