(Methods:) Desires, Sex Selfies & Double Reflexivity

Epistemology:

To introduce this methods chapter, I will consider the way in which sex and texting has been defined within a modern society in order to provide an epistemological grounding of how these definitions have shaped our understanding of intimate communications through innovative technology.

Despite ‘sex selfies’ providing a dangerous attempt to publicise a very private sense of intimacy: social media has become densely concentrated by these images. Considering New York’s Carucci’s (1999) artistically intimate work, it was refreshing to see an artist capture emotion in a raw form and still maintain a high level of privacy, which is often rarely kept in a ‘typical’ selfie. Carucci photographs predominantly host intimacies such as bathing, kissing, and making love to her husband. I am interested in her work because intimacy is often overlooked whilst browsing online, especially when we are exposed to explicitly nude, heterosexual bodies that appear to be harshly denoting the action of sex rather depicting the connotation. Carucci’s intimate images are tastefully posed and very naturally shown through her softly lit camera. Seductive images such as red nails, lace and close up’s of long lashed eyes are added to the collection of images titled ‘Personal Work’. These images conduct a sense of courage by the way Carucci seems to effortlessly pose her naked body: there appears to be many modern criticism of the naked female and (male) body to conform to slender curves though still maintain full breasts.

There is a principle behind capturing sexual intimacy in terms of location: considering the leisure of capturing the image and the pleasure that is potentially gained by other users viewing the overtly sexual image. Potentially creating a ‘self dialogue process’, that is considered by Ellis (1991:29) who suggests that lived experiences are key when studying emotion. The function of a selfie is to provide an emotive voice through visual expression, though more recently this has been taken to the expression of explicit sexual identity, which can be clearly seen between the 15 year difference of Carucci’s photographed intimacies and the release of ‘sex selfies’. The desire to be perceived as conforming to the ‘norm’ of heterosexuality is shown, for the fear that if (the right) sexuality is not seen then the user is invisible. Homosexual ‘sex selfies’ online have become to comprise of a individual revealing their selves explicitly rather than doing so with a partner, of which heterosexual couples appear to be doing, though this also tends to be at the female’s exploitation.

As this is stemming from our now newly formed knowledge of sexting as a incredibly visual concept and convenient to publicly share, it is interesting to note how sexting is considered as a media production (Hasinoff 2014). Hasinoff suggests that strict abstinence from sharing private content in a digital format is unrealistic, considering the adaption contemporary society has made for the acceptance of mobile media. Relying on the stability of individual’s sexual ethics not to distribute information or images that are intended to remain private; however explicit that information might be.

The combination of sexting has developed rapidly through the increase of mobile technology, the central catalyst. Jenkins (2006) provides a detailed understanding of convergence culture, which suggests that, “convergence culture can be described as cultural, technological and industrial social changes” (2006:08). From this, a commentary on how current affairs can be mediated, though applied to Jenkins this is dependent on the consumer’s active participation, which indicates that the type of information the user wishes to share should be identified and strongly considered. This thesis will explore and consider the implications of how sharing of personal and/or explicit information is framed around women and the problematic absence of masculinity.

Theoretical Frameworks (750 words):

Perusing from the latest concept of ‘sex selfies’ (2015), emotional investment remains to be under scrutiny. Lewis (2009:04) suggests that the ‘notion of critical engagement complicates critical literacy into a stance that combines distance with immersion and emotional investment’. After sex selfies, in particular, appears to not only overtly share the private within a very public and mediated sphere but it provides the audience with an (potentially) uninvited view of intimacy and sexual relation that was once regarded as a conversational side step and taboo. My theoretical frameworks firstly begin with Heckert’s (2010) research of the concepts of non-monogamous relationships and how individuals experience the notion of their sexual identity, this enables me to consider modern relationships, the current desires for sex and the differences of sexual identity between both genders. Depending on who up loads the image to a social media platform, sex seflies can often develop to ‘slut shame’ the female whilst maintaining a positive identity of the male, as he is not deviating from his ‘masculinity’ of the modern, heterosexual man by explicitly showing his desire to sexually ‘perform’. Heckert interviews his participants, most of whom are in relationships, and encourages them to openly discuss their sexual desires with their partners: ‘the borders that define a conventional relationship are denied and alternative alternatives are openly discussed’ (2010:08). Heckert (2010) admits that he believes that his female participants in particular found it difficult to admit, without guilt, their desires to explore their sexual identities though still to remain within the ‘fairy tale fantasy’ of a monogamous relationship. My research upon sexting and intimate relations online will consider how emotions have become to adapt by the digitalisation of mobile technology. As a consumer society and visual culture, have we ultimately become immune to the sensitivities of intimacy through an explicit display of sexualised images? It is interesting to consider the emotional effects, if any, that a male may have if his sexual partner uploads their shared ‘sex selfie’ image with disregard to his consent. Heckert (2010) notes that one of his female participants laughed when expressing her sexual fantasies of sharing sexual intimacy, with her current partner, of which he read her laughter as a sign of shame (Scheff, 1990) despite admitting her fantasy illustrates a sign of control. The effect sex has upon women and the emotions they encounter after and during has been highly considered in numerous literatures, however, the understanding of masculinity and the consequences of digitalised sex has been neglected, of which this research will fulfil that gap. Rich (2010:215) identifies that ‘there is a profound falseness and hysteria in the heterosexual dialogue for every heterosexual relationship … we find ourselves labelled, it flickers and distorts our lives.”

