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

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  734 Ratings  ·  30 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,
Paperback, 466 pages
Published February 28th 1998 by University of Chicago Press (first published April 1st 1988)
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Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Erik Graff
Apr 01, 2013 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
Kat Becker
Oct 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, gws
Should be required reading for anyone interested in human sexuality. Really challenged some misconceptions.
Lilith Noir
Sep 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
A very thorough historical assessment of sexuality in what can be known about practice and the view of sexuality in American culture from the beginnings of colonization to the present day.

The author does not fall into the trap of considering any type of movement or expectation as a given, as if views and perspectives about sexuality are heading toward a particular end. He assesses changes and reactions to changes; moments of "liberation," and moments of "withdrawal." And yet there is a general t
Aug 31, 2013 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
Apr 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
May 31, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Great outlay of sexual history in America and how it influenced politics and lifestyle in general. It's time for them to research the next 20 years into this new age of sex taboos beyond the 1980s and early 1990s as we've come a long way since then. Albeit, some of the motifs of sex from earlier eras covered in the book seem to still exist today as much as we've moved into an era more welcoming of sexual freedom. I'd be intetested to see what new ideas come to light in another updated copy that' ...more
Chris Cook
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
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!
Nicole G.
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very extensive and well-researched study in human behavior, specifically, sexuality in the United States from the colonial era until the 1980s, just at the time that the spectre of AIDS had loomed its ugly head. Lots of primary sources make this books notes and bibliography section a goldmine for future reading (I scanned some of the pages for myself for later).
Read this for my LGBT history class. This book is a good introduction to the history of sexuality, but only has a chapter and two or three mentions of miscegenation.

References The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell
Sebastian Fuentes
The best book ever to give a true understanding in human sexuality in America. I truly recommend to anyone interested in Sexuality studies.
Nov 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay_lesbian
A ground breaker!
Jul 22, 2012 marked it as just-cannot-finish
I learned most of this already in my undergrad WS classes.
jessicamax stein
May 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book is, um, seminal.
Apr 15, 2014 marked it as to-read
I've read most of this in excerpts, but I should sit and redo it all of a piece.
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
Nov 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book--read for class, but would have enjoyed reading it anyway.
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, college
It's a doozy. There's so much to go through, and it just keeps going.
Apr 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Adam Foley
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A classic work of sexuality history!
Nov 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
A very important book for anyone interested in how sexuality has shaped the history of our country.
Corinne Blackmer
Jan 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A sweeping, very influential overview of sex and sexuality in American history.
I am so excited there is a new edition. Probably more than I should be.
rated it really liked it
Jul 09, 2012
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What are some of the key points in this book? 1 3 Apr 11, 2012 06:23PM  
  • How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States
  • The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction
  • Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation
  • Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America
  • Sexual Revolution in Early 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
  • Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex
  • The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America
  • Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest
  • Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past
  • When Sex Goes to School: Warring Views on Sex--and Sex Education--Since the Sixties
  • Sex in History
  • Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century
  • Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present
  • The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World
  • Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation
  • Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia
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
More about John D'Emilio...
“In Connecticut, for example, a man confessed to having had sexual relations with a variety of animals since the age of ten; Massachusetts executed several teenage boys for buggery. Sexual relations with animals required harsh punishment, for colonists believed that these unions could have reproductive consequences. The mating of humans and animals, they feared, would produce monstrous offspring. For this reason, colonists insisted on punishing not only the man but also the beast, who might bear such monsters.” 0 likes
“By the twentieth century, when the individual had replaced the family as the primary economic unit, the tie between sexuality and reproduction weakened further. Influenced by psychology as well as by the growing power of the media, both men and women began to adopt personal happiness as a primary goal of sexual relations. Various” 0 likes
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