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Researching sexuality and drug addiction.


Sexuality is a key principle in the organization of social life, a basis of identity as well as one of the main axes around which social inequalities are produced and reproduced. It is through sexuality that we understand ourselves and how identities are hierarchically organized. Sexual behavior sometimes includes force and coercion, often involves negotiations and ethical differences (Kimmel M., 2013: 11).

Moreover, it is now amply clear (P.L. Berger and T. Luckmann, 1966, M. Foucault M., 2001-1976; C. Cipolla, 1996) that human sexuality is constructed within social contexts.

Although classical sociology does not consider sexual behavior as a scientific object of study, there have been sociological analysis of sexuality, but it has been study in the context of the family or social and economic group dynamics.

For Durkheim the separation of sexes and the extreme specialization of their duties in the home is essential for the life and the survival of society, because sexual division of labor enables marital solidarity. The union of a couple in a marriage brings restrictions and increases their obligations. There are norms that penalize the violation of marital duties and laws that explain how and when the marriage contract can be dissolved (Durkheim E., 1969). This configuration of marriage entailed a differentiation of sex roles and sex sites.

As the man saw his horizons broaden and his duties become more specialized in terms of work, politics, defense and space of life, the woman was required to be more "careful" of the family life, the care of her children and husband, narrowing her places to the house and the kitchen, his true exclusive "kingdom". The rest of the marriage was the shelter from the dangers of life and from external attacks. The stability of marriage, for Durkheim, is an essential fact to combat the conjugal anomie, through the observance of social norms that have been established over time. The state of conjugal anomie can occur in the event of widowhood or divorce: functions and tasks primarily and socially feminine need to be addressed by the man, who does not have the tools, expertise and social legitimacy to carry them out.

The woman on the other hand, according to Durkheim, "living more than the man out of the community life, penetrates common life less and the society is not required because it is less impregnated with sociability. She has just needs addressed this way, and satisfied them with little expense" (Durkheim E., 1969:264).

As a result, women would present less risk of suicide than men because of their exclusion from public and social life. This will reduce the risk of suicide due to conjugal anomie. But to do this it would be necessary to achieve legal parity which would require at least psychological equality.

"First of all a man and a woman are beings of the same nature so that they can be equally protected by the same institution" (Ibidem:454). The issue is understood as division of roles not only as sexual reaffirmation of male supremacy. Man is capable of social relations as a person, while the woman does not have a specific social role, does not have the same intellectual development and cannot be on the same level of her partner. Its conjugal subservience is primarily expressed in sexual terms, because she has a strong naturalness, a kind of primitive simplicity.

The woman is always subordinate to man in classical sociology. In the analysis of Max Weber (2001 and 1978), for example, which mainly considers the economic aspects of sexual relationships. With regard to women, her economic interests are aimed at communion and the sharing of resources.

The sexual relationship would only be an act of interest on which social groups orient and control the economic relations. Taking a "brief analysis of the essence of the kind of community" that Weber himself considers most important to determine the relationship between the economy and types of communities, he takes into consideration the relationship between the economy and "the general shapes of the structure of human communities".

"Contents and directions of social action are discussed only insofar as they give rise to specific forms that are also economically relevant" (Weber M., 1978:356).

Before that in connection with the category of power, the forms of relationship are expressed in ways that are at the basis of the family community.

"The relationships between father, mother and children, established by a stable union, appear to us today particularly "natural" relationships. However, separated from the household as a unit of economic maintenance, the sexually based relationship between husband and wife, and the physiologically determinate relationship between father and children are wholly unstable and tenuous. The father relationship cannot exist without a stable economic household unit of father and mother; even where there is such a unit the father relationship may not always be of great import. Of all the relationships arising from sexual intercourse, only the mother-child relationship is "natural", because it is biologically based household unit that lasts until the child is able to search for means of subsistence on his own. Next come the sibling group, which the Greeks called [phrase omitted] [homogalaktes: literally, persons suckled with the same milk]. Here, too, the decisive pint is not the fact of the common mother but that of common maintenance" (Weber M., 1978:356-357).

It is therefore the maternal group that represents the true predominant "familiar shape", next to which there are, according to Weber, the economic and military community of men and the sexual and economic community of men with women.

