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The Reformulation of Sexual Knowledge in Eighteenth-Century England

Tim Hitchcock
Signs
Vol. 37, No. 4, Sex: A Thematic Issue (Summer 2012), pp. 823-832
DOI: 10.1086/664467
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/664467
Page Count: 10
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The Reformulation of Sexual Knowledge in Eighteenth-Century England
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Abstract

AbstractThis article surveys the current literature on the histories of eighteenth-century British demography, the family and affect, pornography, and sexuality and gender and argues that they are superficially contradictory. It suggests that demography and the histories of the family, affect, and pornography present a liberationist narrative in which relations between men and women became more emotionally fulfilling, leading to more reproductive sex. This is juxtaposed with the literature on gender and women’s history, which depicts the period as one of increasingly rigid and rigidly policed gender stereotypes and roles. The article goes on to suggest that these apparently incompatible narratives can be understood as part of a changing physical culture of sex that increasingly restricted sexual contact to penetrative sex and excluded previously common forms of nonreproductive sex, including mutual masturbation. The article concludes that this changing culture of sex was driven by a shift in the origins of sexual knowledge from an oral tradition that emphasized pleasure to a print culture that encouraged a pronatal understanding of sexual behavior.

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