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The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction

(The History of Sexuality #1)

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  17,523 ratings  ·  733 reviews
Michel Foucault offers an iconoclastic exploration of why we feel compelled to continually analyze and discuss sex, and of the social and mental mechanisms of power that cause us to direct the questions of what we are to what our sexuality is.
Paperback, 176 pages
Published 1990 by Vintage (first published 1976)
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Dec 20, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody whatsoever
This is a perfect example of the kind of writing characterised by Clive James as prose that ‘scorns the earth for fear of a puncture’. Foucault may be able to think – it's not easy to tell – but he certainly can't write.

Everywhere there is an apparent desire to render a simple thought impenetrable. When he wants to suggest that the modern world has imposed on us a great variety in the ways we talk about sex, he must refer to ‘a regulated and polymorphous incitement to discourse’. When he advance
Asam Ahmad
Aug 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The History of Sexuality is not really a history of sexuality. It is rather a genealogical study of a specific historical, political & discursive construction called ‘sexuality’ – a construction that has been deployed since its inception to police bodies and to service the social, political & economic exigencies of power.

Foucault begins by questioning why we so ardently believe that our sexuality is repressed – why we think 'confessing our sex' is a liberatory or even revolutionary activity. Un
Jan 15, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Disappointing, esp. after reading a masterpiece like Discipline and Punish. This book consists of a serious of loosely connected, and individually incomplete meditations on various topics, that are intended to serve (not very successfully, imo) as a prolgomena to a history of sexuality. Indeed, the project was abandoned (what was eventually publishd as vols. 2-3 was part of a newly and differently conceived project begun several years later), proving that the current work was a failure.

It shoul
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theorish
um. what can i say about this book that hasnt already been said? i read it my second year of college and it blew my mind, and in a good way, unlike kant, who made me cry actual tears in overwhelming frustration. foucaults ability to trace the burgeoning relationship between science and sexuality, the changes in the ways of perceiving a womans body, the notion of the creation of (a) sexuality, and, of course, the dynamics of power and discourse, are nothing short of brilliant in this classic stud ...more
Jan 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
A much more difficult Foucault - and not nearly as interesting as his history of madness. He seems to take a long time to get started and does seem to repeat himself an awful lot.

All the same, the ideas around the difference between Western and Eastern notions of sexuality are well with thinking about. Essentially Eastern sexuality is an erotic thing - something understood through experience. Western sexuality is 'scientific' in the sense that it only makes sense once we can talk about it.

Nov 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Caterina by: Patrick
"The aim of this series of studies? To transcribe into history the fable of Les Bijoux indiscrets. Among its many emblems, our society wears that of the talking sex. In the space of a few centuries, a certain inclination has led us to direct the question of who we are, to sex … The West has managed … to bring us almost entirely—our bodies, our minds, our individuality, our history—under the sway of a logic of concupiscence and desire. . . . Sex, the explanation for everything.” (pp. 77-78)

In the
Stef Rozitis
Jan 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction-tbr
I was unsure how many stars to give it, but after reading the critiques of it by some readers I need to give it a lot of stars because the critiques just don't make sense. It does lose a star from this subjective and biased reader for consistantly using terms like "man" and "men" for humans even though there IS an awareness of misogyny in the history. I do think the author could have worded that better (quite probably I have the translator to blame).

This book is hard to understand, densely and c
Kristen Shaw
In the words of my professor, "we're living in a post-Foucauldian world, so this will seem really self-evident, but that doesn't mean its right." Coming from that angle, I've been reading from a very critical position. I like Foucault's thesis and his examination seems pretty exhaustive, at least historically. I'm really caught on the discussion of the bourgeoisie and proletariat 'sexual bodies.' Foucault's statement that the technology of sexuality and proliferation of sexual power discourses w ...more
Ali Ben
May 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Why one more review?

Reading our comrades' review, one is very surprised. First of all, many seem to think this book "outdated", which is quite surprising - towards Foucault's writings, the question probably is if we failed the test of time, rather than if he did...

More interesting, most seem to be deceived by the title, and assume this is a book about "sexuality".