"Sexual relationships and the relationships between children based on the fact of their common parent or parents can engender social action only by becoming the normal, though not the only, bases of a specific economic organization: the household" (Weber M., 1978:357). Consequently it does not seem possible even conceptually to "think of marriage as a mere combination of sexual union and socialization agency involving father, mother, and children. The concept of marriage can be defined only with reference to other groups and relationships besides these" (Ibidem:357). (1)

Sexuality was just an instrument for procreation, so as to enable the preservation and perpetuation of the species, and ensure the workforce for future subsistence. Sexual pleasure was regarded as sinful and immoral by religion and society. Sexual behaviors were also regulated by medicine. The treaties of hygiene made constant reference to marital chastity, to be understood as the preservation of their physical and mental health by limiting sexual intercourse outside of the family. The sexual act was a duty, adultery and prostitution probable vehicles to contract sexually transmitted diseases.

This is not to trace the history of reading and sociological interpretation of sexuality. This is not the goal of this paper. It was considered appropriate, however, to include some references that seem to capture the sense of some distant persistence of behaviors and attitudes towards sexuality, especially in the male population, even though, at least in Western societies, it has no longer any restriction of social and religious order. Everyone, it is said, is master of his own sexuality and can act it freely.

The post-erotic society

In any society there has been talk of sex as in ours, moreover observes Foucault (2001), reflecting on behaviors, on its effects not only in the intimate and private sphere, but also in the public and visible one, about how, with whom and when to do it. People seem to be able to express freely their true sexuality, without any restrictions or constraints.

According to Giddens (1992) this would make possible a democratic restoration in the intimate sphere, based on gender, sentimental and emotional equality, a malleable sexuality that is eccentric, free from the constraints of reproduction, from male power, from gender stereotypes, based on the individual autonomy and not necessarily geared towards monogamy and stability.

Simple empirical observations, however, argues Di Forti (1986), seem to circumscribe this freedom and reveal closures and persistence of attitudes that seemed to be overcame in changing social life and sexual mores. The persistence of or regression to ways of thinking typical of earlier eras were probably the result of the problems related to the emergence of new sexually transmitted diseases, primarily HIV, or the resurgence of diseases that were thought to be in strong regression if not eradicated. It cannot be excluded, the fact that it is just a sexual freedom without conditions to bewilder, to create doubts and uncertainties, to arouse deep insecurities in search perhaps of a love that goes beyond the pure sexuality. The lack of an exclusive relationship also causes feelings of abandon that often result in manifestations of violence. A clear example are the forms of morbid jealousy which are often cause of crimes.

Nowadays, we live in an age of extraordinary sexual freedoms which tolerates and allows the expression and public display of almost all forms of sexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, trans-sexuality, up to the forms of online exhibitionism/voyeurism. Under a different angle it is possible to observe a sort of sexual meaning loss and substantial indifference in front of sex itself.

There would be, in recent years, in our society the signs of a crisis of sexuality and desire that identifies our era as "post-erotic" (Di Forti M., 1986). "Sexuality does not seem to be any more loaded of deep motivations or passions, but is acted for individual achievement of an ever higher degree of pleasure. It is basically a race that often go back to consider the woman or the man, the partner, as a mere object to be bought and consumed subjectively, without any obligation except for the payment of sexual services". (Ibidem: 21)

The increase in male and female prostitution, in this case seems to be an emblematic example of sexuality denied in which pleasure lives for the object bought and does not involve any kind of responsibility or ties (Cipolla C., 1996: 275-276). A one-way sexuality that almost compulsively repeats the obsessive and, for several reasons, utopic pursuit of pleasure and that is often found in combination with the use of psychoactive substances and a further and increased hedonic mirage with parallel paths of addiction.

The path that links addiction to substances of abuse to sexuality is quite complex and can vary depending on several variables related to the substance, its quality and quantity, to its actual or presumed effects, to the emotional charge that is reversed on it, to the body of the consumer, etc. The same substance may have different effects and affect the sphere of sexual behavior depending on the mode of use and the contexts in which it is assumed. (Campedelli M., 1996:627).

Most of the drugs, especially when used for recreational purposes, have effects on sexuality and many of these are often used to correct hidden sexual problems, or simply to increase the result of the sexual act. In fact it is believed that the use of stimulating drugs leads to an improvement of sexual performance mainly through the induction of a more uninhibited behavior, the increase of libido and desire, an increase in sexual performance or an increase in the pleasure and the duration of the orgasm (Rezza G., Parchi F. e Giuliani M, 2000:63).

