Friday, March 17, 2017

Book Review: The History of Sexuality

‘The History of Sexuality’ by Michael Foucault is in four parts. Part I, Moral Problematization of Pleasures begins with certain central questions about sexuality in human context. “How, why, and in what forms was sexuality constituted as a moral domain?” “Why this ethical concern was so persistent despite its varying forms and intensity?” Why should human beings problematize what they are, and what they do? Also, why the practices associated with this takes unquestionable importance? The author notes, for example, Solon’s laws, one of which required the wife to be under husband’s control for all purposes, while the husband has to have sexual relations with his wife at least three times a month. Also, how important it was for the man not to steal affection, for, every Athenian would be punished less severely if he committed rape, than if he seduced a woman. “When sheep fare badly, we usually fault the shepherd, and for a horse, we speak badly of the horseman”. Hence if the woman doesn’t behave well, much of the blame should go to the man.
Part II dietetics examines the relationship between sexuality and health. Certain curious observations like ‘Men are more inclined to sexual intercourse in summer, whereas women are most disposed in winter’, or ‘It is better for women to be more athletic’, are contained in this part.
Part III economics deal with, surprisingly for me, the economic facet of marriage, that is, marriage as a sexual monopoly. It talks about things like, ‘marriage imposes certain limitations on wife, but the husband has to exercise self-limitation of power,’ if these restrictions are to survive.
Part IV erotics deal with some other aspects of sex, like aphrodisiacs, sex with boys, etc. Here is described the widespread practice of deriving satisfaction from boys, who ‘in his adolescence drew away the husbands from their wives, and as a young man the wives from their husbands’.
The book concludes with certain observations regarding the possible rationale for such rules. ‘..husband exercises his authority over wife, to maintain throughout life, a certain hierarchical structure appropriate to the household..’
Though this book is quite elaborate while describing the need for sexual control, it fails totally in accepting sexual desire as a normal thing for women, while suggesting many ways to keep man's desire fulfilled.