Irregular Connections traces the anthropological study of sex from the eighteenth century to the present, focusing primarily on social and cultural anthropology and the work done by researchers in North America and Great Britain. Andrew P. and Harriet D. Lyons argue that the sexuality of those whom anthropologists studied has been conscripted into Western discourses about sex, including debates about prostitution, homosexuality, divorce, premarital relations, and hierarchies of gender, class, and race.
Because sex is the most private of activities and often carries a high emotional charge, it is peculiarly difficult to investigate. At times, such as the late 1920s and the last decade of the twentieth century, sexuality has been a central concern of anthropologists and focal in their theoretical formulations. At other times the study of sexuality has been marginalized. The anthropology of sex has sometimes been one of the main faces that anthropology presented to the public, often causing resentment within the discipline.
Irregular Connections discusses several individuals who have played a significant role in the anthropological study of sexuality, including Sir Richard Burton, Havelock Ellis, Edward Westermarck, Bronislaw Malinowski, Margaret Mead, George Devereux, Robert Levy, Gilbert Herdt, Stephen O. Murray, and Esther Newton. Synthesizing a wealth of information from different anthropological traditions, the authors offer a seamless history of the anthropology of sex as it has been practiced and conceptualized in North America and Great Britain.