Are Sex Scandals about Sex?

How We Tell The Stories of Our Subjects


  • Leslie Dorrough Smith Avila University



Sex Scandals, Foucault, K. Merinda Simmons, Authenticity, Sex, Morality, Religion


Many scholars who study sex scandals focus on describing the cultural circumstances under which such events transpire, such as looking at media coverage and public sexual mores. However, relatively few actually ask more fundamental questions about why sex is such a critical act. Such scholars appear to presume that they have theoretically exhausted the social significance of sex so long as they have simply acknowledged its moral prominence. Using K. Merinda Simmons’ understanding of scholarly arguments on authenticity and her description of scholars as those who “grant transcendence” to phenomena they find self-evident, I show that the presumption that sex scandals are primarily about the sex act itself employs a specific set of beliefs about morality, sex, and religion that work to reinforce a conservative (and yet very mainstream) understanding of these terms at the same time that it creates the conditions by which they become noticeable phenomena at all.

Author Biography

Leslie Dorrough Smith, Avila University

Dr. Smith has been at Avila since 2010, where she is currently Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the Women's and Gender Studies Department.  Before coming to Avila, she taught at a number of different institutions, including Missouri State, Drury University, and Pepperdine University.

Dr. Smith's work is interdisciplinary, drawing from sociological, historical, critical, and feminist theoretical perspectives.  Her primary research is concerned with the ways in which social groups use religious language to create avenues of social influence and political power, with particular focus on American evangelicals.  More specifically, her interest in how language has shaped sex and gender-related public policy led to the publication of her first book, Righteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America (Oxford University Press, 2014), which provides a rhetorical critique of one of the nation's largest conservative women's movements.

Dr. Smith is also interested in the methods scholars use to study groups that they politically oppose, and she has recently finished chapters for two separate, edited volumes that explore everything from feminist scholarly methods to the politics of code-switching.  She is the author of numerous other articles and book chapters, and is a frequent community speaker on various topics related to religion and culture.  Future monograph-length projects include an examination of how sex scandals are handled by the American public, and what impact such events have on the rhetorical conceptualization of the political process.  In addition, Dr. Smith is a member of the Culture on the Edge collective, an international working group of scholars probing questions of politics and identity, and she is an active contributor to the group's blog.


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How to Cite

Smith, L. D. (2018). Are Sex Scandals about Sex? How We Tell The Stories of Our Subjects. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 9(1), 69–84.



Special Issue Articles: Changing the Subject: A Review Panel