Indeed, the discourse on sexuality (Victorian Era, confession, psychoanalysis, etc.) forms its background. The real subject, however,
Jun 10, 2011 rated it liked it
Reassessed, in light of re-reading Gender Trouble: Author lays down the gauntlet against received wisdom that sexual liberty was destroyed by “the monotonous nights of the Victorian bourgeoisie” (3), wherein “silence became the rule,” “a single locus of sexuality was acknowledged in social space,” and “proper demeanor avoided contact with other bodies and verbal decency sanitized one’s speech” (id.). In this system of “taboo, nonexistence, and silence” (5), there was surreptitious transfer of “ ...more
Spyros Passas
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A popular quote goes by: "everything is about sex, except sex; sex is about power". While this can be interpreted in many ways, one of the most interesting approaches is the one presented in this book.

Foucault investigates not so much the history (if you're looking for a historiographical view of sex, this is not the book for you) but a -post- structuralist genealogy of sex; a study of the lineage and evolution of sexuality the last four centuries, examined under the dominant notion of Power.

Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nathan
After enjoying The Seventh Function of Language so much, it seemed like the right time to read some more Foucault. I radically underestimated how long ‘The Will to Knowledge’ would take me, having previously only read Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. Being based on a lecture series, the latter is presumably as a consequence rather less dense. The paragraphs in ‘The Will to Knowledge’ are unnecessarily long. Nonetheless, I got into it eventually and found so ...more
Erik Graff
Feb 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Foucault fans
Recommended to Erik by: Karen Engdahl
Shelves: history
I read this while visiting friends in Springfield, Vermont, mostly on their porch and outside the town's sole cafe. The reading occurred after the completion of Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death, another book concerned with the liberatory and repressive potentials of sexuality.

My intellectual interest in sex stems in part from the recognition of how references to it are used to manipulate. Advertising is a conspicuous example, but the manipulatory sexualization of society is far broader and m
May 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Foucault's "History of Sexuality" was assigned twice over the course of my semester; for one class, our theme is the intersection between queer and race theories; for the other, a strict literary (theory) methods foundation. As such, we discussed the text in two very different ways for each of the classes, with one debate focusing largely on the absence of race in Foucault's history; the other, on conceptions of power in the text, and their relation to Foucault's "What Is an Author?" Nevertheles ...more
Jun 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very interesting book, almost an eye-opener when it comes to sexuality. Ever asked yourself what sexuality actually is and when the human behavior regarding sex became a name? Why masturbation is such a hard theme to talk about? when sex other than "marital relation aimed at producing children" became taboo? You will find some answers in this great book.
It didn't get 5 full stars because I have to say, the way Foucault expresses his opinions is sometimes so twisted, construction of the sentenc
Jen Seman
Sep 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
After reading this, I can't read anything else without seeing his influence. The relationships between power/knowledge and the construction of sexuality...he turns assumptions upside down and offers a different way of interpreting events, especially commonly held ideas about power relationships. For example, he dismisses the idea that victorian values repressed sexuality. He would insist that just the opposite is true - that the Victorian age offered multiple sites and institutions which increas ...more
Apr 26, 2017 rated it did not like it
::::: )))))))) he literally writes like a pretentious douche
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Not about sex. Ok, you’re gonna get a bit of sex towards the end, but it’s not really something to fap to. Unless you have a thing for long sentences and elaborate syntax, in which case you’ve hit the jackpot.

