Sexual Democracy

National Identities and Transnational Intimacies: Sexual Democracy and the Politics of Immigration in Europe. Éric Fassin.

The management of immigration and integration at an intimate, private level of the individual.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

  • Somali-born immigrant turned Dutch politician, hard-line against immigration. Irony: fighting to be the exception that confirms the rule?
  • Fierce critique of Islam’s brutal oppression of women through her film Submission, lead to intense controversies following the assassination of the co-director Theo van Gogh.
  • Made a plea for French citizenship: even though she did not announce an intention to live in France, nor does she speak the language.
  • Bernard-Henry Lévy: ‘Ayaan Hirsi Ali is already French (…) in her heart, her values and her mind.’ => Ayaan’s defence of Western-style secularism makes her de facto worthy of citizenship.
  • Ayaan illustrates a ‘Sexual clash of civilisation’, in which the fault lines lie along gender equality and sexual liberalisation.

Sexual Democracy: key to the new politics of national identity, defined at the expense of immigrants.

  • Sarkozy: ‘In France, women are free, just as men are, free to circulate, free to marry, free to get a divorce. The right to abortion, equality between men and women, that too is part of our identity.’
  • our women are free, theirs are not – hence our anti-immigrant policies and politics.’
  • Series of polemics surrounding gender and sex issues:
  • New awareness of gang rapes identified with youths characterised by their ‘foreign origin’
  • Ni Putes Ni Soumises (NPNS): equating violence against women with the underprivileged banlieues (outskirts of Paris, areas associated with immigrant communities)
  • Debate on the Islamic veil: reformulating an issue of cultural difference and multiculturalism into sexual terms => Sarkozy, June 2009 speech before Congress: ‘The burkha problem is not a religious one; it is the problem of a woman’s dignity and freedom. It is not a religious sigh, but a sign of servitude and degradation => recuperation of feminist concerns?
  • ‘The instrumentalisation of sexual politics against immigrants has now become a European reality’.


  • Reshaping of citizenship tests, with the incorporation of questions pertaining to sexual democracy: In Baden-Württemberg, one of the German Länder, introduced in 2006 with questions such as:
    Do you regard the perpetrators of 9/11 as freedom fighters or terrorists?
    What do you think of a man in Germany who is simultaneously married to two women?
    How would you feel about an openly gay politician?
  • Questions based on xenophobia stereotypes, targeting Muslim homophobia specifically. Ironic, as equal rights for gay citizens, or full gender equality is often far from achieved within Western societies.
  • Netherlands: homosexuality is part of the rhetoric of sexual democracy, being the first country to open marriage to same-sex couples in 2001.
  • Non-Western migrants are required by law to take a test to prepare for the civic integration examination abroad. Training includes a viewing of a pedagogical film called Coming to the Netherlands, which includes explicits shots of nudist women sunbathing, or gay couples kissing in a field => defining sexual freedom against Islam.
  • The list of countries exempted from the test is a pure reflection of geopolitics: EU states, US, Canada, Australia, Japan and the Vatican.


  • Contradictions of the politics of Sexual Democracy: the application of its principles geared towards the exclusion of others leads to the racialization of sexual discriminations.
  • ex: families and couples whose ‘privacy’ is undermined in the fight against immigration.
  • Fall of 2007: tougher laws against family immigration: includes an amendment on DNA testing as proof of filiation for immigrants and their children
  • November 2009, campaign against Grey Marriage. Variation of the White Marriage concept: fake unions in order to gain access to citizenship and the benefits associated with it.
  • Grey marriage: idea that only one person is faking, whilst the other partner is being fooled. The suspicion of fraud is always levelled against the foreign spouse.
  • Reflection of systematic suspicion towards binational couples.

‘In France, women are free – provided they love a man, who happens to be French.’

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