Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America's Origins to the Twenty-First Century” as Want to Read:
Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America's Origins to the Twenty-First Century
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  243 ratings  ·  45 reviews
Lauded for “bringing a bracing and much-needed dose of reality about the Founders’ views of sexuality” (New York Review of Books), Geoffrey R. Stone’s Sex and the Constitution traces the evolution of legal and moral codes that have legislated sexual behavior from America’s earliest days to today’s fractious political climate. This “fascinating and maddening” (Pittsburgh ...more
Paperback, 704 pages
Published July 3rd 2018 by Liveright (first published March 21st 2017)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Sex and the Constitution, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Sex and the Constitution

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.33  · 
Rating details
 ·  243 ratings  ·  45 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America's Origins to the Twenty-First Century
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
Brad Lyerla
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Rachel Blakeman
Apr 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jason Ackermann
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
victor harris
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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 years, and "Sex and the ...more
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
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Matt Ward
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jun 23, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Rob Smith
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Matthew Trevithick
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
Lily Hwang
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Shenard Robinson
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Thomas Myers
May 28, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Camilla Diloreto
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whew! Nine months to read. I love history-especially when viewed from alternate perspectives. It’s really incredible just how much the Puritan ideology can still have such profound effects on American perspective.

I enjoyed the book but it does read like a textbook. It’s definitely not for everyone!
Ron Harrison
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most thoroughly researched volumes I’ve been familiar with that details the confrontation between private lives and morality and legal authority. For the most part, even-handed in its scope and approach to this important interplay between religious morality and politics, Sex and the Constitution should be on the shelf of every serious law student.
Apr 14, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hhhmmm... so much to say about this book. It was definitely interesting. The author goes through the history of how sex was viewed by different cultures and how that played into our American laws nowadays. Definitely an interesting read. I’m not sure I agree with all the authors opinions (that were some times stated as fact in this book), but I did enjoy learning about the history aspect of it.
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very well done with plenty of historic perspective I've never considered. It touches the hot-button issues of abortion and gay rights. The writing is really smooth and explains the legal history well without forgetting the human story behind the regulation. I did find this a very liberal interpretation of the issues, and definitely has a beef with Scalia and other uber conservative justices.
Philip Zawa
Dec 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Informative and entertaining

Comprehensive narrative about the dialectic between religious and secular (legal) cultures in America. Does not, however, address the fundamental question as to why so many religious groups are obsessed with controlling everyone's sex lives. Or why so many other religious people have a more tolerant attitude.
Bill Morgan
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Don't let the size of this book discourage you. It is extremely well written; you will remain engrossed from start to finish. The author does not disguise his liberal politics but the information provided is of the utmost importance.
A fascinating overview of constitutional law in the United States as it relates to sex and religion. Takes a while to read, but this book is engagingly written. I'm going to buy a copy to have for reference.
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights
  • Paul Simon: The Life
  • The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth
  • The Fall of Richard Nixon: A Reporter Remembers Watergate
  • The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History
  • If He Hollers Let Him Go
  • Touched by the Sun: My Friendship with Jackie
  • Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
  • The Aleppo Codex: The True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the International Pursuit of an Ancient Bible
  • Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier's First Gunfighter
  • The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto
  • The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making
  • Rez Life: An Indian's Journey Through Reservation Life
  • Be My Knife
  • Lies, First Person
  • I Am a Man!: Race, Manhood, and the Civil Rights Movement
  • The Volunteer: One Man’s Mission to Lead an Underground Army in Auschwitz and Expose the Greatest Nazi Crimes
See similar books…
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
“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
More quotes…