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Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America's Origins to the Twenty-First Century

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  309 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Beginning his volume in the ancient and medieval worlds, Geoffrey R. Stone demonstrates how the Founding Fathers, deeply influenced by their philosophical forebears, saw traditional Christianity as an impediment to the pursuit of happiness and to the quest for human progress. Acutely aware of the need to separate politics from the divisive forces of religion, the Founding ...more
Hardcover, 704 pages
Published March 21st 2017 by Liveright
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Mikey B.
This is an excellent book outlining the control that religious groups have exerted over sexual behavior – be it contraception, abortion, gay rights, and let us say sex in general (sex outside marriage, consensual adult sex, reading “forbidden” books...).

The author gives us a short history of Christianity and how it brought shame, guilt, and repression to all forms of sexuality. The Christian faith and their various offshoots were able to do this for over one thousand years until the Enlightenmen
Brad Lyerla
Jun 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was watching a local news and arts program on PBS when Geoff Stone appeared as a guest. He discussed his new book, SEX AND THE CONSTITUTION. He explained that, at the time our constitution was adopted, there were no laws in the states against pornography, contraception, abortion before quickening and that the laws prohibiting sodomy had not been enforced against consenting adults in over 100 years. When it came to sex, our laws were more permissive at the time the constitution was written and ...more
Review forthcoming in Publishers Weekly. This is an excellent survey of American law and public attitudes toward the regulation of three aspects of human sexuality: sexual speech/"obscenity", abortion and contraception, and homosexual acts and identities. It races through about 100 pages of "prequel" narrative, discussing attitudes toward sexuality in the ancient world and European legal and Christian traditions. The majority of the text focuses on the period from the Second Great Awakening to t ...more
Maggi LeDuc
Apr 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I laughed a little (did you know in the 20s, gay men said YMCA stood for, "why I'm so gay") but mostly I got really angry at literally everyone. But this book is a compelling and detailed journey into the legal side of sex and everything it entails. ...more
Rachel Blakeman
Apr 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is really a 4.5 star review. Based on being more than 500 pages of text this is clearly a deep dive into the subject matter. If you are looking for a basic overview of the themes and concepts, read the 5-page epilogue. It focuses on the First and Fourteenth amendments as they relate to speech and private conduct respectively. Deeply researched, this book tracks history from Greek and Roman times to 2017 just before Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the court.

Although long it's not hard to read
Apr 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This may be substituted for anyone who feels lacking in their civics lessons. Sexual expression, obscenity, contraception, and abortion are the focus of this wide-ranging legal, political, and social history; a nation grappling with the moral and legal freedoms that the founders strived to ensure.

Stone offers a broad overview of the nation’s shifting attitudes toward sexuality and the impact of those attitudes on politics and law. Colonists emphatically rejected Puritans’ repressive views about
Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very good history of the social and cultural context in which the Constitution was written and how American ideas on issues like abortion, homosexuality, contraception, and sex have changed over time. Seems like we used to be more reasonable and got less so over time. Toward the end, there is too much discussion of each individual justice on the court and his or her leanings on each case (which is a personal pet peeve of mine on all supreme court writing) and not enough analysis of the general t ...more
Jason Ackermann
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is massively overambitious and could easily have split this into two or three books. The introduction is critical to understanding thesis, structure, and avoiding land-mines. There are essentially three sections to the book - the first on the history of sexuality from ancient times, the second on sexuality and law in America before about 1950, and a third on contemporary issues of sexuality (abortion, gay rights, pornography) in the Supreme Court. Stone is at his best where he discusse ...more
victor harris
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
People's sexual conduct was generally outside the purview of government and court authority until religious reformers (or meddlers) during the Second Great Awakening began extending their reach into private matters. In the post-Civil War era, state intrusion gained momentum with the Comstock Laws, fashioned by ill-intended fanatic Anthony Comstock. Like or not, the Supreme Court would inherit much of the controversy right to the present.
Very detailed, but readable though it occasionally strays
Trey Mustian
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book offers excellent factual background and analysis of the trajectory of constitutional law in the areas of obscenity , same sex marriage /gay rights and abortion. It is highly recommended for anyone interested in these topics. The book is both scholarly and written in an entertaining manner, two things that often do not go hand in hand.
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
​​​Based on the title of this book, ​I wasn't initially sure what to expect, but ​​quickly determined that ​it​ wasn't written as ​an appeal to one's prurient interests. ​ ​​Instead​, the book's primary focus is ​ reviewing how many of our laws ​dealing with ​individual interests of a private ​nature, especially items ​dealing with access to birth control, abortion, gay rights, ​etc., ​came to be. ​​There's been a significant shift in ​how society views ​and judges on ​these issues over the year ...more
Sep 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent history of how society has tried to understand and control sex since ancient times. It's really shocking to me how much effort was spent in controlling the sexual behaviors of consenting adults. The focus could have been concentrated in helping those who did not consent. Rather, so much of society's time, money, and resources were spent on policing things both adult parties enjoyed.

