Let’s (not) talk about sex…

Foucault’s The History of Sexuality taught me a lot about this subject. I did not know that public expressions of sexuality were more common in the seventeenth century than they were in the nineteenth century, I thought that sexuality followed a sort of linear path from “not acceptable at all” to today, which I would argue society has more of a “put it all out there” attitude. Foucault was writing in 1976, and he talked about how sex was becoming a more common topic in society. He argued that since sex was repressed, people wanted to talk about it as a form of resistance, since the power in society cannot actually stop one from talking about it, only discourage it. Thus, the topic of sex had become a way to undermine social control.

Foucault went further to say that it was apparent that it was a taboo subject because people took a different tone when talking about it. He says “our tone of voice shows that we know we are being subversive (6),” and continues to say “some of the ancient functions of prophecy are reactivated therein. Tomorrow sex will be good again (7).” I would say that Foucault’s idea that the revolutionaries who began talking about sex again would remove the taboo has partially come true. Today, 41 years later, sex is a pretty common topic. I do not feel that talking about it comes from subversion as it did then, although it is slightly taboo based on the setting. For example, in most workplaces and some families sex is not an acceptable topic. However, most parents at least mention it to their kids, and the topic of sex education is taught in schools. Professors and other professionals refer to it as needed, and we are expected to be mature about it. I think that in friendships and the media sex has become a regular topic, in which most people do not see it as inappropriate. There is a movement within our generation to take control of our bodies and express ourselves however we want, not being ashamed of our sexuality. In some cases this may still be subversive, such as when people like Miley Cyrus and Kylie Jenner show off their bodies to the media, but the judgmental response to that mostly comes from older adults and jealous peers. Thus, while there may be room to go for the taboo to be removed completely, Foucault was right in saying that the subversive nature of sex would go away.

Towards the end, Foucault says the purpose of his book is to discover why sex is taboo in general. While we did not read far enough to know the answer he discovers, from my personal knowledge I always thought our religious history was the cause. Christianity values sexual purity until marriage, and in my knowledge, that viewpoint was the foundational reason sex was deemed bad, and since then, as less people follow that rule, the taboo still exists.

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One Reply to “Let’s (not) talk about sex…”

  1. I liked this response to the reading a lot. You covered a lot of material and I agree with most of it. I agree that the taboo of discussing sex is connected to religion, but I think it is inaccurate to simply blame Christianity. What about Judaism (and its sects like Orthodox), Islam etc? I understand that the U.S. is a largely Christian county and yes, there has been a glorification of women saving sex for their husbands in Christianity. However, that is heavily influenced by patriarchy, economy and other social forces. Which is why I think it is so commonly enforced by many religions. I think that sex is often used as a means to control groups of people- population sizes, which populations should procreate, and help to keep women in check for the pleasure of men. Today, in America sex is still used to control in terms of selling sex through media and celebrity and reinforces the idea that certain people should be sexy and others shouldn’t. Certain groups of people have less of a taboo surrounding sex for a larger social purpose, and those the taboo is placed upon also serves this larger assignment of who should and shouldn’t be sexy.

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