Anthropology 169a Sex: An Anthropological Perspective
Syllabus Version 2.0 alpha – still draft

Lectures: TBA
Course Readings:

Professor: Karen Nakamura (
Office Hours: Wednesdays 3:30 – 5:00 or by appointment
Office Location: 10 Sachem Street, Room 213

Teaching Asst. TBA
Office Hours: By appointment (e-mail for a convenient time for the both of you)

Sections: Section 1: TBA
Section 2: TBA
Section 3: TBA

Final Exam Scheduled Date: TBA Location TBA

Course Description:
Why do we have sex?

Both in terms of male/female bodily sexes and in terms of sexual play, sex has been a central concern to anthropologists since the very founding of the discipline in the late 19th century. This course analyzes the various aspects of sex from the perspective of all of the four subfields of anthropology: archaeology, biological anthropology, sociocultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. This includes sexual morphology and behavior; constructions of sex and gender; gendered violence, power, and language; and kinship and mating.

Course readings will draw broadly from both historical and contemporary work within the broad discipline of anthropology, with emphasis on research conducted by faculty in the Department of Anthropology at Yale University.

Course Requirements and Prerequisites:
All students from all majors and levels are welcome. However, the course may be capped at
n*30 (where n>=1 and is the number of TFs) students and in the case that the course is oversubscribed, first and second year students will have priority over other students.

Grading and Assignments:
• Section Assignments: There will be three short section assignments over the course of the semester. Together with section participation these equal 30%.
Assignment 1: Post Sept 10, Draft #1 Sept 17, Final Sept 26
Assignment 2: Post Oct 1, Draft #1 Oct 8, Final Oct 17
Final Assignment: Post Oct 27, Draft #1 Nov 19, Final Dec 3

• Mid-Term Exam:
Multiple choice, short response, and short essay questions. One sheet of handwritten notes allowed in exam room. More information about this open-note policy provided in-course. 25%

Pop-Quizzes: Through the term there may be very short pop-quizzes to make sure students are keeping up with the readings and lectures. No make-ups. 10%

Final Exam: Multiple choice, short response, and short essay questions covering the entire class. Note sheet from mid-term + one additional sheet allowed in exam room. 25%

Section and course participation 10%

• Bonus points: There are numerous opportunities for bonus credit throughout the class. However, the maximum number of bonus points that can be applied to your final grade is capped at 5% (i.e., one grade level).

No laptops or other electronic devices in lecture or section / Exam Open Notes
Various studies have shown that taking notes longhand improves recall and retention as compared to taking notes using a laptop or tablet. Accordingly, this course has a no-laptop/tablet/phone policy in both lectures and section. Powerpoints and other lecture notes will not be put online after the first week of class. Not only are you encouraged to take notes the old-fashioned way – by writing them on paper – but to give you further incentive, the exams will be open-note so far as they are notes that were hand-written by you.

Reasonable Accommodations for Disabilities
If you need a reasonable (or even unreasonable) accommodation for a disability, please let me know and I’ll try to make it happen. This goes triply for folks with non-apparent disabilities or who pass or mask or compensate. No need to do that here. Exceptions to the no-laptop rule (above) or for examination practices will require a note from the disability office.

Course Readings
There are no textbooks to purchase for this class. All readings will be made available through the classesv2 website or the Yale University library course reserves. Readings are due before class on the day they are listed.

Introduction to Sex

Week 1: Sept 2 (Wednesday)

    Week 1.5: Sept 4 (Friday)
    What do we mean by sex? It’s a confusing term, both a noun and a verb. Let’s take each of those in turn.

    Sex-the-noun. At a basic level, it seems simple. Sex as in male-female. But what makes something ‘male’ or ‘female’? Do we mean the presence of external genitalia – penises and vulva? What about testicles and ovaries? Presence or lack of testosterone or estrogen? Chromosomal sex (XY, XX)?

    It becomes even more complicated when we bring in gender. How is gender separate from sex? Is gender “cultural” while sex is “biological”?

    Then what do we do about sex-the-verb? Is only coitus (penis-in-vagina) sex? So when Bill Clinton said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky” – was he telling the truth?

    This course approaches these questions from the perspective of the four subdisciplines of Anthropology. The lecture will introduce the four sub-disciplines in terms of their theoretical orientations and methodologies:

              No readings this week.