Even the use of psychotropic drugs such as some antidepressants may have important stimulatory effects on sexual behavior (Chebili S. et al, 1998: 180-184).

A characteristic in common to all drugs of abuse, including alcohol, is to act by depressing the capacity of voluntary control of behavior, that results in an increase in the risk of two important biological outcomes of sexual intercourse: sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

The association and the cause-and-effect relationship between drugs abuse and sexual behavior are interactions known for some time, so much to be now entered in the ranks of everyday language (sex, drugs and rock'n'roll). Not less known are the relationships with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or with the risk of contracting them.

The sexual consequences of drugs use are always influenced by use and the reasons for taking them. The escape from ties and the obsessive search for the pleasure can be common causes of forms of sexual or drugs addiction which are considered similar and overlapping.

Sexuality and addiction

The relationship between sexuality and drug use can be analyzed through qualitative (individual motivations and expectations) and quantitative (frequency of certain behaviors, quantity used and method of use) variables.

With regard to qualitative variables, Campedelli distinguishes four different types: "experimental (motivated by curiosity and desire to try), social-recreational (desire to enjoy, in affective or friendly relationships, the euphoric effects and the relational facilitations) expressive (linked to express the individual or social identity), instrumental (to acquire particular states of mind with respect to a purpose, or for self-medication)" (Campedelli M., 1996:627).

From the quantitative point of view, to analyze the relationship between substances and sexuality, the emphasis is on the influence of factors related to the quality of the substance used, to the amount taken and frequency of use. It is known that some substances are substantially euphoric, others encourage socialization, others inhibit sexuality. There are also substances that trigger sexual fantasies, or produce an increase of physical sensibility, the pleasure of orgasm and greater sexual gratification, as many stores claim.

More research has highlighted that "in general the effects which are the most desired are disinhibiting and modification of the physical sensitivity, followed by excitement, fantasies, and feel comfortable with your partner. Alcohol produces a greater effect in terms of disinhibiting and feel comfortable with your partner. Marijuana is most commonly used for the physical sensitivity. Ecstasy is mostly desired as disinhibiting substance. In any case, even if each substance appears to have a specific pattern of effects, it is not in an exclusive way the use of the single substances for specific effects" (Maroli A., Forza G., Schifano F., 2000:753).

Clinically, it has been authoritatively stated that "a person may be induced to drug use, from the point of view of sexual and hedonic behavior, by the following conditions: looking for an aphrodisiac effect; search for hedonic effects of self-stimulation; search for an effect of reducing behavioral inhibitions; search for an effect of defense, coverage of their bodily, relational and existential anxieties; search for a pharmacological secondary effect (delay in ejaculation, analgesia, etc.). search for a sedation and "trip", accompanied by euphoric feelings; search the simple condition of normality, which allows sexual intercourse, especially in those who are physically dependent on the substance" (Frajese G., Bruno F. and Ferracuti F., 1988: 135).

So it seems possible, according to Campedelli (1996:632-634), to schematize to three approaches to the analysis of the relationship between drug and sexuality: 1) a tendency to recreational use for aphrodisiac purposes, addressed to increasing pleasure; 2) a self-medical orientation, in the presence of pathological forms, in which the substance is essential for the management of sexuality; 3) a setting related to poverty or sexual marginalization, in which sexuality is presented as a link or an inescapable requirement for social relations. The concept of sexual marginalization implies the existence of the hardship, a state of exclusion and is expressed through four types: the material, cultural, cognitive-relational or physic-relational type.

Material marginalization is synonymous with poverty on the shortage of goods, material deprivation and limitation of access to resources or to performances that makes a person vulnerable. Cultural marginalization is linked to membership of particular social, ethnic, religious and geographical groups.

There are forms of racism and ethnic differentiation and domination connected to it. Cognitive-relational poverty assumes instead the lack of knowledge and skills that are essential for participation in society and to adapt to its changes. Finally, there is a type that refers to physic-relational exclusion, that is dependent on a physical state of the person (disability, disease, etc.), which greatly limits an individual's communication and relationship capabilities.

