CCHU9015 Humanities
Sex and Intimacy in Modern Times

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]


Non-permissible Combination:
CCHU9007 Sexuality and Gender: Diversity and Society /
CCHU9039 Sexuality and Culture

Course Description

Great transformations have been taking place in the realm of intimacy – the rise of non-monogamous non-marital forms of intimacy, the increasing visibility of lesbian and gay existence, the well established commercial sex industry, the popularized public report of private stories, the huge development of the popularity of cosmetic surgery, and numerous possibilities for intimacy in the cyber world, just to name but a few. New forms of identity, intimacy and sexuality have emerged in the era of the post-modern/globalized world, which blur the boundaries of what constitutes private matters and public issues and challenge the meanings of normal/abnormal citizen, natural/artificial body, real/virtual relationship, authentic/counterfeit intimacy, and so forth. Using contemporary sociological and political theories of identity, gender and sexuality, this course aims to track down the major transformation in the realm of sexual intimacy in modern times and to examine newly emerged ethical issues, moral dilemmas and social conflicts over sexual intimacy in four inter-related domains: (a) democracy, human sexual rights and citizenship – how these issues are important in talking about intimate relationships; (b) mass media and popular culture – how private matters become increasingly subject to public scrutiny; (c) economy and consumption – how intimacy is increasingly commodified and commercialized; and (d) science, medicine and computer technology – how medical and computer technologies foster new pleasures, bodies and practices and the problems that arise from this. At the end of the course, students are expected to be able to think critically about intimacy, to understand the complex interplay between self and society and to have learnt how to respect individual differences and preferences.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify key concepts in understanding intimacy using contemporary sociological and political theories of identity, gender and sexuality.
  2. Demonstrate critical understanding of the complexity of issues of intimacy in their everyday lives through examination of the interplay between the self and society, i.e. how social, economic, political and cultural forces shape our intimate choices and decisions; and between private and public, i.e. how our most private decisions are bound up with public institutions such as the state, the law, the media, and medicine.
  3. Express an appreciation of the distinctiveness and inter-relatedness of their own and other intimate cultures and demonstrate a cultural sensitivity with people of diverse cultures.
  4. Behave as responsible global citizens who respect individual differences and preferences and uphold the core values of a democratic society: human rights, justice, equality and freedom of speech.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 12
Reading / Self-study 20
Assessment: Reflective journal 20
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 20
Assessment: Group project 30
Assessment: In-class test (incl preparation) 20
Total: 146

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Participation in problem-based learning tutorials 30
Reflective journal 20
Group project 30
In-class test 20

Required Reading

  • Beres, M. A., & Farvid, P. (2010). Sexual ethics and young women’s accounts of heterosexual casual sex. Sexualities, 13(3), 377-393.
  • Chu, C. S. K., & Laidler, K. J. (2016). Becoming a male client of compensated dating. Deviant Behavior, 37(1), 47-65.
  • Dean, J. J. (2014). Straights: Heterosexuality in post-closeted culture. New York: New York University Press.
  • Farrer, J. (2013). Good stories: Chinese women’s international love stories as cosmopolitan sexual politics. Sexualities, 16(1-2), 12-29.
  • Jamieson, L. (2011). Intimacy as a concept: Explaining social change in the context of globalisation or another form of ethnocentricism? Sociological Research Online, 16(4). From http://www.socresonline.org.uk/16/4/15.html
  • McLelland, M. & Mackie, V. (2015). Routledge handbook of sexuality studies in East Asia. London: Routledge. [Selected chapters]
  • Parker, R. (2009). Sexuality, culture and society: Shifting paradigms in sexuality research. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 11(3), 251-266.
  • Plummer, K. (2015). Cosmopolitan sexualities: Hope and the humanist imagination. Cambridge: Polity Press. [Selected chapters]
  • Rubin, G. (1984/1993). Thinking sex: Notes for a radical theory of the politics of sexuality. In H. Abelove, M. A. Barale & D. M. Halperin (Eds.), The lesbian and gay studies reader (pp. 3-44). London: Routledge.

Recommended Reading

  • Attwood, F. (2006). Sexed up: Theorizing the sexualization of culture. Sexualities, 9(1), 77-94.
  • Bernstein, E., & Schaffner, L. (Eds.). (2005). Regulating sex: The politics of intimacy and identity. New York: Routledge. [Selected chapters]
  • Freitas, D. (2015). Sex and the soul, updated edition: Juggling sexuality, spirituality, romance, and religion on America’s college campuses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Haritaworn, J., Lin, C. J., & Klesse, C. (Eds.). (2006). Poly/logue: A critical introduction to polyamory. Sexualities (Special issue on Polyamory), 9(5), 515-529.
  • Ho, P. S. Y., & Tsang, A. K. T. (2012). Sex and desire in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Jackson, S., Liu, J. Y., & Woo, J. Y. (Eds.) (2008). East Asian sexualities: modernity, gender & new sexual cultures. London: Zed Books Ltd.
  • Patico, J. (2009). For love, money, or normalcy: Meanings of strategy and sentiment in the Russian-American matchmaking industry. Ethnos, 74(3), 307-30.
  • Schaeffer-Grabiel, F. (2006). Planet-Love.com: Cyberbrides in the Americas and the transnational routes of U.S. masculinity. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 31(2), 331-356.
  • Seidman, S., Fischer, N., & Meeks, C. (Eds.). (2011). Introducing the new sexuality studies: Original essays and interviews. London: Routledge. [Selected chapters]
  • Stombler, M., et al. (Eds.). (2013). Sex matters: The sexuality and society reader. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. [Selected chapters]
  • Talvacchia, K. T., Pettinger, M. F. & Larrimore, M. (Eds.) (2014). Queer Christianities: Lived Religion in Transgressive Forms. New York: New York University Press.

Recommended Websites


Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr D.T.S. Tang
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 5685
Email: denitang@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr D.T.S. Tang
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 5685
Email: denitang@hku.hk
Dr B.O.Y. Lam
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 2065
Email: beaoylam@hku.hk