This research will continue to consider the effects of ‘slut shaming’ and the stigmatisation of masculinity viewed as a ‘sexual predator’, especially when the media acknowledging the relatively new release of ‘revenge porn’. Dwichenson-Swift et al (2009) adds that it should be considered that others can experience emotions through extension or painful memories of which is not always considered by the up loader of a explicit image as their sexual partner may have previously suffered within intimate relationships that ought to remain private. Despite this, men tend to not admit when they are affected by women who they find sexually intimidating (LeMoncheck, 1997) which can cause the issue of unrepresentative media attention of men abusing the act of sexting by using it to sexually harass.

My theoretical research will continue to consider, Ellis (1991) who examines emotion as a product of the individual processing the meaning; she continues to add that social constructionists neglect within their research what emotion feels like and how it can be experienced. Ellis suggests that this product of emotion can be socially shared and contagious. This enables me to consider the emotional investment and emotional labour of the participants in my research that will later be explored in more depth by using Carroll (2012).

When considering my positionality for my research on sexting and intimate relations online I draw upon principles posed by Moser (2008) who considers the expectations of herself as a female researcher towards her participants and recognises the negotiations that must be made during the research. Moser acknowledges that as researchers we have moved away from the traditional positionalities that tend to lead to ‘impartiality’ by ‘recognition that we belong to various social categories that position us differently within power structures. Which ultimately suggests that the limitation and ‘silences of the discourse’ is when a lack of positionality is considered within the research itself (2008:385). The primary rational behind my research is to survey social concerns of vulnerability and privacy with high consideration to masculine identities online and emotional investment during sexting, of which the media tends to neglect. This subject is current and, as the researcher important to pursue, because I have had first hand experience in technologies used in a generation that firstly adapted to using these online resources to communicate intimately and often explicitly. Through maturely developing in this specific generation that has evolved alongside the Internet, I wish to continue to expand my comprehension of social relations online and how this could therefore affect masculinity offline. Therefore this acknowledgment of my positionality, Moser’s (2008), will conceive my research as insightful though I must consider how different positionalities of the participants could effect the fieldwork (Rose 1997). Such as, my position as a young woman researching intimate relations that may have effect on the outcomes of my (male) participants, who may interpret the questions posed differently based on my age, gender, and my position of power as a researcher.

Methods:

My research implies methods of focus groups, interviews and careful analysis of publications. Focus groups will be comprised of 2-6 people male and female between the ages of 18 to 30+ and from backgrounds of academia, undergraduate study and Inspectors within the West midlands police force. Therefore this variety of voices will enable me to consider the effect of sexting offline within public social spaces, such as bars and clubs, as well as online platforms used by the next generation of advanced mobile technology users. Goff (1980) suggests that the ‘focus of the mind is social but the real focus lies within the individual’ this identifies the rationale behind my research attempting to understand the social impulse of sharing private affairs upon online networks that Ellis (1991) adds gains a ‘fusion of private and public’ which can provide access to private experiences that I hope will become a opening to the participants own knowledge of intimate relations. I am interested to concentrate on the online identity my participants may, unconsciously, create whilst communicating online (Hasinoff 2014) of which I believe they will be able to share openly as before joining the focus group and/or interview there will be prior warning that sensitive subjects will be discussed. Hochchild (1983) suggests that emotional experience is an essential part to authenticating process as a clue to self–identity. I wish to remain a conscious awareness of the individual identities of my participants so that I can maintain a greater understanding of each of them specifically that will not only illustrate ethical consideration but may help to later draw a group analysis. Simiarly to Heckert (2010:05) who considered the ‘flows of eroticism, desire and emotion’ of his participants though added that he was aware some relationships were ‘romanticised’ within interviews, which may have led to his participants adopting a ‘secrecy and defensiveness in order to survive’ (Schmidt 2000).

The understanding of sensitive research is key to the respect of my participants and how I adapt to interact with them should be closely acknowledged. My theoretical research considers ‘emotional labour’ (Carroll 2012:549) which is expanded by Hochschild (2003). This will enable me my interview methods to draw upon the idea of ‘surface acting’ and ‘deep acting’ of which Hochschild claims to be required when considering emotions. In order to carefully consider the emotions my participants may encounter whilst in a focus group or interview, Hochschild suggests ‘surface acting’ involves stimulating emotions, which tend to not usually be felt, but this is probed by presenting ‘careful verbal and non verbal cues’ according to Ashforth and Humphrey (1993). Strongly considering my gender, and authority as researcher, I need to recognise the types of body language signals that is given whilst conducting interviews or to a group of participants. Self-awareness again comes into play here, where Hochschild (2003:17) suggests ‘mentally detaching from a feeling’ would be necessary to avoid any emotional investment to the participants as this could shape the research in a biased way when reflecting my primary experiences of intimate relations and technology.

Reflexivity:

Reflecting on the qualitative methods that will be used in this thesis will give a particular steering point of the research. I focus primarily on the one to one interviews that will provide intimate knowledge of the participant’s own experience of sexting and intimacy online. Blackman (2011) notes that the researcher’s identity can be illustrate degrees of success if ‘their identity as researcher fades over time’. This can be understood as acceptance from the participant(s), which in turn should allow for more private information to be disclosed during an interview, as they will trust that I will receive the information they share with sensitivity and understanding. Ultimately, as Blackman (2011:231) suggests, “double reflexivity enables the researcher to demonstrate commitment in field work and write-up.” This reflexivity of the methods in which I will use to gather primary qualitative data will enable a greater understanding and provide a clear presentation of a variety of voices I wish to correctly portray anonymously though in accordance to the desire of the participant.

Ethics:

I strongly consider sensitive research by carefully constructing the voices of a younger generation into the narrative of my dissertation though I am conscious not to reproduce duplicate knowledge that already exists. Therefore, I am demonstrating that I have an advanced awareness and respect for the voluntary voices of my research whilst still maintaining a deep commitment to the current theoretical frameworks and research that continue to occur of sexting and intimate relations online.

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