These factors characterize the sexual marginalization that takes the form of social exclusion and unemployment on the basis of gender (Saraceno C., 1993) (2), identity and homosexual unions stigmatization or the ghettoization of transgender. The same variables have an impact on the construction of sexual identity, on gender membership and acting certain sexual behaviors. The main reference in this discussion is to the forms of prostitution in which drug use takes on particular connotations for different modes in which they arise.

Prostitution is a problematic and multiform phenomenon that is difficult to detect and study because it is characterized by strong instability. It is a hidden phenomenon that has no statistical significant reference, multifaceted and difficult to schematize or classify in the modes of acting, in communication models, in the public imagination.

It is characterized by strong territorial mobility, by its partial visibility (only street prostitution is detectable), by the extreme diversity of cultures, languages and ethnicities, histories and values. Currently in Italy, most of the prostitutes come from outside the EU and are often victims of trafficking, or related to situations of strong limitation of freedom or slavery by their exploiters-protectors (Cipolla C, Ruspini E., 2012; Carchedi F., Orfano E., 2007; Mancini D., 2008).

However, it is a phenomenon that in terms of "sex trade" concerns a wide range of the population. Recent research on the sexuality of the Italians (Barbagli et al. 2010), has highlighted how commercial sex is condemned by two out of three Italians, with a greater conviction from men. This however does not mean--as is clear from the study "How much?" conducted for the European Commission by the Foundation Ismu (Initiatives and studies on multi-ethnicity) with Transcrime researchers (University of Trento and Catholic University of Milan)--that Italians do not visit prostitutes and the study found that there were an approximate 9 million clients of prostitutes in Italy. Then emerges, in the same context, the existence of a double morality, which is expressed in having certain sexual behaviors and at one time with the moral condemnation of the same behaviors.

Prostitution is most often closely linked with situations of drug addiction, both of whom exercises (male or female prostitutes) and act in terms of "consumption", often with high-risk behaviors for contracting STDs.

This was supported in Morse's 1992 study of female prostitution and drug use in the Anglo-Saxon area: "female prostitutes become substance users in order to cope with social, physical, and occupational stressors associated with selling themselves ... Female prostitutes report using drugs and alcohol to enhance sociability with customers, maintain their energy level, lose weight, aid in sleep and relaxation, stimulate temporary sexual desire, increase tolerance for participation in anonymous sex, dull the mental insult arising from having to repeat the same sexual act (normally oral sex) eight or ten times a day, reduce inhibition. and facilitate engagement in some sexual act (i.e. sadomasochism, anal sex). Prostitutes also frequently report using substances to self-medicate in response to stress, degradation, depression, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, insecurity, self-pity, and internal emotional conflicts associated with engaging in their occupation suggests that substance use is related to lack of Identification whit the profession of prostitution and attempt to avoid the negative feelings associated with practicing prostitution. Finally, substance use among female prostitutes is seen as a behavioral manifestation of a general life pattern of victimisation, self-destructiveness, feeling of low self-esteem and a sense of hopelessness" (Morse et al. 1992:979).

Not differently it could be asserted with regard to male prostitution (homosexual or heterosexual), and to that trans-sexual.

Regardless of the motivation (search for strong emotions and higher levels of pleasure, physical and emotional compensation, self-medication, response to social marginalization, etc.). that drives these behaviors it is no doubt that the phenomenon of prostitution is widely spread and some areas are particularly fertile ground for it to take root and proliferate.

A study on one of the Italian "poles of sex"

"The prostitution in Italy and in Europe by the end of the 80s", writes Marco Bufo (2001:10), by introducing a volume on education and social intervention in prostitution, "is completely changed, marked by the arrival of massive immigrant women of various nationalities, which are often found to be victims of trafficking in human beings for purposes of sexual exploitation. The sex market on the road involves also, albeit to a lesser extent, Italian prostitutes (historical sex workers or drug abusers), transgender (Italian and foreigners), forms of male prostitution (almost invisible, often motivated by drug addiction, with the recent presence of minors foreigners)".

