For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The History of Sexuality: The use of pleasure

by Foucault, Michel (1988)


Michel Foucault's 'The History of Sexuality' pioneered queer theory. In it he builds an argument grounded in a historical analysis of the word "sexuality" against the common thesis that sexuality always has been repressed in Western society. Quite the contrary: since the 17th century, there has been a fixation with sexuality creating a discourse around sexuality. It is this discourse that has created sexual minorities. In 'The History of Sexuality', Foucault attempts to disprove the thesis that Western society has seen a repression of sexuality since the 17th century and that sexuality has been unmentionable, something impossible to speak about. In the 70s, when the book was written, the sexual revolution was a fact. The ideas of the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, saying that to conserve your mental health you needed to liberate your sexual energy, were popular. The past was seen as a dark age where sexuality had been something forbidden.

Key Passage

Ischomachus dwells at length on all the advice he remembers giving his wife on how to store things inthe space of the house so that she might find what she has put away, thus making her home a place of order and memory. In order that they might work together in the exercise of these different functions, the gods endowed each of the two sexes with particular qualities. Physical traits, first of all : to men, who must work in the open air "plowing, sowing, planting, herding," they gave the capacity to endure cold, heat, andjourneys on foot; women, who work indoors, were given bodies that are less resistant. Character traits as well: women have a natural fear, but one that has positive effects-it induces them to be mindful of the provisions, to worry about losing them, to be in dread of using them up. The man, on the otherhand, is brave, for he is obliged to defend himself outdoors against everything that might cause him injury. In short, "the god directly prepared the woman's nature for indoor works and the man for works of the open air. " 1 7 But he also equipped them with common qualities: since in their respective roles men and women have to "give and take," since in their activity as household managers they have to gather in and mete out,they both received memory and diligence (mneme and epimeleia).I (p.158)


Foucault, Foucauldian, Sexuality, Repression, Power, Pleasure, Freedom, Truth, Dialectics


History of Sexuality, Foucault Citations

Links to Reference



How to contribute.