Sexuality and Its Discontents: Meanings, Myths, & Modern Sexualities

Sexuality and Its Discontents: Meanings, Myths, & Modern Sexualities

Sexuality and Its Discontents: Meanings, Myths, & Modern Sexualities

Sexuality and Its Discontents: Meanings, Myths, & Modern Sexualities

Synopsis

Few topics evoke so much anxiety and pleasure, pain and hope, discussion and silence as sexuality. Throughout the Christian era it has been a major moral preoccupation. Since the eighteenth century it has also been the focus of 'scientific' exploration and political activity. But, despite this obsessive concern, we are still as baffled as our predecessors about the 'true' meaning of sex. In this book Jeffrey Weeks unravels the dense web of historical, theoretical and political forces that have culminated in the contemporary crisis of sexual meanings and values.

The book begins with a powerful evocation of our present discontents and their potent signs: the rise of the New Right, the retreat of progressive forces and a wave of moral panics around sex. It argues that this crisis is rooted in a tradition which has ascribed an inflated importance to sexuality, whilst claiming a privileged access to truth. The author then examines radical debates of recent years, and asks whether they contain the potentiality for taking us beyond the existing boundaries of sexuality. From this analysis emerges a controversial 'radical pluralist' approach to sexuality built on an acceptance of diversity and choice.

By linking our present discontents to a clear understanding of the past, Jeffrey Weeks presents a rational, optimistic and challenging vision of a realizable future.

Excerpt

Few topics evoke so much anxiety and pleasure, pain and hope, discussion and silence as the erotic possibilities of our bodies. Throughout the Christian era, as Susan Sontag has observed, sex has been treated as a ‘special case’. Since at least the eighteenth century it has also been the focus simultaneously of ‘scientific’ exploration and political activity. This book asks whether, as a result of all this concern, we are any more sure today than we were in the reputed Dark Ages of the last century about the ‘real’ meaning of sexuality. Over a hundred years of theoretical debate and sex research, social morality crusades and radical oppositions, definitions and self-definition, have produced a crisis of sexual values in which many fixed points have been radically questioned and where contending forces battle for the future of sexuality. The aim of the book is to show the historical, theoretical and political forces that have created the framework of this crisis of sexual meanings.

The book begins with an examination of our current ‘discontents’, of which the rise of a new ‘Moral Right’ is a potent sign, to show how the crisis is rooted in a sexual and sexological tradition which has ascribed an inflated importance to sexuality. This ‘sexual tradition’ is the subject of the second section, which explores the valiant endeavours of those scientists of desire and philosophers of sex, the sexologists of the past century, to locate the truth of sexuality in ‘Nature’. ‘Nature’, I suggest, in fact had little to do with it. This is followed by a critical examination of the tradition of psychoanalysis, which has a latent power to disrupt the naturalism and essentialism of the sexological tradition and to challenge our conceptions about the relationship between identity and desire. The book closes with an examination of the theories and practice of the new social movements of recent years, especially the feminist, lesbian and gay movements who have organised around questions of identity, desire and choice to challenge the

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