Relationship between sexuality and drug addiction

Researching sexuality and drug addiction

Gabriele Di Francesco

INSEP – Journal of the International Network for Sexual Ethics & Politics, Issue 1-2015, pp. 80-95


Abstract: The paper presents the methodological and technical aspects of a research project that set out to explore the relationship between sexuality and drugs addiction, with the twofold aim of a better focusing of the phenomenon which is hidden and difficult to read and at preparing appropriate strategies for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. The survey was carried out in the border area between the Italian regions Marche and Abruzzo, which is identified as the “pole of sex” [Ricci S., 1998:23] and where there are high rates of drug addiction. The survey involved the population of prostitutes, transvestites and transsexual who regularly attend the road called “Bonifica del Tronto”, between the provinces of Ascoli Piceno and Teramo and who are regular users of drugs (heroin, cocaine and others). It is a marginal population with various ethnic backgrounds, coming from Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America, which now has a quite stable settlement in this area and is perceived almost as a “subculture of sex”. The majority of the subjects recruited for the research are users of the local Services for drugs addiction. This made the initial contact and recruitment less difficult as it was done through the mediation of the Service operators. The research adopted a qualitative methodological approach and has been carried out through individual interviews – mostly in the headquarters of the Services.



Sexuality is a key principle in the organization of social life, a basis of identity as well as one of the main axes around which social inequalities are produced and reproduced. It is through sexuality that we understand ourselves and how identities are hierarchically organized. Sexual behavior sometimes includes force and coercion, often involves negotiations and ethical differences (Kimmel M., 2013: 11).

Moreover, it is now amply clear (P.L. Berger and T. Luckmann, 1966, M. Foucault M., 2001 – 1976; C. Cipolla, 1996) that human sexuality is constructed within social contexts.

Although classical sociology does not consider sexual behavior as a scientific object of study, there have been sociological analysis of sexuality, but it has been study in the context of the family or social and economic group dynamics.

For Durkheim the separation of sexes and the extreme specialization of their duties in the home is essential for the life and the survival of society, because sexual division of labor enables marital solidarity. The union of a couple in a marriage brings restrictions and increases their obligations. There are norms that penalize the violation of marital duties and laws that explain how and when the marriage contract can be dissolved (Durkheim E., 1969). This configuration of marriage entailed a differentiation of sex roles and sex sites.

As the man saw his horizons broaden and his duties become more specialized in terms of work, politics, defense and space of life, the woman was required to be more “careful” of the family life, the care of her children and husband, narrowing her places to the house and the kitchen, his true exclusive “kingdom”. The rest of the marriage was the shelter from the dangers of life and from external attacks. The stability of marriage, for Durkheim, is an essential fact to combat the conjugal anomie, through the observance of social norms that have been established over time. The state of conjugal anomie can occur in the event of widowhood or divorce: functions and tasks primarily and socially feminine need to be addressed by the man, who does not have the tools, expertise and social legitimacy to carry them out.

The woman on the other hand, according to Durkheim, “living more than the man out of the community life, penetrates common life less and the society is not required because it is less impregnated with sociability. She has just needs addressed this way, and satisfied them with little expense” (Durkheim E., 1969:264).

As a result, women would present less risk of suicide than men because of their exclusion from public and social life. This will reduce the risk of suicide due to conjugal anomie. But to do this it would be necessary to achieve legal parity which would require at least psychological equality.

“First of all a man and a woman are beings of the same nature so that they can be equally protected by the same institution” (Ibidem:454). The issue is understood as division of roles not only as sexual reaffirmation of male supremacy. Man is capable of social relations as a person, while the woman does not have a specific social role, does not have the same intellectual development and cannot be on the same level of her partner. Its conjugal subservience is primarily expressed in sexual terms, because she has a strong naturalness, a kind of primitive simplicity.

The woman is always subordinate to man in classical sociology. In the analysis of Max Weber (2001 and 1978), for example, which mainly considers the economic aspects of sexual relationships. With regard to women, her economic interests are aimed at communion and the sharing of resources.

The sexual relationship would only be an act of interest on which social groups orient and control the economic relations. Taking a “brief analysis of the essence of the kind of community” that Weber himself considers most important to determine the relationship between the economy and types of communities, he takes into consideration the relationship between the economy and “the general shapes of the structure of human communities”.

