We trace the history of the phallometric test – which measures erections of men exposed to visual erotic stimuli to characterize sexualities – in order to account for its functioning as a ‘truthing technology’. On the basis of a content analysis of 410 key scientific journal article abstracts, we argue that since its invention in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s, phallometry has been employed within three distinct assemblages: as a test of predominance of sexual desire, as a test for therapeutic efficacy, and as a threshold test of sexual risk. Drawing on works of theorists of materialization and proponents of script theory, we argue that within each assemblage phallometric testing materializes male desire and renders it measurable via a ‘technosexual script’. We consider the performative effects of phallometry in establishing scientific conceptions of normal and abnormal sexualities. At the same time, through attention to debates among practitioners and broader controversies surrounding the employment of phallometry, we examine the limits of researchers’ abilities to establish the broader credibility of the test and capture the phenomenon of sexual desire. This analysis contributes to the study of truthing technologies (or ‘truth machines’) as a class, while also helping to build bridges between science and technology studies and sexuality studies.
- truth machines
- truthing technologies
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Sciences(all)
- History and Philosophy of Science