If you consider yourself to be sexually open, sexually progressive, and not a prude you need to read The History of Sexuality. Michel Foucault, a French philosopher circa late 1970s, early 1980s, is one of the most progressive thinkers of all time. His work is some of the most readable and accessible philosophy that you will be able to get your hands on. The History of Sexuality is a trilogy, the review I give here is of Volume One.
Foucault begins by dismissing the idea that we live in a sexually repressive culture. He breaks down the ways in which sexuality has become more and more talked about over the last several hundred years. He brings light to the ways that Victorian bourgeoisie culture developed the science of sexuality as a way to increase their own well-being. It was not until the industrial revolution that traditional Christian values were placed on the sex lives of the common people, and only then as a way to control the population, the economy, and create behavior that was most likely going to benefit to elite.
We have some ideal view in modern culture that speaking about our sex lives will free us of the burden, the pain, of keeping it a secret. Coming out as part of the LGBTQQIIKAP&GQ community is a popular way to confess your sexual preference. Heteronormativity is presupposed in modern USAmerican culture. Telling everyone who you are and what your sexual politics are is commonly viewed as a freeing experience. It is important for all people who come to terms with their sexuality to understand the larger scale of why we have to do this in the first place. The Catholic church developed the confession, demanding every little detail of your personal sexual escapades with the promise that you would be given penance for your ‘sins.’ The sexual confession was rapidly adopted by other social powers, namely education and medicine.
Since the eighteen hundreds sexual discourse has been anything but repressed. Streams of sexual discourse began popping up like weeds as the science of ‘sexuality’ took shape. For hundreds of years people have been talking about sex more than any other topic, as though it has some secret to reveal to us. If you have ever wondered about the politics of sexual discourse, about the intricacies of why our society gives so much attention to sex, you must read this book.
Foucault develops a very plausible historical take on the power elite. He walks the reader through how and why the sexual behavior that is often thought of as repressive developed. As a matter of public health, as a way to control people, as a means to a longer and healthier lifestyle for the wealthy — sexual attitudes were formed and sex became a matter of state politics.
The modern construct of the family is the first core of sexual norm forming. Foucault writes about the family cell having two main points of axis: the husband / wife axis, and the parent / child axis. Both of these points of family are based on power dynamics, control, and Christian values that originally based on an ideology of procreation morphed into state issues that affect the economy.
Read The History of Sexuality and everything you have absorbed via pop culture and mainstream understandings of ‘your sex equating your freedom’ will be put into question. Reading stimulates thought, new thought, and new ideas. The History of Sexuality is essential reading for anyone and everyone involved in sexual politics today.
Originally published February 6, 2011