“Contents and directions of social action are discussed only insofar as they give rise to specific forms that are also economically relevant” (Weber M., 1978:356).

Before that in connection with the category of power, the forms of relationship are expressed in ways that are at the basis of the family community.

“The relationships between father, mother and children, established by a stable union, appear to us today particularly “natural” relationships. However, separated from the household as a unit of economic maintenance, the sexually based relationship between husband and wife, and the physiologically determinate relationship between father and children are wholly unstable and tenuous. The father relationship cannot exist without a stable economic household unit of father and mother; even where there is such a unit the father relationship may not always be of great import. Of all the relationships arising from sexual intercourse, only the mother-child relationship is “ natural”, because it is biologically based household unit that lasts until the child is able to search for means of subsistence on his own. Next come the sibling group, which the Greeks called Θμογάλακτκες [homogalaktes: literally, persons suckled with the same milk]. Here, too, the decisive pint is not the fact of the common mother but that of common maintenance” (Weber M., 1978:356 – 357).

It is therefore the maternal group that represents the true predominant “familiar shape”, next to which there are, according to Weber, the economic and military community of men and the sexual and economic community of men with women.

“Sexual relationships and the relationships between children based on the fact of their common parent or parents can engender social action only by becoming the normal, though not the only, bases of a specific economic organization: the household” (Weber M., 1978:357). Consequently it does not seem possible even conceptually to “think of marriage as a mere combination of sexual union and socialization agency involving father, mother, and children. The concept of marriage can be defined only with reference to other groups and relationships besides these” (Ibidem:357).1

Sexuality was just an instrument for procreation, so as to enable the preservation and perpetuation of the species, and ensure the workforce for future subsistence. Sexual pleasure was regarded as sinful and immoral by religion and society. Sexual behaviors were also regulated by medicine. The treaties of hygiene made constant reference to marital chastity, to be understood as the preservation of their physical and mental health by limiting sexual intercourse outside of the family. The sexual act was a duty, adultery and prostitution probable vehicles to contract sexually transmitted diseases.

This is not to trace the history of reading and sociological interpretation of sexuality. This is not the goal of this paper. It was considered appropriate, however, to include some references that seem to capture the sense of some distant persistence of behaviors and attitudes towards sexuality, especially in the male population, even though, at least in Western societies, it has no longer any restriction of social and religious order. Everyone, it is said, is master of his own sexuality and can act it freely.

In any society there has been talk of sex as in ours, moreover observes Foucault (2001), reflecting on behaviors, on its effects not only in the intimate and private sphere, but also in the public and visible one, about how, with whom and when to do it. People seem to be able to express freely their true sexuality, without any restrictions or constraints.

The post-erotic society

In any society there has been talk of sex as in ours, moreover observes Foucault (2001), reflecting on behaviors, on its effects not only in the intimate and private sphere, but also in the public and visible one, about how, with whom and when to do it. People seem to be able to express freely their true sexuality, without any restrictions or constraints.

Simple empirical observations, however, argues Di Forti (1986), seem to circumscribe this freedom and reveal closures and persistence of attitudes that seemed to be overcame in changing social life and sexual mores. The persistence of or regression to ways of thinking typical of earlier eras were probably the result of the problems related to the emergence of new sexually transmitted diseases, primarily HIV, or the resurgence of diseases that were thought to be in strong regression if not eradicated. It cannot be excluded, the fact that it is just a sexual freedom without conditions to bewilder, to create doubts and uncertainties, to arouse deep insecurities in search perhaps of a love that goes beyond the pure sexuality. The lack of an exclusive relationship also causes feelings of abandon that often result in manifestations of violence. A clear example are the forms of morbid jealousy which are often cause of crimes.

1 “Marriage as a social institution comes into existence everywhere only as an antithesis to sexual relationships which are not regarded as marriage. The existence of a marriage means that (1) a relationships formed against the will of the wife’s or the husband’s kin will not be tolerated and may even be avenged by an organization, such as in olden times the kinsmen of the husband or of the wife or both. (2) It means especially that only children born of stable sexual relationships within a more inclusive economic, political, religious, or other community to which one or both parents belong will be treated, by virtue of their descent, as equal members of an organization – house, village, kin, political group, status group, religious group; while descendants who are a product of other sexual relationships will not be treated in such a manner. This and nothing else is the meaning of the distinction between birth in wedlock and out of wedlock” (Weber M., 1978:357 – 358).

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