Article

Sex and Sexuality

Ellen Hartigan-O'Connor

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online May 2010 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0049
Sex and Sexuality

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  • History of the Americas
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Encounters around the Atlantic world often involved sex, a fact that fascinated and troubled people at the time as much as it does modern readers. Sexual relationships could serve as tools of social and imperial control, while restrictions on such relationships gave a name to new kinds of racial and gender identities. Historians have explored the frequent conflicts that emerged from these interactions—conflicts between popular beliefs and practices on the one hand and official religious and political discourses on sexuality on the other. Following the pioneering writing of Michel Foucault, historians have become increasingly interested in the question of sexual identity. An older body of scholarship argued that sexuality only became a primary means of identity in the late 19th century, and that the earlier Atlantic period was characterized by fluid sexual identities and behaviors. Recently, however, scholars have refocused on evidence that people in the early modern period did have a sense of sexual identity, including identities that incorporated same-sex desire. The question of whether identities and practices changed over time is a difficult one, not only because historians must decide what to measure, but also because experiences differed so dramatically across boundaries of race, class, and gender. Increasing liberation, present in some of the late 18th-century European notions of sexual pleasure, was balanced by the enduring dangers of what were always hierarchical power relationships in which “consent” or “personal expression” meant little.

Article.  7534 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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