Some Italian areas, especially over the last few decades, have seen an increase in the incidence of prostitution in parallel with the transformation of Italy from country of origin to a country of transit and destination of migrants and trafficked persons. The phenomenon "become significant and visible from the 90s. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) onwards, the Italian peninsula has assumed the role of landing place port and passage of foreigners from countries of the former Soviet bloc, the Middle and Far East, directed not only in Italy but also in other European countries and overseas. In fact, the fall of the Berlin Wall has accelerated a process already in progress for some time" (Carchedi F., Orfano I., 2007:23).

Among the major points of destination and exploitation in addition to the areas of large cities (Turin, Milan, Venice-Mestre, Bologna, Rome, etc..), there are also remote areas of central-southern Italy. In particular, one of these areas, is between the provinces of Ascoli Piceno and Teramo, which continue to record the main polarizations of the migratory movement, destination and exploitation of prostitution. The first national groups appeared on roads were composed of women from Nigeria and Albania, to which were added groups from Moldova, Ukraine, Romania and other former Soviet bloc countries, along with groups from Mediterranean Africa and Latin America (Carchedi F., 2006:23-25).

This polarization in the coastal area of Ascoli Piceno and Teramo is also superimposed to other situations of great social distress that marked the same territory, exacerbating an already critical situation for the high rate of drug abuse among the population.

The interweaving of most illicit trafficking and interest has had the effect of creating islands of discomfort where social marginalization is encountered, generating social degradation, conditions of widespread social unrest and growing forms of insecurity.

Trafficking, addiction, petty crime and phenomena of street prostitution, promiscuity and consequent health concerns such as the increase in sexually transmitted diseases, formation of ghettos of immigrants (both EU and non-EU) have generated very strong social emergencies and the need for targeted interventions relating to public order and territorial control, the repression of trafficking, the protection of health and the prevention of social and health care.

All this in a territory concerned, as early as the sixties and seventies, with fast and sometimes not always linear processes of economic development in artisanal and industrial characterization, which had brought a decent level of economic well-being in large segments of the population. The spread of economic well-being, however, was not accompanied by a parallel socio-cultural development. The resident population, subject to a rapid demographic change as a function of the rise and closure of production plants, showed a low level of education and a lack of professional qualification. This more widespread economic prosperity was accompanied by the conditioning of poor social integration among residents connoted mostly by a traditional and predominantly rural culture.

Despite some social alarm caused by the phenomena of prostitution and the spread of drug addictions "one could see a certain (...) 'carelessness' (...): substantially, everybody know that the phenomenon (...) is widespread, everybody know that concerns us, however, at this time does not affect us" (Ricci S., 1998:111), according to an attitude of the traditional type. "To give some examples, prevailed (and it was almost exclusive) the attention to the street prostitution when, especially in some areas (Val Vibrata, San Benedetto, Grottammare, and then Porto Sant'Elpidio, Civitanova Marche, Montesilvano) there is another kind of prostitution; the attitude, idea, identikit outlined was that of the prostitute alone with the single protector, within the idealized relationship, according to a traditional vision" (Ricci S., 1998:111). The problems eventually arose from the concern not having prostitutes and drug addicts "below the house" rather than generated by the awareness of the negative effects of this phenomenon.

It was against the background of the genesis of many deprived places and neighborhoods, that the bird of a kind of ante litteram "zoning" occurred resulting in the phenomena of prostitution and drug dealing. Some of the centers of the Adriatic coastal districts of the provinces of Ascoli Piceno and Teramo have become the ghettos characterized by the intertwining of more lawlessness, real "poles of sex", where risk behaviour and criminality thrive. We can almost identify "sub-cultures of sex", connoted by the commodification of relationships and by the presence and proximity of merchants, products and customers.

One of the stigmatized places for decades as a classic place of pleasure and "cheap" sexuality is the road called "Bonifica'' along the river Tronto. From the Adriatic coast, between San Benedetto del Tronto and Martinsicuro, it forwards to "licking the inside of the Province of Teramo and Ascoli. In this area work,--as well as transvestites and Latin Americans transsexuals, few locals, native and almost all drug addicts, prostitutes--hundreds of immigrants prostitutes, mostly Nigerian, Albanian, Russian and from other Eastern European countries, which are the new image of local prostitution" (Gobbato R., 1998:23).

The research on the "pole of sex" mainly focuses on those areas of drug addiction, sexuality and prostitution, with the purpose of describing and deepening the knowledge of phenomena as well as to bring to light the actors, issues, attitudes and behaviors.

