RELG 271 Lecture Notes - Lecture 6: Michel Foucault, Human Sexuality, Sex Education

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RELG 271
Lecture 5 — Jan 27
Recap — Freud’s idea of sexuality: Most complex idea about sexual thought
-Sexuality is essential to human happiness (similar to getting nutritious food, water, sleep etc.)
-Idea of repression: every human being grows up in a society—complex psychosocial
process—where we are influenced by authority figures and we are taught to hold back
certain impulses (thoughts and feelings)
-Repression is so successful, we don’t even realize we are doing it
-Modern world is making people sick because the repression is too severe
-This repression is worst for women — Freud argued that women are oppressed more so
than men in society
-Dealt with middle class house wives who knew nothing about their body (no education on
sexuality) leading to many desires but confusion about such desires
-Thought their only purpose was to make children
Freud’s Understanding of Morality
-All morality begins with primitive taboos, based on irrational fears and power hierarchy—tribal
societies were uncomfortable for menstruation as they were bleeding from their vagina
-All morality is psychological
-Taboos and fears are based on hierarchy — virginity is related to a virtuous woman
-Freud: how does virginity = virtue?
-Throughout history, men taught women that to be successful in life would be to be pure
for the men. Men controlled women and their sexuality
-Taboos lead to religious morality, organized as a complex system of beliefs, principles and
-Modern sexual morality reflects traditional fears and prejudices, rather than biological and
social realities of human sexuality
-Doctors don’t realize that they are being psychologically shaped by tradition
-Morality has nothing to do with biological or socially realistic humanity
Freud’s Conclusions
-Morality has more to do with human psychology (pleasure/ pain, fear of death/ unknown) than
with right and wrong
-Tend to be more selfish of this — what ever is beneficial to one led to a system of justice to
benefit the man
-We believe that we have a right to our body—no one has the right over your body accept
-This freedom of choice is drawn when someone wants to die (for example) — this is a
psychological reason as death scares us as people
-Humans are very primal in their reaction to death, they greatly fear it—it is not an ethical
principle to force someone to live, but it is such a sensitive issue people are accustomed to
a certain set of norms
-Believes that morality should be based on an understanding — one must understand that as
long as one isn’t harming society they are permitted to do so, and are morally permitted to do
what they please
-Waging a moral war against sexual desire is like waging a war against hunger and thirst
Are we still repressed?
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-50 Shades of Grey — a movie about kinky sex
-People thought this was too liberal of a society, although the movie proves that there are
things wrong with humanity
Foucault’s Theory of Modern Sexuality
Sex and Truth
“When a subject is highly controversial—and any question about sex is that—one cannot hope
to tell the truth” Virginia Woolf (1929)
-As long as you are a member of society, you will always be a liar (wearing a mask from the
“It is only because of sexuality that we think about the truth at all” Adam Phillips (1996)
Michel Foucault (1926-1984) — The history of sexuality is actually the history of sexual
-Christian idea: you must love, but once you want someone sexually you have succumb to lust
The Repressive Hypothesis
1. The myth of Victorian sexuality
-The Victorians were very repressed, yet very happy—we assume that the further back
towards the Victorian era resulted in a more sexually repressed society. This is a
-Foucault: believes this is wrong. Question what happened to the Victorians, and relates
modern society to the Victorian era
-To free yourself from sexual transgression = happiness
2. “Repressed” sexuality = cause of neuroses
3. Freedom as expression or transgression (overcoming social repression)
4. Naive understanding of sexual emancipation
Foucault’s Questions: trying to prove that Victorians were not repressed
-What if we have never been repressed?
-What if power has nothing to do with repression?
-What if transgression has nothing to do with liberation?
Sexual Discourse: “our understanding of what is sexual, and what different ways of being sexual
mean, is always dependent on the kind of discourse about sex that circulates in a given time
and place” Deborah Cameron and Don Kulick
-Culture is enscribed within the body — every bodily decision reflects what society wants you
do do
-Conforming to what society respects — even during rebellion, still conforming to what society
allows in a rebellion
-Formalized or prescribed way of speaking or writing about something
-A set of terms and concepts that conforms to a particular logic (religious, political, moral,
medical, legal, economic etc.)
-Every statement said by humans (that is considered important) has to do with discourse —
unconscious idea
-Defines what can or cannot be said, thought or experienced
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