Sex, Politics and Society

Sex, Politics and Society : The Regulation of Sexuality Since 1800

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A pioneering study which has become an established classic in its field, Sex, Politics and Society provides a lucid and comprehensive analysis of the transformations of British sexual life from 1800 to the present. These changes are firmly located in the wider context of British social, political and cultural life, from industrialization, urbanisation and the impact of Empire and colonisation, through the experience of economic disruption, World Wars, the establishment of the welfare state, changing patterns of gender and the emergence of new sexual identities. This book also charts the rise of both progressive and conservative social movements, including feminism, LGBT activism, and fundamentalist movements. It is a history where the past continues to live in the present, and where the present provides ever more complex, and often controversial patterns of sexual life, with sexual and gender issues at the heart of contemporary politics.

Now fully revised and updated, this edition examines key new developments including:

the impact of globalisation, and the digital revolution;
gender nonconformity and the rise of transgender consciousness;
shifting family and relational patterns, and new forms of intimacy;
changes in reproductive technology including the debates on IVF and surrogacy;
new discourses of equality and sexual rights for LGBT people;
the irresistible rise of same-sex marriage;
the weakening of the heterosexual/ homosexual binary divide and the development of new lines of concern and divisions in the politics of sexuality.

Combining rich empirical detail with innovative theoretical insights, Sex, Politics and Society remains at the cutting edge of the subject, and this fourth edition will inspire and provoke a whole new generation of readers in history, sociology, social policy and critical sexuality studies.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 384 pages
  • 159 x 235 x 31.75mm | 894g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New edition
  • 4th New edition
  • 1138963178
  • 9781138963177

Table of contents


Preface and Acknowledgements

1. Sexuality and the historian


Histories of sexuality

Sexuality and power

Sexuality and the politics of history

The making of `modern' sexuality

2. `That damned morality': sex in Victorian ideology

Victorian sexuality: myths and meanings

Emergent patterns

The domestic ideology

Sex and class

3. The sacramental family: middle-class men, women and children

Masculinity and femininity

Birth control


4. Sexuality and the labouring classes

Middle-class myths, working-class realities

Traditions, illegitimacy and proletarianisation

The patterns of family life

Respectability and its discontents

5. The public and the private: moral regulation in the Victorian period

Forms of moral regulation

Private morality, public vice

Reform or control?

6. The construction of homosexuality

Homosexuality: concepts and consequences

The sins of sodom

Moral, legal and medical regulation

Identities and ways of life

Intimate lives

7. The population question in the early twentieth century

Population politics



The influence of eugenics

8. The theorisation of sex

A new continent of knowledge

Sex, science and society

Havelock Ellis and sex research

The impact of Freud

9. Feminism and socialism

Sexual radicalism and its limits

Feminism and sexuality

The morals of socialism

10. Sex psychology and birth control

Sex psychology

International movements

Parenthood and birth control

11. Towards a conservative modernity

A `glorious unfolding'?

Domesticity and family life

Protecting purity

Psychology and sex delinquency

12. The state and sexuality

Welfare and citizenship

Reproducing the population

Towards the complementary marriage

`Wolfenden' and sexual liberalism

13. The permissive moment

The transition





The political moment

The limits of permissiveness

14. Personal politics and moral conservatism

The ebbing tide

Second-wave feminism

The challenge of gay liberation

The new moralism

The Thatcherite experiment

The AIDS crisis

15. The changing landscape of sexuality and gender

Intimate pleasures

Doing families

A gender revolution?

16. Diversity, agency and citizenship

The changing world of LGBT people

Becoming ordinary

Multicultural Britain?

Live and let love

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Review quote

'This is the most comprehensive historical study of modern sexuality to date. Weeks leaves no topic untouched in his quest to cover the varieties of human sexual experience in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This is an essential text for courses on the history of modern European sexuality. Scholars and students alike will benefit from his exhaustive inclusion of every topic from Victorianism to society's modern consideration of LGBT people.'

Jennifer D. Thibodeaux, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, USA

'Sex, Politics and Society was groundbreaking when it was first published - and it has fully stood the test of time. This new updated edition speaks as eloquently to us now of the intersections of sex and sexuality with culture, politics and society as it did in 1981. It remains lodestone in my work.'

Matt Cook, Birkbeck, University of London, UK

'For more than three decades, Jeffrey Weeks' Sex, Politics and Society has been an essential guide to the history of sexuality in modern Britain. Like its predecessors, this new edition offers accessible explanations of complex theoretical material, while expertly tracing shifts in attitudes towards, and experiences of, sexuality since 1800. The addition of extended discussions on LBGT rights, same-sex marriage, and the fluidity of gender and sexual identities brings its story up to date. This remains an indispensable work for anyone interested in how people have lived and loved over the past two centuries.'

Tracey Loughran, Cardiff University, UK
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About Jeffrey Weeks

Jeffrey Weeks is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at London South Bank University, UK. He has an international reputation for work on the history and sociology of sexuality. His previous publications include The World We Have Won (2007), The Languages of Sexuality (2011), What is Sexual History? (2016), Coming Out (3rd edition, 2016), and Sexuality (4th edition, 2017).
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