The research is also motivated by the interest of some local health and social services, which want to launch measures of prevention and informational campaigns about the risk of contracting STDs or Acquire Immunodeficiency Syndrome in the face of a progressive increase of these diseases in the area.

Methodological issues and ethical considerations

In methodological terms, the research had to consider the specific characteristics and diversifications of the phenomena to be analyzed for both the general approach and for the survey techniques and instruments of detection.

Substance use and addiction like sexuality can take many different forms and follow paths not easy to categorize. Their relationship is therefore extremely fluid and exposed to subjective impulses, to the variance of the choices and desires, to the situation, the circumstances, the timing, types of substances used, frequency of use, to the consciousness of the risks for health, to the ethical dimensions and the will of individuals.

The list could go on considering the fact that the two behaviors are usually extremely reserved, and since they are intimate and relevant to each individual's private sphere, and because in some cases morally and/or legally punishable. The variables to be considered are many and various, often interchangeable and interlinked.

When the research focuses on the phenomena of commercial sex and drug use the researcher is presented with a series of additional problems. The analysis of these particular issue is rather problematic because they are linked to certain factors intrinsic to the nature of the relationship.

These phenomena were almost always invisible and marked as "impenetrable'' until a few years ago. It is also "a phenomenon called ambiguous: for many actors it is therefore difficult to be related in personal, relational, affective terms; (...) it is a different phenomenon in the approach, in personal involvement, in type of action, as compared to other classic types of care and rehabilitation (...) on which they act a few trials of interventions" (Castelli V., 1998:17).

Other factors make it even more complex to study and analyze these phenomena. "The rapid change of the phenomenon of prostitution has conveyed this same world inside the maze of local and international organized crime, and determined the structural modification of the relationship between prostitution and the local community, generating first serious security problems and manifestations of intolerance on the part of citizens; the massive presence of non European prostitutes, sediment phenomenon for several years now, has in fact entered the same girls in the debate on immigration from outside the Community, on the underground, on the regulation of migration flows; the existing link between prostitution and health risks brought the debate into the sanitary planet" (Ibidem: 16).

The attitudes and social representations of the considered phenomena affect on this field, beginning with those proposed by the mass media that contribute to the construction of many stereotypes. Transgressions and spicy sensationalisms have indeed always been a strong communicative impact on public opinion. The reactions of the "ordinary citizen" open the way to often bitter debates between prohibition and liberalization, criminalization and protection of rights, condemnation according to public ethics and to the maintenance of transgressive behavior in private.

Difficulties also arise from insufficient knowledge of the phenomena in question, but also by the fact that it is not a study of objects or physical or chemical reactions, but a study of people in their relational reality, with their personalities and their attitudes as well as with the ability to choose and justify rationally or irrationally their behavior.

This also in order to determine on which side and with which techniques to conduct the research. Every social phenomenon has peculiar characteristics that involve the use of tools and techniques appropriate to its specificity.

In the case of the correlation of the phenomena in question it was decided to conduct a qualitative survey with semi-structured biographic interviews supplemented by the collection of life stories. This is for a number of factors related to the context of investigation--it is a short-range local research in not wide area--and to the difficulty of finding and recruiting a significant cohort of subjects and then the smallness of the sample. In most cases it is also difficult to approach even the "actors" involved in order to study their behavior.

Additional reasons for adopting this approach include the aims for the research to bring about "healthy" lifestyles or at least less hazardous lifestyles by the cohort sampled and the development of a peer network for carrying out educational campaigns aimed at containing sexually transmitted diseases.

The research in this way, as well as being acquisitive of knowledge, can indicate possible solutions to problems compared to a "problematic situation". In this perspective, the social research helps to acquire an attitude and a method that will be useful for the correct setting of a subsequent social intervention.

This requires the researcher to adopt a mindset and an attitude that rejects any rigidity, based on a willingness to listen and collaborate, without selecting a priori on the basis of pre-arranged mental patterns what is or can be considered important.

The idea of working for a productive intervention of "changes" in lifestyle, which is one of the main objectives of the research, must set aside the "axioms" of value, focusing on the dignity and quality of life. Such path of analysis free of value judgments in this case is an indispensable element. People subsist on emotions, have motivations, attitudes and behaviors that are strongly individualized.