It was not surprising that some laws were constructed for all (e.g. sodomy), and so should have been enf
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Stone walks the line between responsible academic research and a tone that makes his arguments and facts readily available, and, more importantly, deeply interesting. He traces the pendulum—of liberal and conservative, of secular vs religious control over the relationship between individual liberty (and the privacy of one’s body and sexuality) and conservative religious morality. Sadly, the belief in an always forward march of history is challenged by this ever shifting struggle.
Izzy Cole
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I bought this purely because Dakota Johnson talked about it in her Architectural Digest house tour and I love her and her kitchen. But also so so interesting !!
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Having taught such Constitutional Law topics as contraception, abortion, homosexual status/relationships, and gay marriage, I found this book irresistible.

Stone's approach to the topic is to start with a bunch of history -- what sexual behaviors and rules were in the formative days of western culture. He starts with the Greeks and Romans, and then works his way up through early Christianity, the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and then the initial settling of the US by the early Puritans, Pilgrim
Matt Ward
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is quite a good read considering how dry much of the subject matter could be in the wrong hands. The central reason to read this is found right at the beginning, though.

Much is now known about the early history of the U.S. and the framers of the constitution. The book makes a compelling argument that the early settlers were not the prudish Puritanical people we are often taught about in school. Their thoughts on sex, erotic materials, and even sodomy were much more lax.

It was only later, a
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
An enormous lot of content, much of which was new to me. Interesting to learn that most of the prohibitions of "obscenity", contraceptives, abortion, non-marital sex, etc., only date from the post-Civil War era, and were brought about by a combination of Protestant fundamentalism and the increasing political power of the Church of Rome. The author clearly favors the widening of individual freedom in all these areas, but does an excellent, straightforward discussion of all the important cases ove ...more
Apr 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The core issue that came out of this, for me, is the issue that I have longed believe to be at the root of many of the mostly hotly debated political issues of the last one hundred years/all of time: the connection of religion and politics. We have a wall, constitutionally provided, between church and state, and yet we consistently ignore it and facetiously find secular reasons for laws that are clearly religiously based. Those secular reasons are often a stretch of the imagination, and thus unj ...more
Emma Richerson
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Geoffrey R. Stone sets out to explore the history of sex, religion, law and constitutional law from the ancient world to the 21st century. It's a thick book that is both interesting and illuminating. I recommend it to anyone who has a) time (who doesn't during the pandemic) and b) an interest in history and/or anthropology.

In 2017 Stone gave in an interview for the Washington Post. He said, "We are in the midst of a constitutional revolution. It is a revolution that tests the most fundamental va
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one you want to buy for your library. An excellent resource, I wish it was the first volume in a series. There is so much to unpack regarding the constitution, sex, how it is defined and legislated, this is a wealth of information at your fingertips well worth having for any social justice worker, lawyer, historian, writer, or lover of American Culture. The book intertwines the history of how the laws were made tracing back from ancient times to now along with the Western Civilization cu ...more
Stone’s text traces the relationship between law, religion, and sex in American history, offering a look at how ancient and Enlightenment ideals shaped the country’s founding through the present. While much of this work gives an overview on the subject, Stone prefaces and concludes the text arguing that America is currently at a turning point: although historically, religious groups (particularly the forms Protestant Christianity that came to prominence during the Second Great Awakening) success ...more
Jun 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2017

Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America's Origins to the Twenty-First Century (Hardcover)
by Geoffrey R. Stone

The ancient world : the triumph of Augustine -- The power of revealed truth -- England, the enlightenment, and the age of eros -- From puritanism to the pursuit of happiness -- The world of the framers : a Christian nation? -- The fundamental maxims of free government -- The second great awakening -- Tending to corrupt the public morals -- Contraception a
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great overview of how sexuality issues, religious beliefs and law (primarily federal law discussed in the book) have intersected over the decades and centuries, with the focus being on how the intersection of the first and second have shaped the third. The obvious cases are here, like Roe and others on reproductive choice, as well as various gay rights ones, but the book goes well beyond that.

And, starts well before that. Stone notes that before the Second Great Awakening, many sexual matters we
Rob Smith
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: law-and-order
This isn't a statement I declare for every book I read: this book should be read and owned by every American in the United States today. Almost every theme and message it imparts is one every American should have etched and bronzed into their brains.

Sex and the Constitution is an excellent and wide spanning history detailing the the views and sex lives of Americans in colonial and post 1776 times. It is split into two halves: a chronological history, and a lineage of court cases that endowed us
Danielle Nicole
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Sex and the Constitution should be part of the required reading list for college US History majors. The importance of the content within cannot be overstated. Stone takes a big picture approach, looking at the history of American attitudes and laws regarding sex and religious beliefs around sex - obscenity, same-sex partnerships, reproductive rights, etc - from as far back as ancient Roman and Greek norms to early Christianity to the Framers right up through 2016. There is so much to unpack in S ...more
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As one reviewer said: "The rarest of combinations, a page turner that is also a magisterial font of wisdom." I couldn't put it any better.

Breathtaking in scope (weighing in at 704 pages) and persuasively argued on every page. This tracks the origins and legal history of today's most divisive social issues, from the Greeks and Romans straight through to Obergefell.

Most interesting was the beautiful analysis of the Founding Father's and their thoughts on these issues and where they landed on the
Shenard Robinson
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
It's interesting to understand the dynamic that is America. Too often we look at our founding documents with reverie and respect only to see how those words that enshrine our rights as citizens dehumanize us each day as we strive to improve this democracy. Worth picking up a copy, or downloading an audio version, to understand how this country has become recognized as a Christian nation trying to unwind the tentacles of religion from its public space. ...more
Thomas Myers
May 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
This could have been a nuanced take on how social mores have affected our Constitution throughout the years.

Instead the author is cherry-picking his facts in order to push his mis-guided agenda without consideration to any other viewpoint or how our society is so inter-connected.

Also, I'm always weary about misleading titles. I takes over half the book to start Constitution-ing, and even then it is limited.
Lily Hwang
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent read that covers all aspect of sex and sex-related laws spanning from the modern day all the way back to ancient Greece. Geoffrey objectively discusses each of the problems faced by the government and its people concerning a plethora of matters including but not limited to abortion rights, use of contraceptive, interpretations of the bible, and same-sex marriage. Amazing, well researched book!
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Geoffrey Stone is Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at The University of Chicago Law School.

Geoffrey Stone has been a member of the law faculty since 1973. From 1987 to 1993, Mr. Stone served as Dean of the Law School, and from 1993 to 2002 he served as Provost of the University of Chicago. Mr. Stone received his undergraduate degree in 1968 from the University of Pennsylvania and his

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126 likes · 29 comments
“What had once been sins punishable by the medieval Church against the faithful were thus transformed by the Reformation into crimes punishable by the state, enforceable even against those who did not share the faith.” 1 likes
“Perhaps the most effective dogma of medieval Christianity was its persistent and pervasive disparagement of sexual desire as something polluted and inherently evil. Ordinary men and women may not have grasped the subtle theological arguments and distinctions of Augustine and Aquinas, but they did come to understand that sex was shameful.” 0 likes
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