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Making Monsters: The Polygraph, the Plethysmograph, and Other Practices for the Performance of Abnormal Sexuality



This article addresses the use of the polygraph, penile plethysmograph, and other practices for the management of sexual offenders as part of the ‘Containment Approach’, a strategy increasingly common in the United States which is, in part, being trialled in the United Kingdom. The polygraph has a tangled history with abnormal sexuality, as we describe in the context of homosexuality in the 1960s. We examine how these strategies target sex offenders as malleable in regard to sexual performances but also, through notions of risk management, paradoxically constitute offenders as fundamentally incurable and thus permanently risky. Using Foucault's notion of the ‘abnormal’, we investigate the implications of this risk management/ performance paradox. We conclude that it reveals a certain anxiety about the relationship between abnormal and normal sexual behaviour in contemporary sex-offender management discourse, which can help explain the emergence of these practices.