The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1

The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 Essay Questions

  1. 1

    When, according to Foucault, did sexuality come into being?

    Throughout The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, Foucault claims that sexuality is a socially-constructed aspect of human experience that is only possible under the conditions of a rational, clinical, and disciplinary capitalist society. Foucault traces the origins of sexuality to the end of the 17th century, but suggests that sexuality came into its own as we currently understand it during the 19th century. Throughout The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, Foucault shows how the evolution of the counter-reformation Catholic Confession, the rise of psychiatric medicine, the establishment of population sciences, and the industrial revolution all contributed to the construction of sexuality.

  2. 2

    What is the difference between a Scientia Sexualis and an Ars Erotica?

    Latin for “erotic art,” the Ars Erotica is a method for procuring the truth about sex that requires learned practice and personal experience. The Ars Erotica is traditionally a very esoteric method for producing the truth about sex, focused on the intensification of pleasure. The Scientia Sexualis, or “sexual science,” is a highly clinical and highly scientific method for producing the truth about sex, which relies on empirical observation. The Scientia Sexualis is suspicious of sexual pleasure, preferring impersonal methods and the observation of others.

  3. 3

    Why does Foucault reject the Repressive Hypothesis?

    Foucault takes issue with the Repressive Hypothesis for its false assertion that discussion of sex has become stifled since the 18th century. Instead, he offers a more nuanced approach to sexuality that suggests that, instead of seeing the repressive imposition of silence about sex, we recognize how the proliferation of specific ways of talking about sex had an effect on how modern societies organize and control their population.

  4. 4

    What is biopower?

    Biopower is Foucault’s word for an inherently modern way of organizing society, which fosters life instead of threatening to take it away. Foucault distinguishes biopolitical society from sovereign society. The exercise of power in a biopolitical society is informed by population sciences, psychiatric medicine, and other disciplines of knowledge. Rather than reflecting the sovereign’s will, biopolitical authorities claim to take action on behalf of an entire population. Biopolitical societies consider the care of the entire population to be the ultimate goal of government. However, the emphasis on the welfare of the entire population can have catastrophic consequences, such as the extreme deadliness of modern wars.

  5. 5

    What is the relationship between psychiatric analysis and the Catholic confession?

    According to Foucault, the psychiatric method of interviewing patients about their sexual desires and histories has its roots in the practices of counter-reformation Catholicism. Pointing to the ways in which priests became increasingly interested in hearing the sexual desires, and not just the sexual transgressions, of those who confessed, Foucault argues that early psychiatric practices that sought to uncover the truth about a person’s psyche, through probing their sexuality, owes a debt to the Confession as a moral practice.

  6. 6

    What are the 4 Strategic Unities of the Deployment of Sexuality?

    The 4 strategic unities of the deployment of sexuality are the hystericization of women’s bodies, the pedagogization of children’s sexuality, the psychiatrization of perverse pleasure, and the normativization of the married couple. Foucault asserts that these 4 operations, which overlap in the “crystal” of the modern family, are the most essential to the deployment of modern sexuality.

  7. 7

    Why does Foucault think that we cannot liberate ourselves from repression?

    There are 2 answers to this question. Firstly, Foucault argues very plainly that it is never possible to liberate ourselves from power altogether. More specifically, however, Foucault consistently rejects contemporary strategies of sexual liberation because they hold too closely to the Repressive Hypothesis. It is not possible to liberate oneself from sexual repression if one is not sexually repressed. Foucault believes that activists contemporary with him were merely playing into the dynamics of discursive power, even when they thought they were opposing it, by attempting to speak the “truth” of their sexuality.

  8. 8

    What is the relationship between sexuality and the symbolic function of blood?

    During pre-modern society, the aristocracy constituted the ruling class of most countries in the Western world. The aristocracy used family alliances to regulate their relationships with one another, so that they could maintain a hereditary hold over their status. Blood was used as a corporeal symbol of aristocratic purity. The 19th century, however, saw the rise of the European bourgeoisie at the expense of the aristocracy. The bourgeoisie used the privilege of sexual healthcare as their equivalent of aristocratic blood, in a bid to maintain their own superior status.

  9. 9

    What is the incitement to discourse, and what does it have to do with the history of sexuality?

    The incitement to discourse is Foucault’s term for the set of ways in which sexuality was made into something to be talked about since roughly the end of the 18th century. The incitement to discourse is a key process in the history of sexuality. It includes the insistence on sexual disclosure within the post-17th century Catholic confessional, a medical codification of the injunction to speak about sex to professionals, and the establishment of a diverse range of sciences centered on the health of the population. Foucault sees the incitement to discourse as existing on different scales, including strategies to provoke individuals to talk about their own sexuality, as well as new technologies that allowed experts to talk about the sexuality of other individuals or of groups of people.

  10. 10

    What, according to Foucault, are the principal ways in which sexuality relates to the rise of modern capitalism?

    For Foucault, sexuality is a discourse that belongs to a distinctly capitalist modern society. This means that sexuality is related to the key processes of modern capitalist society, including secularism, the predominance of the middle class, and the respect for the individual associated with political liberalism. In Foucault’s view, sexuality is both a response to, and catalyst of, these processes. Sexuality corresponds to a distinctly liberal notion of the individual subject as one whose inner truth is important to all of society. Sexuality also responds to the pressures of secularism, as it replaces some of the moral demands of religious society. As the motor of biopower, furthermore, sexuality also relates to a liberal concern with the population as a driver of production and consumption, whose health has to be kept constantly in check.