The limits within which it is possible to investigate are very subjective and unstable. The free choice to tell their own life and to determine the degree of depth of the details should be left to the interviewee.

Failure to comply with these principles can be seen as an undue interference in the private sphere, even in areas in which the respondent was removed or streamlined or not admitted even by himself/herself and can break the confidence deal, to create so that the interview is profitable, compromising the reliability and validity of the data collected.

It is therefore essential to establish a friendly and confidential climate placing ourselves in empathic accord with the person, with his emotions and his existential experience, especially if traumatic.

In methodological terms there are also other problems related to the lack of relevant, reliable and especially comparable sources with regard to the phenomena analyzed. The data relating to sexuality typically refer to "ad hoc surveys" or to statistic valuation of health or social services. The repertoire of the Italian data relating to addictions is wider and include official statistics produced by public health services and private organizations for drug addiction, which are included in an annual national report. These data, however, do not cover aspects that are essential for our purposes, but merely describe the situation, particularly in terms of epidemiology. They are in any case descriptive analyses and rarely suggest preventive, therapeutic or rehabilitative interventions.

In addition, little importance is given to basic demographic data, nor does it include a breakdown of data by sub-regional areas, which may be significant if targeted campaigns in micro spatial contexts are to be conducted.

For the study the researcher has also considered the health service's data related to the sphere of addiction. For reasons of privacy and protection the researcher has not been able to access a range of data contained in the health records of the subjects, even though it would be interesting to know how to create more detailed profiles. The recruitment of the sample and the collection of data by means of semi-structured biographic interviews have been conducted within the public health service for drug addicts and with the cooperation of the personnel, who participated in the survey, providing their skills for the collection of life stories.

In this way, the intrinsic limitation of the small sample size, consisting of a majority of male and female addicts, heterosexual and homosexual, and a small proportion of transsexuals, all with histories of prostitution, violence and AIDS, has been matched to the experience of some social workers of the health Service and the possibility to conduct surveys within the same service. This made easier to conduct the interviews/conversations and the establishment of a friendly and available climate, allowing confidential openings and greater reliability of the narratives.

In another aspect it must be said that the choice of the biographical approach to the phenomena analyzed has established itself in the first place because the knowledge of the stories of the protagonists, routes and events of life, reaffirmed the centrality of the person, of the subject within the research process. "The biographies can be a source and an analysis tool but it can also set an example of approach to the case, a tale of social practices, a representation and a self-image, a "progress of life"" (Ricci S., 1998:192-193).

Life stories, interviews and biographical materials are not only instruments for analysis but also for training and self-learning. The autobiographical approach, a paradigm based on the "construction of consciousness" and the attribution of meaning, is configured as a research tool and at the same time as the training practice able to propose concrete ways to exercise and to investigate own subjectivity.

The survey has been designed and conducted with these intentions and conditions on the base of the relationship between sexuality and addictions in a sociological perspective.


Life stories, autobiographical materials, within a methodology for qualitative research, have gained "scientific" dignity and epistemological autonomy, based on the challenge that consists in assigning a knowledge value to the subjectivity.

These instruments have been used in research between sexuality and drug addiction and represented an heuristic experience of self rediscovery, through the memory and the focus into forgotten lives or existential unexplored dimensions.

In fact, "the stories that are going to be rebuild, bring into life the most important stages and the Inflection Points that characterize each walk of life,, and often become territory of discovery and rediscovery for each one" (Anzaldi L., 2001:178-179). "Speaking of self to another is going out of oneself, to design and deliver coherence, rationalize and distance themselves in a work that confront the past, which deal with the memory and mixes the real, the learned, the imaginary" (Bichi R., 2002:27).

For the experience of the research to tell their experience of life has meant for many people an awareness of what is happening within himself in moments when you are acting out certain behaviors, going "from a widespread feeling of his experience in a more rational consciousness of his own existence, and from this to a clear and explicit self-knowledge" (Angers P., Bouchard C., 1993:35).

Explaining the history of life presupposes a space for ourselves, an intimate contact with oneself, the starting point to arrive to an awareness of people own personal experience in the present, which allows us to look to the future remembering, seeing, feeling, consciously building own individual way of life.

Research on the "pole of sex" for many people has been the first opportunity to reflect on themselves, on their value orientations, on their choices with regards to their own sexuality and their own history of addiction; sometimes it has generated forms of self-recognition, of self-disclosure and self-learning.