              Week 2.0: Sep 9 (Wednesday)
              In the popular tv show Bones, the eponymous heroine is often able to immediately tell the precise sex and age of a deceased person from a single glance their skeletal remains. Unfortunately, unlike many other primates, humans are not strongly sexually dimorphic (adult female skeletal remains only differ slightly in a few dimensions from those of adult males). How exactly can we read age and sex from skeletal remains? What are the key markers? And what is the confidence level that can be assumed?

              In this lecture, guest lecturer forensic biological anthropologist Dr. Gary Aronson of the Yale Biomolecular Anthropology Lab will discuss how he ascertains the age, sex, and social status of human remains.

              Guest Lecture: Dr. Gary Aronson, Yale Biomolecular Anthropology Lab

              * Chapter 8 “Sex Determination in Skeletal Remains” in Cox, M., & Mays, S. (Eds.). (2000). Human osteology: in archaeology and forensic science. Cambridge University Press.
              * Rosing, F.W. et al. “Recommendations for the forensic diagnosis of sex
              and age from skeletons.”
              HOMO—Journal of Comparative Human Biology 58 (2007) 75–89
              * Sofaer, Joanna (2012). “Bioarchaeological approaches to the Gendered Body.” Chapter 11 of
              A Companion to Gender Prehistory. Edited by Diane Bolger. Yale Online Resource.

              Week 3.0: Sep 14 Mo – Constructing Sex

              In the readings and lectures this week, we continue our exploration of intersexuality and the question about how many sexes there are from a bio-medical as well as sociocultural anthropological perspective. What effect does our concept of a purely binary sex system have on how we do science?

              * Emily Martin. "The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles.
              * Karkazis, Katrina. “Boy or Girl” (Chapter 4) from
              Fixing Sex: Intersex, Medical Authority, and Lived Experiences.
              * Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “Should there only be two sexes” (pp 78-115) in Sexing the Body (2000).

              Optional Reading:

                  Note: The Herdt article is a criticism of the original Imperato-McGinley article.

                  Week 3.5: Sep 16 We – Constructing Sex

                  Do our genders emerge naturally from our sexual organs or something that is socially constructed? Does one have to be made a man or made a woman -- is the transition to being an adult male/female a natural or social process?

                  * Selection from Hogbin:
                  The Island of Menstruating Men:
                  * Note: The book that I scanned was underlined and annotated by someone of unknown intelligence. Do not rely on this person’s underlining for
                  * Read: Preface to the 1966 edition
                  Glossary (these are terms that will come up again in the class)
                  pages – 6-17
                  Taboo pages 82-99
                  Initiation pages 100-124
                  * Ellen Gruenbaum (1996) The Cultural Debate over Female Circumcision: The Sudanese Are Arguing This One Out for Themselves. DOI: 10.1525/maq.1996.10.4.02a00030

                  Optional Reading
                  * Ortner, Sherry B. 1974. Is female to male as nature is to culture? In M. Z. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere (eds), Woman, culture, and society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 68-87.

                  Sections begin this week. See OCI for posted times and locations.

                  Week 3 Section Agenda:
                  • Section intro and policies
                  • Notetaking skills (bring your notes from the Aronsen talk last week)
                  • Discussion of binary sex systems in science, sports, and anthropology.
                  Week 4.0: Sep 21 Mo

                  Language helps to create our sexual worlds. In the first half of this week’s lectures and readings, we begin with some of the basic nuts and bolts of language and sexuality.

                    Optional readings (for graduate students):

                      Week 4.5: Sep 23 We

                      Gender and language in practice. In this series of readings and lectures, we explore how linguistic anthropologists study and analyze language, sexuality, and the construction of gender.

                      • Hall, Kira (2009). Boys’ Talk: Hindi, Moustaches, and Masculinity in New Delhi. In Pia Pichler and Eva Eppler (eds.), Gender and Spoken Interaction. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 139-162.
                      • Kulick, Don. 1997. The Gender of Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes.
                      American Anthropologist 99 (3): 574-585.
                      Kulick, Don, and Charles H. Klein. 2009. Scandalous Acts: The Politics of Shame among Brazilian Travesti Prostitutes. In David Halperin (ed.) Gay Shame. Pp 312-338.

                      Week 5.0: Sep 28 Mo – Transgressing Sex

                      In this lecture we look at the hijra of India. As sociocultural anthropologist Serena Nanda describes them, “the hijras are a religious community of men who dress and act like women and whose culture centers on the worship of the … Mother Goddess… the hijra undergo an operation in which their [male] genitals are removed. (Nanda 1999:xi).” We then look at the language play used by the hijra in an article by linguistic anthropologist, Kira Hall.