Rather, the book is about power and knowledge and how they relate to and influence the human body. Basically sexuality is the means by which the powers that be know about and control your body. And the powers that be which developed this “scientia sexualis” are not, at least in the modern a
May 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Reading this for my Materialist Workshop/Reading Group. We've delved into Birth of the Clinic, a few of his Lectures, and the three volumes of History of Sexuality. Foucault said that History of Sexuality was supposed to be his magnum opus. It took him nearly a decade to complete, and it is comprised mainly of 'Big Ideas,' in the sense that Foucault often forgets to flesh out the details of his work. He paints in broad brush strokes, and I attribute this lack of detail to his burgeoning status a ...more
Sep 28, 2016 rated it did not like it
I was actually interested in reading about a history of sexuality, but what this is is... something else. It's quite difficult to tell what the hell Foucault is talking about because it's presented in dense language that makes a lot of assumptions about what the reader may or may not know about the state of society's relationship to sexuality. In addition to not totally know what context Foucault is coming from - I don't really know what assumptions people made about the state of sexuality in th ...more
Jan 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Read for my Queer Studies class. A study of sexuality, bodies, pleasures, institutions, discourse, knowledge, power, 'truth', and all the relations therein. It definitely changed the way I think. He says in the book that the history of Western sexuality is really a history of discourse, and that is what you should be expecting (as he hammers home: sexuality is discursively produced).
It can be frustrating because it's a book based around ideas; the abstract and not the material. Somewhere in ther
Megat Hanis
Jun 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Sexuality rather than being one part of ourself, has become an identity that define who we are. Foucault brilliantly using genealogical method aimed at unmasking the complexities of socially constructed power relations that spreads through the discourse on sexuality. He wrote against repressive theory that suggest, sexuality since the 17th century has been repressed and consequently needs to be liberated to achieve true freedom. For Foucault, not only the discourse on sexuality has been prolifer ...more
Jul 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
the failure of semiotics and semiology is not complete yet. the use of words to replace true symbols points to the inward navel gazing of READERS, who READ into things, not study the biostructure (or rather the biogenetic structures) of form, movement, semiologists seem to be unaware of the myths that suffuse the very words they employ to dissect other more sophisticated structures. indeed cosmopolitan, the craft is wedded to tools born in the lit criticism freud used and called psychoanalysis. ...more
How did it take me so long to read this?
Jobe Moakes
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Vol 1 of the 'History of Sexuality' was written just before a significant shift in Foucault's thought: the 'ethical turn' of his later work. As such this is his last book covering the complex machinations of (bio)power and discourse, this time considering their operations on the body within the sphere of sexuality. It's a particularly erudite book and is fairly readable,due not only to its brevity but also its clear prose; no mean feat for a work often labeled 'post-structuralist'!
I would sugges
Luchian Flofoftei
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"In political thought and analysis, we still have not cut off the head of the king."
Paul Ataua
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Having finished all the books I had to read, I finally got around to reading “the History of Sexuality”, a book I have been meaning to read for years. Quite frankly, I was totally knocked out by it. Foucault begins by describing the way most of us have understood the history of sexuality over the last three hundred years, as a period of growing repression finally leading to liberation from the second half of the twentieth century onward, and then he starts to reassess this view and reinterpret t ...more
You ever met some idiot hippie who says something along the lines of "Western culture and modernity have just repressed our natural sexuality," and then wanted to take them to some village in rural Bangladesh or Laos and see how their "open sexuality" is received? Foucault saw that there was nothing innately "liberatory" in the expression of human sexual urges, and conversely, that society was not as "repressive" as was so often claimed by the Freudians and their followers. Foucault argues that ...more
James Klagge
Jan 12, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, psychology
I am a philosopher, and (analytic) philosophers do not consider Foucault to be a philosopher. I read this b/c I was part of an interdisciplinary class in which it was assigned. I'm glad I have now read something by Foucault, but I did not find him to be very interesting, and his confusions were a constant bother to me. His favorite method of argument is to find an example or an anecdote and treat it as though it shows something. Generalizations are constantly being made from mere illustrations. ...more
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
The ideas in this book can be applied to anything, what was in the past a taboo topic could be normalized just by creating a discourse around it. Talking about something simply gives it power. The binary of power/knowledge is what attracted me to this book and it delivered.
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Michel Foucault was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas. He held a chair at the Collège de France with the title "History of Systems of Thought," but before he was Professor at University of Tunis, Tunisia, and then Professor at University Paris VIII. He lectured at several different Universities over the world as at the University at Buffalo, the University of California, ...more

Other books in the series

The History of Sexuality (3 books)
  • The History of Sexuality, Volume 2: The Use of Pleasure
  • The History of Sexuality, Volume 3: The Care of the Self

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