CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

The 20th century witnessed the emergence of groups centred around deviant sexualities that previously had only little or no space to be expressed. Based on a case study of a male spanking club set up in France in the late 1980s, this article analyses the functioning of through the prism of two key questions. First, how does a deviant sexuality fit with masculine sociability? And how does it tie in with broader gender relations? While sexuality and sociability are often seen as antagonistic, the ethnography of the spanking club shows that it surpasses the function of bringing together individuals with similar sexual desires. The club enables its members to share and discuss their desires in a non-judgemental context; it normalizes a practice that is seen as shameful; it defines the forms and boundaries of sexual fantasy. It is sometimes less important for members to satisfy their own desires than to take part in fantasies defined by others. This men-only form of sociability is just one aspect of the gender practices taking place in the club. The former may also be seen as a space that captures and defines a certain form of masculinity, distant from feminine and effeminate models as well as from proud and open male homosexuality. This practice as a means to test a lateral masculinity can only be apprehended by taking into account the respondents’ trajectories, characterized by sexual discretion and restraint, the ways in which the fantasies recounted in the club magazine crystallize specific moments of male socialization, and the place of pain in the spanking ritual.


  • Sociability
  • gender
  • masculinity
  • homosexuality
  • deviance
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