                          Week 5.5: Sep 30 We – Archaeological Understandings of Gender
                          Archaeologists study the lives and social organizations of humans through their material culture. In this guest lecture, archaeologist Prof. Anne Underhill explains how she analyzes gender through the study of burials and craft remains.

                          Guest Lecture: Prof. Anne Underhill, Yale University

                          Reading: * Ardren, Traci (2008) Studies of Gender in the Prehispanic Americas. Journal of Archaeological Research 16: 1-35.
                          * McGovern Patrick E., Anne P. Underhill, et al. (2005) Chemical Identification and Cultural Implications of a Mixed Fermented Beverage from Late Prehistoric China. Asian Perspectives
                          Volume 44, Number 2, Fall 2005. pp. 249-275 | 10.1353/asi.2005.0026

                          Week 6.0: Oct 5 Mo

                          IN-CLASS MID-TERM EXAM

                          Multiple choice, short-answer, and short essay questions.
                          Handwritten notes on
                          one sheet of letter-size/A4 paper will be allowed.

                          Week 6.5: Oct 7 We – Monogamy and Love in Primates

                          Guest Lecturer: Prof. Eduardo Fernandez-Duque

                          How can we understand sex, love, and intimacy from a biological anthropological perspective? Through the readings and guest lecture, we explore how various emotions and behaviors such as monogamy, jealousy, or love can be explained from a biological perspective that links us with our other primate cousins.

                          * Hewlett BL and Hewlett BS (2008). A biocultural approach to sex, love and intimacy in central African foragers and farmers. In
                          Intimacies: Love and Sex Across Cultures, W Jankowiak (ed.)

                          * Fernandez-Duque, E. and M. Huck (2013). Till death (or an intruder) do us part: intra-sexual competition in a monogamous primate. 
                          PLoS One 8:e53724 [60].

                          Week 7.0: Oct 12 Mo– Kinship in Humans
                          Who we humans define as desirable sexual partners? How do we organize family life? Sociocultural anthropologists explored these questions through studies of kinship. We begin with some classic texts and compare with contemporary kinship systems.

                          Reading: * Selection from Morgan, Lewis-Henry (1875)
                          Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family. Online on v2.

                            Optional Reading: The original Morgan (1875) full-text can be found here:
                            * d'Emilio, John. "11 Capitalism and Gay Identity." The Gender/Sexuality Reader: Culture, History, Political Economy (1997).

                            Week 7.5: Oct 14 We – Sex Work
                            Prostitution has been called the oldest profession. What do know archaeologically and ethnographically about it?


                              Week 8.0: Oct 19 We – Legal Approaches to Dangerous Sex
                              Some forms of sex, sexual behavior, and sexual identity are considered taboo – the source of moral panics over imagined (or real) dangers to society. Legal discourse also creates (and destroys) categories of permitted and prohibited behavior. In this guest lecture, Prof. Joseph Fischel (Yale WGSS) discusses forms of illegal sex and sexual identity in the contemporary United States.

                                Optional Readings
                                * Fischel, J. 2010. Transcendent Homosexuals and Dangerous Sex Offenders: Sexual Harm and Freedom in the Judicial Imaginary. Duke J. Gender L. & Pol'y, 2010 
                                * Fischel, J. Per Se or Power-Age and Sexual Consent.
                                Yale JL & Feminism, 2010

                                Guest Lecturer: Joseph Fischel, Yale University

                                OCTOBER RECESS (10/20-10/25)

                                Week 9.0: Oct 26 Mo – Sex and Power in Non-human (and some human) Primates
                                * Stanford, Craig (1998). The Social Behavior of Chimpanzees and Bonobos: Empirical Evidence and Shifting Assumptions.
                                Current Anthropology, Vol. 39, No. 4 (August/October 1998), pp. 399-420. URL:
                                * Watts, David P. 2009 Dominance, power, and politics in nonhuman and human primates.  In:
                                Mind the Gap (eds. P. Kappeler & J. Silk).  Heidelberg: Springer Verlag, pp. 109-138.
                                * Muehlenbein, M.E. & David P. Watts. 2010 The costs of dominance: testosterone, cortisal and intestinal parasites in wild male chimpanzees. 
                                Biopsychosocial Medicine 4: 21-31; doi: 10.1186/1751-0759-4-21.

                                * Watts, David P. (2011) Effects of Male Group Size, Parity, and Cycle Stage on Female Chimpanzee Copulation Rates at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda. Primates 48: 222-231.

