Thomas's Reviews > The History of Sexuality 1: An Introduction

The History of Sexuality 1 by Michel Foucault
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Dec 09, 09

bookshelves: relationships
Read in December, 2009

The title of this book is a misnomer. To be more precise, it should be "Historical Relationships of Power and the Discourse on Sex." Rather than describing the development of sexual expression itself, Foucault focuses on the discourse surrounding sex. But he does so intentionally-- his claim is that there is no such thing as "sex itself." It is a socially constructed idea that fascinates, frustrates, and torments us. The physical act of sexual reproduction is only one factor in a vast web of phenomena. Sex emerges from sexuality, not vice versa.

Foucault attacks the thesis that sexuality in Western Civilization was repressed by Christianity for hundreds of years, and now we are finally breaking free of these bonds. Instead, precisely during the "Victorian Era," sexual expression, rather than being subdued, was multiplying, fragmenting, and dispersing into many forms of "perversions".

Reproduction is a biological imperative. "Sex" is something that humans themselves have largely created. As such, it is more malleable than most of us would expect. To quote Foucault in the closing pages of his book, "By creating the imaginary element that is 'sex', the deployment of sexuality established one of its most essential internal operating principles: the desire for sex-- the desire to have it, to have access to it, to discover it, to liberate it, to articulate it in discourse, to formulate it in truth."

If sex is not the be-all, end-all of human existence, can we take it down from its pedestal? Can we enjoy it for what it is, and not attribute more (or less) value to it than it meits? I'm not sure, but what seems clear is that humans are neither slaves to their sexual passion nor fully masters of it. Neither strict genetic determinism nor spiritual free will can fully encompass our sexuality. We enjoy sex because we are physical creatures who experience pleasure. We are obsessed with sex (positively and negatively) because we choose to be.
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