Pleasures and Perils

Pleasures and Perils: Girls' Sexuality in a Caribbean Consumer Culture

Debra Curtis
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj2tf
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  • Book Info
    Pleasures and Perils
    Book Description:

    Pleasures and Perils follows a group of young girls living on Nevis, an island society in the Eastern Caribbean. In this provocative ethnography, Debra Curtis examines their sexuality in gripping detail: why do Nevisian girls engage in sexual activity at such young ages? Where is the line between coercion and consent? How does a desire for wealth affect a girl's sexual practices?

    Curtis shows that girls are often caught between conflicting discourses of Christian teachings about chastity, public health cautions about safe sex, and media enticements about consumer delights. Sexuality's contradictions are exposed: power and powerless¡ness, self-determination and cultural control, violence and pleasure. Pleasures and Perils illuminates the methodological and ethical issues anthropologists face when they conduct research on sex, especially among girls. The sexually explicit narratives conveyed in this book challenge not only the reader's own thoughts on sexuality but also the broader limits and possibilities of ethnography.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4696-4
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-29)

    This book is about sex, sexuality, and teenage girls living on Nevis, a small English-speaking island in the Eastern Caribbean. It could be said that this work began when my interests in the field of public health gave way to a theoretical curiosity about specific cultural practices, such as the way public policy regulates intimate pleasures and how consumer culture might compete with the state’s efforts to regulate sexuality. Fascinated by questions that explore the conjunction of the public and private spheres of sexuality, I began graduate study in anthropology. I was certain then that it was the only discipline...

  5. Chapter 2 Globalizing Nevis: Radical Shifts from Subsistence to Consumerism
    (pp. 30-44)

    Ruthie recounts how as a girl growing up in the 1980s, she used to arrange to meet her paramour in a dark pasture or in an alley late in the evening long after her great-grandmother, with whom she lived, had gone to bed. This is not too dissimilar from what I learned from girls coming-of-age today. For instance, girls participating in the focus groups at various schools explained a number of ways that their peers secretly arranged to meet with their boyfriends. Vickie, a fifteen-year-old at Lynn Jeffers, leaned forward over the tape recorder, lowered her voice, and remarked, “Nevisian...

  6. Chapter 3 Competing Discourses and Moralities at Play
    (pp. 45-69)

    Aaliyah’s CD was playing in the laundromat. I could hear Eleanor and Ruthie arguing, their voices competing with Aaliyah’s sexy lyrics. Eleanor insisted that she would never wear a sleeveless dress to church. The music stopped abruptly. “There goes the power again,” reported Ruthie. Eleanor was bent on convincing Ruthie that she was right. Eleanor’s sister had apparently worn a sleeveless dress to church service on Sunday and Eleanor saw it as a blatant sign of disrespect and indecency. The recent incident had dominated Eleanor’s family conversations. Eleanor lives with her mother, stepfather, a sister, her sister’s children, and her...

  7. Chapter 4 Consuming Global Scripts: Media, Sex, and Desire
    (pp. 70-88)

    There were some days in the field when events or experiences were presented to me, almost too flawlessly, lining themselves up, one right after the other, in order to tell the perfect story. In the middle of April, I had such a day. I spent a small portion of the morning wrestling a copy of D. H. Lawrence’sLady Chatterley’s Loverout of the mouth of a mischievous goat. This erotic classic belonged to an expatriate known as the “Goat Lady.” I had paid a visit to her home that morning, at her request, as she wanted me to baby...

  8. Chapter 5 The State and Sexualities
    (pp. 89-117)

    It was a hot day in June around the time the flamboyant trees bloom and show their bright red flowers. Natie and I had moved our metal folding chairs under the tree for shade. Before we began our interview, I fiddled with the tape recorder, checked the batteries, and tested the sound quality. When I looked up at Natie she was sucking her thumb and tugging on her short denim miniskirt that I assumed was riding up the back of her thighs, causing her to stick uncomfortably to the seat of the metal chair. Natie was a thirteen-year-old girl whom...

  9. Chapter 6 Rethinking Sexual-Economic Exchange
    (pp. 118-144)

    Lawrence, a plumber, was someone I’d come to see everyday walking through Charlestown. Rumor had it that Lawrence was once the best plumber on the island but that years of drinking and smoking crack had slowed things down for him. One morning, as he climbed the back steps to the laundromat, Eleanor jumped off the counter where she was sitting reading her romance novel and greeted Lawrence at the screen door. With her head tilted up a bit Eleanor sniffed Lawrence’s neck. “You took a bath, Lawrence!” Eleanor declared. Soon both Ruthie and Eleanor were at Lawrence’s side, sniffing him....

  10. Chapter 7 Theorizing Sexual Pleasure
    (pp. 145-179)

    Every day, while conducting fieldwork on Nevis, I encountered elements of eroticism, observed a multiplicity of sexual scenes, and experienced a seemingly incessant flow of sexual dialogues and images. The fact that Nevisian sexuality was my object of analysis may account for why the erotic domain so thoroughly permeated my encounters on the island. As an anthropologist looking for sex or, should I say, as an anthropologist on the lookout for signs and clues that would help me to understand more clearly and more fully the contours of Nevisian girls’ sexuality, I often wondered whether—to paraphrase an American businessman...

  11. Chapter 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 180-188)

    This examination of sexual subjectivity to which my fieldwork on Nevis was dedicated has exposed (1) the complicated relationship between discourse and sexual agency, (2) the fluidity and malleability of sexuality within a culture and throughout a subject’s life, and, perhaps most importantly, (3) sexuality as a site of multiple contradictions. But there is another aspect of sexuality that represents in many ways a subtext of this project, a subtext that will serve as a springboard for these final comments.

    Eight months after I had returned to New England, I received a lengthy correspondence from a woman named Helena, an...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 189-201)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 202-212)
  14. Index
    (pp. 213-222)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-224)