chapter  1
29 Pages

Writing Sexual History

While many historians, until the 1970s, accepted the force of biological and psychological theories of sexuality, other disciplines were very interested in the cultural webs that entangled the sex drive - courtship rituals, sexual initiation rights, marriage customs, religious sanctions, superstitions, beliefs, childbirth practices, and child-rearing traditions. Pioneering anthropologists, such as Margaret Mead, charted rich cultural differences in the organization of sexual life. 3 Sexologists, such as Norman Haire, took up anthropological insights to highlight the historical and cultural diversity of sexual practices and customs.4 More importantly, for both anthropologists and sexologists, the sexual life of

'exotic cultures' was a way of pointing to the limitations of Western sexual practices. In both disciplines sex and sexuality was a fixed domain of human experience, which was then subjected to different forms of cultural organization. These forms of organization then could be compared on the basis of how much they repressed 'natural' sexual instincts. Importantly, these studies suggested that some sexual practices were culturally and historically specific.