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Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America
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Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America

4.05  ·  Rating Details  ·  590 Ratings  ·  24 Reviews
The 1st full length study of the history of American sexuality, Intimate Matters offers trenchant insights into sexual behavior from colonial times to today. D'Emilio & Freedman give a deeper understanding of how sexuality has dramatically influenced politics & culture throughout history.
"The book John D'Emilio co-wrote with Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters,
Published 1989 by Harper Perennial (first published April 1st 1988)
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May 14, 2008 Kirk rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thorough overview of the main trends in America's tortured ideas about s*e*x*---not so much the down & dirty but concepts of gender, permissiveness, gaydom, and youth. As with most histories than span several centuries, the narrative goes broad rather than deep; occasionally you sense some repetition of ideas, which is inevitable, I suppose. Yet I found the final section on the 20th century, "The Rise and Fall fo Sexual Liberalism," fascinating. There's a great section on Margaret Sanger, ...more
Mar 23, 2011 Caroline rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
Despite getting quite a number of raised eyebrows when people caught sight of me reading this, it's not at all prurient or salacious. It's actually rather fascinating, despite the fact that the title really ought to be (A Mostly Heterosexual) History of Sexuality in America. There is very little in here about asexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, which are mostly mentioned only in passing or in opposition to the prevailing heterosexual norm. I can understand why, to a certain extent, as the ov ...more
Kat Becker
Jan 03, 2015 Kat Becker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, gws
Should be required reading for anyone interested in human sexuality. Really challenged some misconceptions.
Chris Cook
Feb 08, 2016 Chris Cook rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent, well researched history of sexuality in the US, from colonial times to nearly the present. D'Emilio and Freedman were a good collaborative team, and they presented what seems to be an unbiased version of sexual history. There was a great deal of information about gay and lesbian history that is not usually available. There was less information about transgender history, but what they had was informative. I was reading this for my masters degree final project, and I'm glad ...more
Lilith Noir
Jul 21, 2015 Lilith Noir rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sexual-sociology
This book was published over 25 years ago, but it's still fascinating and quite relevant.

It's a broad survey of sexual attitudes and behaviors In the US, starting with the colonial era (and ending in the 1980's, since that is when it was written). It seems that things were much different than what we imagine, back then. The Puritans were not nearly as staid as you might think! (The opinion I seem to hear a lot is that basically everyone lived in a 1950's style family unit with 1950's style mora
Erik Graff
Apr 01, 2013 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
This is a dry, academic study of sexual behavior in what is now the USA from the colonial period until the time of publication (1988). Among its virtues are efforts to distinguish between regions, races and classes. Among its deficits are the introductions and conclusions appended to its sections and subsections, all of which are yawningly abstract summaries of what is to come or of what has just happened. This may be in accord with any number of style books, but the way these authors handle it ...more
Sep 05, 2013 Kristi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The chronological span of this book is remarkable, beginning the study in Colonial America and bringing it to our contemporary culture in the recent past (2010s). This survey traces changes in perception and expression of American sexuality, as it relates to changes in politics, economy, and family structures. A strength of the book is the authors' attention to the shifting dynamics of feminine sexual politics, wherein women went from being denied their sexuality toward the sexual objectificatio ...more
Sebastian Fuentes
Sep 13, 2015 Sebastian Fuentes rated it it was amazing
The best book ever to give a true understanding in human sexuality in America. I truly recommend to anyone interested in Sexuality studies.
Apr 15, 2014 Rooks marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I've read most of this in excerpts, but I should sit and redo it all of a piece.
A sweeping, very influential overview of sex and sexuality in American history.
Adam Foley
Jan 10, 2015 Adam Foley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A classic work of sexuality history!
Mar 21, 2009 Meen rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone should read it. Get informed people.
Recommended to Meen by: Karen Cox
This edition ends in the '80s, so it was kinda depressing in the final chapter knowing how political conservativism, particularly its religious fundie aspects, ended up becoming dominant and rolling back many of the gains of the feminist and gay rights movements. Their ideology is so fear-based, so NOT based in rationality or factual evidence. I feel like I can breathe a little now that they have lost a lot of their power, but damn, we really gotta remain vigilent. There's no reasoning with peop ...more
Aug 30, 2012 Cassandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good synthesis. Nicely organized, and easy to read. The only reason that I wouldn't give it 5-stars is because only really highlighted mainstream sexuality and the struggle to understand/maintain those norms (though the authors are careful to include gay/lesbian history as well). I wish there had been more discussion of the taboo, juxtaposed with their discussion of the norms. I will likely hunt down a copy of the 2nd edition to fill the void left by their hasty epilogue in the 1st edition that ...more
Aug 23, 2012 Misty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really thorough history of marriage and sex 16th-Century thru 20th-Century. Very enlightening, especially around intersections of race and class and how control of sexuality has been used as a tool to maintain hierarchies in the United States. Also really enlightening history on the ever-changing meaning of marriage among differing groups and religions. Could have been more nuanced around some of the feminist history but all in all, really great book. Highly recommend it!
Apr 05, 2008 Sue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I read the older edition when it came out (I think it was a QPB selection) and then read it again for my comprehensive exams. I enjoyed it both times. A great overview of sexuality in America.
Oct 04, 2009 Danita rated it it was amazing
freaking awesome. really appreciate that it tries not to be just a sexual history of the white middle class, but a lot of this is buried
Dec 02, 2009 Beth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-school
Still the go-to book on the history of sexuality...lays it all out there and analyzes it brilliantly.
Mar 06, 2010 Simone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very important book for anyone interested in how sexuality has shaped the history of our country.
Dec 14, 2012 Wordwizard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting book--read for class, but would have enjoyed reading it anyway.
I am so excited there is a new edition. Probably more than I should be.
May 27, 2013 Emily marked it as just-cannot-finish  ·  review of another edition
I learned most of this already in my undergrad WS classes.
jessicamax stein
This book is, um, seminal.
Nov 26, 2008 Brett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gay_lesbian
A ground breaker!
Carol R
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What are some of the key points in this book? 1 2 Apr 11, 2012 06:23PM  
  • How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States
  • Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation
  • The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction
  • The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America
  • Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America
  • America's War on Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust and Liberty
  • Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940
  • Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia
  • The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government
  • Sex in History
  • Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century
  • Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation
  • Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest
  • Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present
  • Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex
  • When Sex Goes to School: Warring Views on Sex--and Sex Education--Since the Sixties
  • The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World
  • Defending Pornography
John D'Emilio is a professor of history and of women's and gender studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has taught previously at George Washington University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1982, where his advisor was Kenneth T. Jackson. A Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellow from 1995 to 1997 ...more
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