Capitalism and Sexuality

In Foucault’s “The History of Sexuality,” the focus is placed upon the oppression of people and more specifically of sexuality over the course of Western history. Foucault draws an interesting conclusion about how the shift from open conversation about sex and sexuality became so silenced- he cites the rise of capitalism in the 17th century as a contributing factor to the age of repression of sexuality during this time.

“..discourse on modern sexual repression…placing the advent of the age of repression in the seventeenth century, after hundreds of years of open spaces and free expression, one adjusts it to  coincide with the development of capitalism: it becomes an integral part of the bourgeois order.” (5)

Foucault argued that the bourgeois needed those in the labor force to work and not to “[allow workers] to dissipate itself [energy to work in pleasurable pursuits.” Ultimately, sex would be viewed as a frivolous endeavor that took away from productivity. Furthermore, if workers have sexual freedom who knows what other methods of oppression they would desire to fight against! Therefore, if sex is such a taboo subject that one is not free to talk about it then people’s choices around sex will also be carefully self-monitored. Making sex private and “sacred” in marriage helps to control when people procreate and keep track of who belongs where. A worker producing many kids to work is fine, and the powerful men can even help to create some of those child workers- but the bourgeois babies that would become the future dominant group could only be made by certain members.

I agree with Foucault’s assessment of the overall repressive nature of capitalism and how that influenced the repression of sexuality. There is a key component that Foucault is missing and that is the specific affect this repression has on women. Foucault argued that the way for people to free themselves from sexual oppression would need to be “at a considerable cost: nothing less than a transgression of laws, a lifting of prohibitions, an irruption of speech, a reinstating of pleasure within reality, and a whole new economy in the mechanisms of power.” (5) Foucault did not take into account, clearly, the Women’s Movement in the 60s/70s that brought about an irruption of women’s speech; Roe v. Wade certainly transgressed certain laws surrounding birth control and abortion; and Planned Parenthood has served as a means for women’s reproductive rights to respected as well as to simply be taken care of. Yet, sex is still used to oppress women. Now, with capitalism using sex as a product to sell and create more products to make men and women more attracted to one another- it has become this thing that is constantly around us and discussed not freely but strategically.



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