The History of Sexuality

TitleThe History of Sexuality
Publication TypeBook
AuthorsFoucault, Michel
Number of Volumes4
PublisherVintage Books
CityNew York

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.

Volume I: The Will to Knowledge. Foucault argues that the recent explosion of discussion about sex in the West means that, far from being liberated, we are in the process of making a science of sexuality that is devoted to the analysis of desire rather than the increase of pleasure. 

Volume II: The Use of Pleasure. Foucault discusses "the manner in which sexual activity was problematized by philosophers and doctors in classical Greek culture of the fourth century B. C." He tries to answer basic questions: How in the West did sexual experience become a moral issue? And why were other appetites of the body, such as hunger, and collective concerns, such as civic duty, not subjected to the numberless rules and regulations and judgments that have defined, if not confined, sexual behavior?

Volume III: The Care of the Self. Foucault discusses texts such as the Oneirocritica, (The Interpretation of Dreams), of Artemidorus. Other authors whose work is discussed include Galen, Plutarch, and Pseudo-Lucian. Foucault describes the Oneirocritica as a "point of reference" for his work, one that exemplifies a common way of thinking.

Volume IV: Confessions of the Flesh. In this draft version of the fourth volume, published and translated after his death, Foucault traces the adoption and adaptation by early Christian societies of earlier pre-Christian ideas of pleasure.

Original PublicationL'Histoire de la sexualité
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