The contemporary understandings of sexuality can be traced back to the appearance of what Foucault calls the ‘scientia sexualis’ (Foucault, 1990), when the notion of sexuality turned into something that must be explored and, recorded in order to gain control over it. He argued that sexology was a new discourse of power. By discourse Foucault does not mean a conversation, but rather a group of statements that govern the way we perceive a specific phenomenon (Salih, 2002). He claims that from the nineteenth century onwards, sexuality and the reproductive activity of the individual has become the subject of politics, and has been under the control of the state. Against the backdrop of this modern sexuality was invented, and sexual types of people and sexual desires became classified (Bristow, 1997).
There was a vast alteration in shaping the identity of sexuality due to the emergence of new languages especially medical literature which ‘created a new framework for understanding sexuality’ (Peiss & Simmons, 1989:7), through its classification into categories of normality and deviance. Foucault rejects the general assumption of sexual repression and describes how sex is a ‘privileged theme of confession’ (Foucault, 1990:61) and how it has undergone considerable transformations. As a confession, he does not mean the clerical form of it, but rather a medical confession supervised by the state in order to analyse and categorise sexuality, which became a matter for the public administration: knowledge and power were both focused on sex.
Weeks argues that there is a problem in Foucault`s approach as by rejecting the theory of repression ‘he is in danger of passing over altogether the notion of social repression’ (Weeks, 1981:9). Foucault’s rejection obscures formal controls both ideological and physical that were often executed since the nineteenth century (Weeks, 1981). By the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, forms of sexuality other than heterosexuality were outlawed both in private and public, and were partly decriminalised just almost a century later, in 1967 and 1994 (Bristow, 1997).
Writings on the subject were abandoned or widely censured if they did not support the heterosexual image and the polar contrast of the sexes. Women who did not fit into the general category of maternity or purity were seen as prostitutes, and faced punishment. The 1857, the Obscene Publication Act outlawed all publications about birth-control, again in order to supervise reproduction and practise power over the female body.
TO BE CONTINUED…