Thursday Lecture Series: Evidence

“Objective” Desires

Thursday, The Heyman Center

There is an increasing trend for scientists to seek “objective” measurements
of sexual desire by taking bodily measurements (using
technologies such as penile and vaginal plethysmographs, skin
flush measures, pupil dilation, and so on). These technologies
have specifically been created in order to avoid “subjective” reports
of behaviors and emotions. Since it is hard to imagine something
more subjective than sexual desire, Rebecca Jordan-Young
became intrigued with the attempt to devise measures that avoid,
and even contradict, subjective reports of desire, and asked the
question: Why do it? What is the point, and what are the stakes?
What contexts and kinds of sexual subjects do scientists have in
mind when they devise “objective” measures of desire? What do
scientists do when different physical measures fail to agree? What
notions of body-mind-self relations are invoked by demanding
physical evidence of desires—both in a general sense and in terms
of the specific form of bodily evidence that is sought?
In addition to specific, socially important, implications for understanding
sexual nature and sexual rights, sexual measurement
technologies raise more general questions about both the ontological
status of subjective phenomena and the possibility that
subjectivity can yield scientifically valid evidence.