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Sex Before Sexuality: A Premodern History

ISBN: 978-0-7456-2523-2
200 pages
September 2011, Polity
Sex Before Sexuality: A Premodern History (0745625231) cover image
Sexuality in modern western culture is central to identity but the tendency to define by sexuality does not apply to the premodern past. Before the 'invention' of sexuality, erotic acts and desires were comprehended as species of sin, expressions of idealised love, courtship, and marriage, or components of intimacies between men or women, not as outworkings of an innermost self. With a focus on c. 1100–c. 1800, this book explores the shifting meanings, languages, and practices of western sex. It is the first study to combine the medieval and early modern to rethink this time of sex before sexuality, where same-sex and opposite-sex desire and eroticism bore but faint traces of what moderns came to call heterosexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism, and pornography.

This volume aims to contribute to contemporary historical theory through paying attention to the particularity of premodern sexual cultures. Phillips and Reay argue that students of premodern sex will be blocked in their understanding if they use terms and concepts applicable to sexuality since the late nineteenth century, and modern commentators will never know their subject without a deeper comprehension of sex's history.

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Acknowledgements.

List of Images.

Introduction: Sex Before Sexuality.

1. Sin.

2. Before Heterosexuality.

3. Between Men.

4. Between Women.

5. Before Pornography.

Epilogue: Sex at Sea?

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Kim Phillips is senior lecturer in history at the University of Auckland.

Barry Reay is professor of history at the University of Auckland.

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"An indispensable book for historians and literary scholars alike: a succinct introduction to the field that breaks new ground in its embrace of both the medieval and the early modern."
Journal of the Northern Renaissance

"A vigorously advanced manifesto for reshaping the concepts and approaches we use in studying the history of sexual regimes."
Journal of Social History

"Essential reading for students and established researchers."
Continuity and Change

"A groundbreaking study that transcends the boundaries constructedbetween the medieval and the early modern."
The Year's Work in English Studies

"An important addition to the history of sexuality"
European Review of History

"An accessible and engaging starting point for any researcher of the history of sex, that opens up an important scholarly space for histories of sexual acts, identities, desires and behaviours that go beyond paying mere 'lip service to social constructivism."
Women's History Review

"In reminding us of many distinct and fascinating earlier ways of thinking about and understanding sex and sexual behaviours, Phillips and Reay rightly insist that heterosexuality is not only not a given but also has a history."
Times Higher Education

"Finally, a book on the history of sex that traverses the period boundary commonly erected between medieval and early modern. Deftly weaving together sources across a longue durée, this lucid survey is packed with examples that demonstrate the potential mismatch between modern sexual categories and premodern experience."
Robert Mills, King's College London

"A generation of scholars have journeyed from a history of sexual behaviour to a history of sexuality and in the process have given us a new vocabulary with which to interrogate our own world. Sex before Sexuality lays out a clear map of the complex intellectual landscape, and will be essential reading for students and scholars."
Tim Hitchcock, University of Hertfordshire

"The authors demonstrate poignantly how to think sex historically in a scintillating book that synthesizes a vast scholarly landscape on premodern sexualities in the West."
Helmut Puff, University of Michigan

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