In operational terms the relationship of the conversation between the teller and the listener. is fundamental. The latter can help the narrator, through storytelling experiences but also with a reflective listening, to establish connections between facts and described events. These are links that allow you to assign a meaning to the design of his own life according to a continuous reassembled interpretation (Bella S., 1999:141-156).

"The experience of self-storytelling, aided by careful and discreet listening, results in the retelling of his/her own existential event. As you said, the present is interpreted and understood in light of traces of the past, which remain in it, not to be found more or find themselves in different ways. (...) The world of drug addiction, sexuality, street prostitution, despite the persistent display of the bodies in a scene that is public, actually contains a closed and secret dimension, composed of many stories that intersect and of which we know almost nothing. To know these stories, you can try to rebuild them. (...) The comparison with the fragmentation requires to reconstruct the figures, step by step, with a job that can reveal very useful for the construction of a significant relationship" (Bella S., 2001: 187).

The attention to autobiography means above all the discovery of the vital textures in life: the researcher/listener reconnects the frayed parts of a story that is reconstructed along with the interviewee in the re-appropriation of the meaning of their existence. In the logic of the analysis the biographical research is a powerful way of reading the society and its changes, especially in micro-sociological perspective.

All elements analyzed have allowed the emergence of autobiographical discourse from an underground world, of a language that is difficult to understand because private, cryptic and often symbolic as an initiatory journey.

Finding out you have a memory from which to draw meanings of life becomes the foundation on which to try to build models of change. Understanding that you have a unique and unrepeatable history, which is of interest, allows it to be seen in a new light. Who tells proclaims and justifies its existence; calls all real or imaginary witnesses in its support. The history of life, as shared, becomes a clear evolution option and a tool of emancipation, through processes of reinforcement of its capacity. Taking the word means to gain visibility and power, exercise decision-making capacity (of what I speak, how), then emancipate itself.

Emancipation, writes Laura Formenti, "is the discovery of adult self-determination, which in some contexts is not absolutely obvious, but becomes the target of a long and difficult walk of life. Here emerges the strong socio-political connotation of autobiographical discourse, its dimension of empowerment" (Formenti L., 1997:45).

Telling of oneself it can also mean discovering and accepting the multiplicity, the plural dimension of their lives and help to give a new meaning to their own existence. The rediscovery and maybe the questioning of patterns which functioned yesterday, for others which find better matching today, becomes an important step of awareness. To identify the continuities or discontinuities, recurrences and connections, allows who tells to understand its route, bear witness its existence, reassemble the complexities of life.

Discover personal history helps to find and identify resources that maybe were undervalued and encourages to increase the level of own autonomy, "raises self-esteem, gives awareness of their uniqueness and similarity respect to the others, creates willingness to get back in the game as person capable of designing" (Formenti L., 1998:67).

It is therefore essential that the researcher/biographer has a dimension of "comprising listening" of critical reflection not only in regard to how much knows about the story, but also of their intimacy, their emotions. He must set himself in a position to understand empathically the reality that grows from the narrative and draw elements of reflection in order not to return guidance and forced or unidirectional walks of life, but basis and support options to their daily lives.


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(1) "Marriage as a social institution comes into existence everywhere only as an antithesis to sexual relationships which are not regarded as marriage. The existence of a marriage means that (1) a relationships formed against the will of the wife's or the husband's kin will not be tolerated and may even be avenged by an organization, such as in olden times the kinsmen of the husband or of the wife or both. (2) It means especially that only children born of stable sexual relationships within a more inclusive economic, political, religious, or other community to which one or both parents belong will be treated, by virtue of their descent, as equal members of an organization--house, village, kin, political group, status group, religious group; while descendants who are a product of other sexual relationships will not be treated in such a manner. This and nothing else is the meaning of the distinction between birth in wedlock and out of wedlock" (Weber M., 1978:357-358).

(2) The gender, beyond the obvious biological differences, is socially constructed "in the form of acceptance, in the resources to which it gives access, in power relationship, in life chances that opens (or closes)" (Saraceno C., 1993:20).

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Author:Francesco, Di Gabriele
Publication:Journal of the International Network for Sexual Ethics and Politics
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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