                                Week 9.5: Oct 28 We – Sex and Race

                                Sex and race are intertwined concepts in the United States. Legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw is credited with creating the concept of “intersectionality” which argues that people with multiple minority identities (black + a woman for example) face issues which are not merely the sum of the two forms of discrimination.

                                Kimberle Crenshaw

                                Week 10.0: Nov 2 – Mo – Moral Panics and Sex
                                * Cohen, Stanley (1972) Chapter 1: Deviance and Moral Panics of Folk devils and moral Panics.
                                * Lancaster, Roger (2011) Intro and Chapter 1 from
                                Sex panic and the punitive state. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN: 9780520262065.
                                * Working at Play: BDSM Sexuality in the San Francisco Bay Area Margot D. Weiss
                                Anthropologica Vol. 48, No. 2 (2006), pp. 229-245

                                Week 10.5 Nov 4 Mo –Iranian Sex and the Dangers of the West

                                Guest Lecturer: Narges Erami, Yale Univeristy.

                                * Erami, Narges (nd).
                                Economies of Pleasure: A Reading of Temporary Marriage in the Holy
                                City of Qum

                                  • avi Pardis (2009). Passionate Uprisings. Read prologue and chapter 2.

                                Week 11.0: Nov 9 Mo - Contemporary Western views of transgender identities.
                                Our understanding of transgender identities in Europe and North America is very much in flux. Two major influences are the medical/mental health profession and the transgender civil rights movement. We will look at the ways transgender identities are currently viewed and how those views affect decisions about medical or mental health interventions. What is the effect of viewing gender identity as innate vs. created? How does the larger culture's binary view of gender influence a person's view of their own gender identity? Is it reasonable or fair to have mental health clinicians screen for readiness for medical treatments for gender transition?

                                Guest speaker: Irwin Krieger is a clinical social worker in private practice and the author of
                                Helping Your Transgender Teen; A Guide for Parents


                                        Week 11.5: Nov 16 We

                                        Lecture on pornography and BDSM.

                                        * Working at Play: BDSM Sexuality in the San Francisco Bay Area Margot D. Weiss Anthropologica Vol. 48, No. 2 (2006), pp. 229-245

                                        AAA Meetings Nov 17-22
                                        THANKSGIVING RECESS (11/22-11/29)

                                        Week 12.0: Nov 30 We – The End of Female Reproduction -Menopause

                                        Not all women in all cultures experience the end of reproductive capability (menopause) the same way. In this lecture and reading, we start with medical anthropologist Margaret Lock’s groundbreaking work on comparative menopause in Japan, the United States, and Canada.


                                          * Bribiescas RG (2010) An evolutionary and life history perspective on human male reproductive senescence. Annals of the New York Academy of Science. 1204:54-64.

                                          Week 12.5: Dec 2 We – Replacing Sex
                                          * Inhorn, Marcia C., Emily Wentzell (2011) Embodying Emergent Masculinities: Reproductive and Sexual health Technologies in the Middle East and Mexico. American Ethnologist 38(4):801-815.
                                          * Wentzell, Emily A., Inhorn, Marcia C., (2014) “Reconceiving Masculinity and ‘Men as Partners’ for ICPD Beyond 2014: Insights from a Mexican HPV Study,” Global Public Health.

                                          Week 13.0: Dec 7 Mo – Moral Panics over the decline of sex

                                          Many social critics in contemporary Japan are concerned with a perceived lack of virility in Japanese men. At the same time, American newspapers trumpet the decline in sperm counts of American men purportedly due to environmental hormones and too-tight briefs. What do these moral panics tell us of the future of sex?

                                            Week 13.0 Dec9 – Sex and Disability
                                            • Last day of ClassWilkerson, Abby (2002). Disability, Sex Radicalism, and Political Agency.

                                            New Unit on Reproduction
                                            Mary Weismantel – moche sex pots (no reproductive acts)

                                              END OF THE SEMESTER
                                              HAVE A SAFE AND HAPPY WINTER BREAK

                                              Course Fine Print

                                              Course Participation

                                              Class participation is essential. You should come to class well prepared to discuss the material you've read and been thinking about. The assignments are designed to help you along with the process. I keep attendance via the short quizzes. Thus there are no makeups for the short quizzes. Just showing up to class isn't adequate, you must also actively participate. If you are shy and have trouble speaking up in class, or if there is a language or cultural barrier, feel free to see me in office hours and we can talk about methods of overcoming this.
                                              Students not attending the first day of class will be dropped from the course roster if the course is at risk of being oversubscribed.


