Halperin - Is There a History of Sexuality.docx

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University College Courses
Scott Rayter

- Sex is a natural fact grounded in bodily functioning, so it lies outside of history and culture - Sexuality, on the other hand, doesn’t refer to some aspect or attribute of bodies - It is a cultural construct that explains how we use our bodies within society - Sexuality isn’t physical; it’s cultural - So it does have a history, but not a particularly long one - According to Foucault, sexuality is not a fixed “thing” regardless of culture, but a set of ways bodies behave in society and the way society reacts to these behaviors - Sexuality, to Foucault, shouldn’t be thought of as a natural given, but a historical construct that links bodies, power, discourse, knowledge, and pleasure - Classical antiquity – in ancient societies, there were different values, morals, social practices, behaviors, etc. - This calls us to examine whether our assumptions about what life is like and how people are is actually accurate - Viewing the differences between our notions of sexuality and that of other societies, it is easier for us to see how arbitrary our sexual experiences are - One such assumption is that sexual behavior reflects a thing called “sexuality” - We see “sexuality” as referring to a feature of the human personality from which sexual behavior stems, rather than merely a reflection of sexual practices - Sexuality is thus a concept rather than a descriptive term - Sexuality defines itself as a separate domain within the human “psychophysical” nature - The idea of sexuality isolates that domain from other areas of personal and social life that have traditionally intersected with it - Sexuality gives us the idea that we each have an individual sexual nature and identity which individuates us from others who have different “kinds” of sexuality - Historically, sexuality wasn’t seen as either a separate sphere of existence from other areas of life and the function of sexuality was never a way to differentiate people (ex. gay vs. straight) - Robert Padgug – what we consider sexuality was in the pre-bourgeois world a group of acts and institution that weren’t necessarily connected - In Athens, for example, sex didn’t express any type of internal inclination, but served to position people in their appropriate social place (ex. homosexuality as power, forcing the recipient to subordinate, rather than an expression of love between two men) - In Athens, a small group of adult male citizens were the social elite with all the power, and there was a huge divide between this group and subordinate groups who lacked full civil rights, ex. women, slaves, foreigners, etc. - Sex in Athens wasn’t a situation with two parties mutually agreeing to have sex for mutual pleasure, but an action performed by a social superior upon a social inferior - The penetrated was subordinate to the penetrator, and penetration was a type of domination - Adult male citizens in Athens could only have sexual relations with people of lower status, such as women, free men past the age of puberty who weren’t old enough to be citizens (boys) and foreigners and slaves - Sex was an expression of separate social identities, so it was impossible to have sex with someone who had the same “sexuality” and thusly the same status as you - The sexual desire had been shaped by the cultural definition of sex as something that occurred between a citizen and a non-citizen - So the sexuality of Athenians was actually political - For the ancients, sexuality never held the key to a person’s personality - Sex wasn’t something to brag about; war revealed the true man, not sex, love, or the size of the male anatomy - Public life was seen as the most important part of a person rather than his relationships - Even sex dreams weren’t considered really about sex, but about the rise and fall of public fortunes - Westerners today believe dreams about public and social life to reveal private and sexual meanings, while the ancients believed the opposite - Sexuality to them was seen as not a cause but an effect; the social body preceded the sexual body instead of sexuality leading us to behave the way we do in social situations - Robert Padgug – sexuality isn’t a separate category of existence like the economy or the state; there is no “fixed essence” of sexuality, since this would mean that there is some sort of sexual psychological determinism, and this would mean that the sexual categories we have in our society are universal, fixed, and true across all groups throughout history - But in antiquity, contrary to in our society, sexual desires and choices weren’t made by dis
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