Skip to main content

Concordia professor’s research has major sex appeal

In his fifth book, Anthony Synnott looks at the complex nature of the birds and the bees
April 26, 2017
By James Gibbons

Sex. It’s a powerful force that sells perfume, chocolate and car insurance. Each generation has that twinkle in their parents’ eyes to thank for their existence. It’s further deeply problematic, complex and culturally relative.

Anthony Synnott, retired professor of Concordia’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, unpackages sexual identities in his latest book, The Power of Sex (Gordian Knot Books, 2016). Synnott answers questions that give a snapshot of the provocative volume.

What motivated you to write this book and what did you set out to accomplish?

The Power of Sex cover The Power of Sex by Anthony Synnott draws on sociology, anthropology, history and psychology.

Anthony Synnott: “One thing that interested me is the speed of change. When I was growing up there was a two-by-two grid. Everyone was either male/female or gay/straight. Now there’s intersex, transvestite, transgender, transsexual, pan-sexual, solo sexual. It’s all become very complex.

As soon as people realize that an Olympic medalist such as Bruce Jenner can change sex, then people think anyone can. Something you’ve taken for granted comes into question. At the same time, sexual things that some people consider normal in one culture could be lethal in another culture. The motivation and goal was to show how sexual identities are rapidly evolving and how that’s culturally relative.

In some cases, though, what we’re seeing is regressive. In the United States, the halt of funding for Planned Parenthood has made abortion virtually unavailable in some places. We aren’t always talking about evolution when it comes to sex.”

Compared to other animals, is sex among humans strange?

AS: “In terms of what people get up to — yes. There’s a chapter in my book on paraphilia, which is doing something that isn’t normal. When you see people doing those sorts of things, it’s hard for most of us to see how they can be erotic. For example, most people avoid pain. To some, they actually seek it out in the form of sadomasochism. They find it arousing.

An example I provided in my book is of a man in Great Britain who enjoyed being whipped to such a degree that he required a skin graft from the damage it did. There’s little understanding of why extreme pain is enjoyed by some people.”

Anthony Synnott Anthony Synnott’s previous book was Re-Thinking Men: Heroes, Villains and Victims (2011). Photo © Concordia University

Do we live in a “pornified raunch culture” as you call it in your book?

AS: “I think this term came out of the massive use of internet porn, though it extrapolates to advertising and self-display of so many different sorts. Sex buys and sells everything.

The theme of beauty and the attractiveness of beauty is sometimes called ‘erotic capital.’ It involves maximization of beauty to further one’s own personal goals. You can think of examples such as Marilyn Monroe marrying Joe DiMaggio — a top athlete — and then later Arthur Miller — a top intellectual. Beauty is an immense asset.

In my work The Body Social (Routledge, 1993) I explored how the notion that beauty equates to goodness is endemic in our society. There is a ‘halo’ effect — we input positive values on those who are good looking. Villains such as Ted Bundy, Carla Homolka and Paul Bernardo were all physically attractive. I think that’s at least part of how they got away with their crimes for so long. People couldn’t believe they could be so awful.”

The Power of Sex is on sale now and can be purchased through Amazon. Synnott is currently working on his sixth book, which will be about love.

Related links

Back to top

© Concordia University