                                              Most of my courses are reading intensive. In these classes, you will be expected to read between 2-4 articles (around 50-100 pages) before we meet for class. This is approximately 100-200 pages a week. In terms of strategizing, you'll find it makes much more sense to try to read as much as possible over the weekend, since you won't want to have to scramble on Tuesday to make Wednesday’s readings. If you have any questions about the readings, please don't hesitate to contact me via e-mail (karen.nakamura@yale). In general the first half of the readings are due to be read by Monday, the second half on Wednesday.
                                              Remember that academic reading is an acquired skill. The more you do, the better you get at it. There are many different styles to reading an academic paper or book chapter. We'll go over these methods in class and hopefully you'll find one that matches how you read and think. That being said, trying to read 50 pages of dense material at 4am before class is definitely not a method that has met with much success.


                                              I treat the issue of plagiarism very, very, very seriously. If you cite from a book, article, or web page, you must note the source in your paper and clearly mark the citation with quote marks "" or block citation styles. We'll go over academic citation methods in class.
                                              The ease of cutting and pasting material from web pages has made the problem worse in the last several years. Students do not realize that copying a couple of paragraphs or even sentences from the web constitutes academic plagiarism. It does. Please note, that I am an avid web surfer myself with an eidetic memory for written material. I will fail any students who I catch plagiarizing (even on drafts or short assignments). In addition to failing the course, students will be referred to the dean's office where they will be put in stockades and publicly humiliated (barring that, serious academic penalization including suspension or expulsion).
                                              Recycling material that you wrote for other classes is also plagiarism unless you clear it with me beforehand. Although I think it's great if you engage this course's materials with thoughts from other classes, you should keep a strict firewall between the two in terms of the material you write. Plagiarizing from yourself will get you failed in this course just as quickly as plagiarizing from other people.
                                              I reserve the right to submit your any of your work (including drafts and informal pieces) to plagiarism search engines or sites. If I suspect plagiarism, I also reserve the right to give you a short quiz about your paper (if you wrote it, you should be able to handle with aplomb).
                                              That being said, I encourage you to scaffold your assignments in this course. That is, you should feel free to develop ideas from your shorter essays and use them in your longer pieces. But note that if I see you saying the same thing over and over again in different places, I'll figure you don't have that much to say. So keep it within reason.


                                              Yale students are often morbidly fascinated with the grading process, especially when they don’t get an A. After reading through a dozen papers, I don't really want to read another summary of the material, prefaced with "I thought this book was interesting." I want to know what interested you, what challenged you, what made you curious, what it made you think of. Tie together material that you've read in other classes. Think! Ponder! Talk to your friends about your ideas. And then write. As one professor has written, "The sure mark of an A paper is that you will find yourself telling someone else about it."
                                              An 'A' paper shows depth and insight. It brings out aspects of the readings, lectures, and film showings that might not be readily apparent on the surface. It supports its arguments with citations that reveal a close reading of the material. The paper is articulated and argued with polish, with very few spelling or grammar errors.
                                              A 'B' paper does a very good job of (re-)articulating the major arguments that are already present in the readings and articles. It uses citations to indicate that the texts were read with some attention. Spelling and grammar mistakes slightly mar the presentation.
                                              A 'C' paper presents only a superficial understanding of the material presented. The student may have done the reading, but it is unclear how much the student really understands.
                                              'D' and 'F' papers mock the process. Is this what you and your parents are paying good money for?

                                              Grading Table


                                              as above (70-79.9999%)
                                              as above (60-69.9999%)
                                              < 60% or missing a substantial part of coursework or substantial absences or plagiarism

                                              Late Assignments

                                              As a general rule, late assignments will not be accepted. You will be docked grade points for lateness: one half-grade level per day late (i.e., if you hand in a paper due Monday on Wednesday, that's 2 days late, so a 'B' grade becomes a 'C' grade). No assignment will be accepted over one week past due without permission. I am particularly strict at the end of the term when papers that are not handed in by the final due-date will be counted as 0% as I do not allow incompletes.


                                              A letter from your dean must accompany any excused lateness or absences (i.e., death in the family; dismemberment; roommate suicide; catching the plague, etc.). Academics do come before athletics and extracurricular activities, so work out with your coach a suitable schedule that will allow you to come to class and complete your assignments on time. You are allowed up to two (2) unexcused absences. After that your final grade drops down 1/3 grade point (A => A-) for each ensuing absence.