The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1

Introduction

The History of Sexuality (French: L'Histoire de la sexualité) is a four-volume study of sexuality in the western world by the French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault, in which the author examines the emergence of "sexuality" as a discursive object and separate sphere of life and argues that the notion that every individual has a sexuality is a relatively recent development in Western societies. The first volume, The Will to Knowledge (La volonté de savoir), was first published in 1976; an English translation appeared in 1978. The Use of Pleasure (L'usage des plaisirs), and The Care of the Self (Le souci de soi), were published in 1984. The fourth volume, Confessions of the Flesh (Les aveux de la chair), was published posthumously in 2018.

In Volume 1, Foucault criticizes the "repressive hypothesis", the idea that western society suppressed sexuality from the 17th to the mid-20th century due to the rise of capitalism and bourgeois society. Foucault argues that discourse on sexuality in fact proliferated during this period, during which experts began to examine sexuality in a scientific manner, encouraging people to confess their sexual feelings and actions. According to Foucault, in the 18th and 19th centuries society took an increasing interest in sexualities that did not fit within the marital bond: the "world of perversion" that includes the sexuality of children, the mentally ill, the criminal and the homosexual, while by the 19th century, sexuality was being readily explored both through confession and scientific enquiry. In Volume 2 and Volume 3, Foucault addresses the role of sex in Greek and Roman antiquity.

The book received a mixed reception, with some reviewers praising it and others criticizing Foucault's scholarship. The idea that sexuality, including homosexuality, is a social construction is associated more with The History of Sexuality than with any other work.


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