email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAlways Forever MaybeAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond SpeechBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren and the Politics of SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDesire, Love, and IdentityDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting OffGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot My ShameNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRelax, It's Just SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in CrisisSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, Family, and the Culture WarsSex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureTestosterone RexThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Dangerous Art of Blending InThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Evolution of BeautyThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe PervertThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe State of AffairsThe Story of SexThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransTransTransgender Children and YouthUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebUntrue VirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Does Consent Really Mean?What Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshYou Know Me WellZen Sex
In the process of doing my library research for my current book project, I have learned a lot of things that I wasn't taught in medical school or in my psychiatry residency training. One generally-agreed upon historical finding is that the notion of "sexuality" and related concepts like "homosexuality" and "heterosexuality" are relatively new, having appeared only late in the 19th century. At least in the West, prior to that time one's sexual activities didn't figure into a sense of identity -- cultural, personal, or otherwise. Sex was procreative, and sexual behaviors outside of that end were marginalized into moral failings, crimes, temptations, and deviances. Cultural regulation of sexual behavior had a moral-religious basis. In this era, a person who had same-sex anal intercourse was a pederast or sodomite, and this was in most 19th-century Western views a crime and a moral failing. Common-sense psychology, particularly lay belief governed by prevailing Christian norms, saw everyone as potentially a sinner, everyone was susceptible to sins of the flesh, and so anyone could, in principle, fall to sundry temptations, sexual activities included.
A variety of social changes contributed to the birth of "sexuality" as a component of personhood and identity. Secularization, urbanization, and the rise of empirical science, among other factors contributed to a feminizing of men into white-collar jobs, and a masculinizing of women through employment opportunities, child care, suffrage, and the like. In the history of psychiatry, European clinicians like Richard von Krafft-Ebing redefined sexual deviance as illness rather than as a moral failing, and began to describe "sexualities" as we know them today, sexual practices tightly embedded in a larger personal and cultural lifestyle, complete with their own places to congregate, personal styles of dress and comportment, and (sub-) cultural rules and mores. The concepts of "homosexual" and "heterosexual" were born out of a need to describe these broader cultural meanings associated with "sex". The birth of the science of "sexology" over the same period mirrored many of the changes in attitude and assumption; sexology under Havelock Ellis was still largely focused on sex-as-reproduction as the governing norm; by the time of Masters and Johnson in the 1960s and 1970s, we, the culture, read about "The Pleasure Bond." The founder of SIECUS, Mary Calderone, summarized the contemporary notion of sexuality very concretely: "Sexuality means everything that you are, that you were born with, that you experienced, that you thought about, that happened to you, that relates to your being a sexual person." (Irvine 2002 p. 31)
This "handbook" edited by Seidman, Fischer, and Meeks either reflects, or perhaps even promotes, an even broader sexual diversity, and continues the loosening of sex/gender-related norms of the past century. All three editors are from the discipline of sociology (Seidman at SUNY-Albany, Fischer from Augsburg College, Meeks from Georgia State) and it is clear that the book emerges from the qualitative, rather than quantitative, strand of sociology. Statistics and data sets are quite rare, the book content combines very brief and highly focused literature reviews, interviews with mostly prominent scholars in the field of sexuality studies, and what I would characterize as collections of testimonials by persons of various sexualities having been interviewed "in the field". The thematic emphasis is on sexual diversity and not mainstream convention, so I would imagine the Christian Right will be appalled, if ever this book catches their attention. Those seeking a level playing field for sexual diversity will be pleased.
The guiding theme in the book is that sexuality is "socially constructed" or learned, rather than being a biological. To this end the book presents 65 short chapters and 489 pages describing the blooming diversity of sexual practices, belief systems, ideologies, and subcultures in the West today. It appears to be written as a textbook, the chapters are generally easy reads, the citations sample the literature, but the price ($190 at Amazon) is prohibitive for most students I know.
I have a mixed assessment for this book. As a introductory resource for the full diversity of sexuality today, it has appeal because of the nitty-gritty descriptions and the broad scope. The topics range from the sexually pedestrian (orgasm, sexual intercourse) to the ethnocultural ("Coming out in Italy," "Transgendering", "Sex and young Japanese heterosexual men") to the commercial ("Sexual Tourism" ,"Sex Workers", "The American Porn Industry") to the regulatory ("The Marriage Contract", "Law and regulation of the obscene", "medical therapeutic regulation of sexuality"). Many of the chapters are eye-openers, (though no pictures are included), and I found discussions here that I have never seen in the psychiatric and clinical psychological literature. However, two general problems diminished the value of the book for me: (1) the anecdotal, nonsystematic, and often superficial nature of the literature reviews and (2) the confounding of concepts and key terms, making evaluation of claims very difficult. For example, the repetition of the "social construction of sexuality" approached mantra status, yet this is banal in that the sexuality concept is defined in terms of social meanings. So the dismissal of sexual biology is the consequence of a tautology, and therefore quite unilluminating. The smorgasbord approach to sexual lifestyles was enlightening insofar as illustrating the diversity of sexualities, but one cannot determine how representative the discussions are for any "group". There is little in the way of generalizable knowledge to be gleaned, other than for general concepts like "sexuality" which introduced this review (and was familiar to the reviewer already). Those interested in a more rigorous approach to the histories of sexualities, see Garton 2004, Nye 1999, Porter and Hall 1995, or Weeks 2003. For those interested in the empirical sociology of sexualities, you'll have to look elsewhere.
Garton, S. 2004. Histories of sexuality: Antiquity to sexual revolution. New York: Routledge.
Irvine, J. 2002. Talk about sex: The battles for sex education in the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Nye, R.A. (ed.) 1999. Sexuality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Porter, R and Hall, L. 1995. The facts of life: The creation of sexual knowledge in Britain, 1650-1950. New Haven: Yale University Press.
© 2008 John Z. Sadler
John Z. Sadler, M.D. is the Daniel W. Foster, M.D. Professor of Medical Ethics, and Professor of Psychiatry and Clinical Sciences at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and Professor of Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas. His most recent book is Values and Psychiatric Diagnosis (Oxford University Press) and has recently finished a new book with philosopher Jennifer Radden, Ph.D., provisionally titled The Virtuous Psychiatrist: Character Ethics in Clinical Practice.
Comment on this review