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This is closely related to a recognition of the growing importance of globalization in relation to the organization of sexualities. A globalized world is one in which Western categorizations of sexuality increasingly interact and interpenetrate with those operating in other sexual cultures, and in which new categorizations emerging worldwide—whether being universalized or asserted in opposition to one another—are increasingly interconnected across cultures. The spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic since the 1980s to become a global pandemic is a vivid and tragic illustration of this. Sexual behavior has of course always been associated with risk: the risk of unwanted pregnancy, of disease, of exploitation, of prejudice and oppression. These risks did not disappear with the emergence of a new discourse of sexual rights over the last thirty years of the twentieth century. But the risks have changed their forms, giving rise to new forms of conflict—over, for example, the rights and roles of women in nonindustrialized societies, and the responsibility of the developed world to the Third World in relation to matters such as the population explosion. These often become central to political differences on a global scale, such as the postulated conflict between Western and Islamic values. Conflicts over sexuality have become integral to the emergence of fundamentalist politics both within Western societies and elsewhere around the world. The work of international campaigns for reproductive rights suggests that there is a double push in this global movement: for bodily integrity and the right of women to control their own body; but also for challenging wider social, economic, and cultural inequalities, without which rights may become meaningless.

This pinpoints the new dilemmas of "global sex." If sexual cultures are varied and have specific historical formations, how do we distinguish those claims to right that have a universal resonance, and those that are highly culturally specific—and possibly distasteful to large numbers of citizens around the globe? One answer lies in the realization that human rights do not exist in nature. They are not there to be discovered written on tablets of stone. They have to be invented, in complex historical conjunctures and contestations, as part of the making of minimal common values. And in a divided, often violently polarized world, that is not an easy task.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Semiotics to SmeltingSexuality - Conceptualizing Sexuality, Questioning The Concept Of Sexuality, Gendering Sexualities, New Subjectivities, Globalization, Conflict Of Values