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Pleasures and Perils

GirlsÆ Sexuality in a Caribbean Consumer Culture

Debra Curtis

Publication Year: 2009

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.A volume in the Rutgers Series in Childhood Studies, edited by Myra Bluebond-Langner

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Series in Childhood Studies


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xii

I began graduate school in 1994, earned a Ph.D. in 2006, and finished this book in the summer of 2007; so needless to say, my debts are long and deep. I have been fortunate to receive assistance, support, and guidance from many wonderful people in my life—all of whom made this work possible, including my professors at Rutgers University, my generous and good-spirited colleagues and students at Salve Regina University...

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Chapter 1: Introduction

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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...

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Chapter 2: Globalizing Nevis: Radical Shifts from Subsistence to Consumerism

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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...

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Chapter 3: Competing Discourses and Moralities at Play

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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...

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Chapter 4: Consuming Global Scripts: Media, Sex, and Desire

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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’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover out of the mouth of a mischievous goat. This erotic classic belonged to an expatriate known...

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Chapter 5: The State and Sexualities

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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...

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Chapter 6: Rethinking Sexual-Economic Exchange

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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. ...

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Chapter 7: Theorizing Sexual Pleasure

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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...

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Chapter 8: Conclusion

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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. ...


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pp. 189-201


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pp. 202-211


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pp. 213-222

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About the Author

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p. 223

Debra Curtis teaches anthropology at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI. She is the mother of twin daughters who accompanied her to Nevis in 2003. She is married to Steve Butler and lives in Portsmouth, RI.

E-ISBN-13: 9780813546964
E-ISBN-10: 0813546966
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813544298
Print-ISBN-10: 0813544297

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Series in Childhood Studies
Series Editor Byline: Edited by Myra Bluebond-Langner, Ph.D., Founder of Rutgers University Center for Children and Childhood Studies See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 318672343
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Pleasures and Perils

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Subject Headings

  • Sex -- Social aspects -- Saint Kitts and Nevis -- Nevis.
  • Sex in popular culture -- Saint Kitts and Nevis -- Nevis.
  • Girls -- Sexual behavior -- Saint Kitts and Nevis -- Nevis.
  • Girls -- Saint Kitts and Nevis -- Nevis -- Attitudes.
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