The History of Sexuality | An Introduction | Volume I, Michel Foucault

History of Sexuality Vol I

Basically Foucault says that culturally many of us think that 'the powers that be' are repressing and suppressing our sexuality, and that it is our job to 'free' ourselves from the bondage of prudish institutions, laws and governments and experience our true selves through our sex. Then he says this is bunk. If you think this, you've been snookered. First of all, in order to believe this, you have to believe that your identity rests on sex, or your sex is imperative to your identity; that something essentially and fundamentally 'you' will be found and expressed through this lens called sexuality.

Let's talk about sex: Rules and regulations

You fell into the trap that started back in the 17th century as monarchies and feudalism began to change into more diplomatic forms of domination.

Politics is simply war without death.

Class warfare is at the heart of our current sexual culture. The elite needed a way to ensure their survival as a class. This survival had been based on older forms of social alliance and 'blood' which they transferred slowly and incrementally to the power of sexuality. This was concurrent with the shift from power as the threat of death, to power as the sustainer of life (as in, I have the power to kill you versus I have the power to feed you).

The elite focused heavily on their sexuality, in fact, they created the whole concept, with the help of the Christian church. The first stage was the confession of a morally corrupt mind. Secret desires had to be forced out of their hiding places, no matter how insignificant they seemed. All things sex were brought out into the open, even if shamed, or rather, becoming shameful in the process. As people were forced more and more to talk about sex, dialogue about it with their priests and elders, the proscriptions for how to talk about it emerged at the same time. The rules and the 'prude' were created in order to facilitate and manipulate a sexuality created and laid bare. Axis were created; between men and women, between parents and children, between normal and perverse.

The field and practice of medicine melded with the church to form psychiatry; a tenuous transfer of the domain of popular sexuality from religious to scientific inquiry. Freud did a great job of coalescing a century of processes into a clear-cut method that could be practiced and developed through individual psychoanalysis and eventually deployed to the lower classes as mass and institutionalized reform through prisons, clinics and mental health incarcerations. All of this to protect the blood of the elite and eventually the blood of the nation. Hitler did a great job of exemplifying a century of eugenics into a clear-cut methodology of racism.

Nuclear families were created to watch the women. Schools were developed to watch the children. The police were formed to ferret out the perverted. Population control is a survival technique of an industrial and capital society.

Granted, there were problems with the dichotomies. Children, as everyone knew, had no sexuality, only sex. Which is why we had to work so hard to keep them from non-sexually masturbating. Women, too, it turned out, were all sex and no sexuality. That is, unless they were all sexuality, wait, and no sex? What's going on here? At least with men it's fairly clear cut; they're either having normally functioning sexual sex or they're perverts; or they're neither, which makes them a perv.

In attempting to overthrow racism and sexuality, many thought the way to fight the shame was to promote sex as much as possible, to break the boundaries set forth by those in 'power'. However Foucault points out that digging through every detail of our desire from childhood on is exactly what we have been trained to do. We are functioning within the framework of sexuality as power.

The privacy of sex is not allowed

The constant discourse on sex, even when the discourse is about how we can't or don't talk about sex, is the foundation for regulation and management of sex. Demographics and social studies: marriage rates, birth rates, age rates, etc. What can be said about it, by who and when?

The identification with sexuality, the creation of an identity based on sex, created a stasis out of desire. Sodomy, the act, or a sodomite, a person who has engaged in sodomy; is quite different from a homosexual, who is constituted by desire regardless of what sexual acts are performed or how often. A movement from desire to pleasure and back to desire; in some ways it's a return to 17th century moralism: it's not what you do but what you want to do that makes you who you are. Whether or not you take pleasure or pain in the act is inconsequential. Without desire and fear, there is no control. The incitement of both are the aim of mechanisms of power.

How many times have you heard the question, why is our culture saturated with sex if it is censored? In order to overthrow the powers that be, or revolutionize the system, we must recognize who and what incites us to desire and fear, and who and what provides our rewards and punishments. Once the mechanism of control is correctly identified, we can then find our freedom.

Power thoughts

Power can only exist in non-egalitarian relations. This sounds like a clever reversal of fact. Foucault says that "Power is not something that is acquired, seized, or shared, something that one holds on to or allows to slip away." (Pg 94)

Power takes a productive role.

Power is not wielded from the top down, it is the support to a system of binary forces. Domination is the result of those forces being sustained by confrontations.

Power is intentional. "[...] there is no power that is exercised without a series of aims and objectives"; however, they are not necessarily (or even likely) to be invented by an individual.

Power is anonymous. Power is inter-dependent. Power only exists with the presence of resistance.

Power is a relationship.

From here Foucault asserts that there is no sex-drive per se. There is a locus of power, one point in the web of the power network that is labeled at times natural and at others unnatural, depending on the objectives and aims of the speaker.


The first of three volumes, Vol I is difficult to read, perhaps because of his overly academic style, but also due to translation.

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