Histories of French Sexuality


Histories of French Sexuality

From the Enlightenment to the Present

Edited by Nina Kushner and Andrew Israel Ross

360 pages
4 illustrations, index


May 2023


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May 2023


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May 2023


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About the Book

Histories of French Sexuality contends that the history of sexuality is at a crossroads. Decades of scholarship have shown that sexuality is implicated in a wide range of topics, such as studies of reproduction, the body, sexual knowledge, gender identity, marriage, and sexual citizenship. These studies have broadened historical narratives and interpretations of areas such as urbanization, the family, work, class, empire, the military and war, and the nation. Yet while the field has evolved, not everyone has caught on, especially scholars of French history.

Covering the early eighteenth century through the present, the essays in Histories of French Sexuality show how attention to the history of sexuality deepens, changes, challenges, supports, or otherwise complicates the major narratives of French history. This volume makes a set of historical arguments about the nature of the past and a larger historiographical claim about the value and place of the field of the history of sexuality within the broader discipline of history. The topics include early empire-building, religion, the Enlightenment, feminism, socialism, formation of the modern self, medicine, urbanization, decolonization, the social world of postwar France, and the rise of modern and social media.

Author Bio

Nina Kushner is an associate professor of history at Clark University. She is author of Erotic Exchanges: Elite Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century Paris and coeditor of Women and Work in Eighteenth-Century France. Andrew Israel Ross is an associate professor of history at Loyola University Maryland. He is the author of Public City/Public Sex: Homosexuality, Prostitution, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris.


“These articles illustrate maturity and diversity in an exciting field of history. They employ an exemplary variety of sources to investigate the many ways in which sexuality is embedded in the fabric of public as well as private life.”—Jeffrey Merrick, author of Sodomy in Eighteenth-Century France

“This wonderful collection of imaginatively researched essays demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that sex matters in history. While the focus is on France, the book’s temporal and thematic breadth demonstrates that any empirically rigorous investigation of sexual mores, scandal, regulation, and public or private expressions of desire can lead us to new insights about the structure and rules of politics, the mechanisms of racial policy and colonial rule, and the role of the media in establishing or enforcing sexual identities and taboos. We are introduced to colonists in the Americas and Africa, to Parisian flâneurs, to various ‘unchaste women’ and their paramours, and to sexual pioneers of the digital age. Collectively, the authors take us on a journey that will inspire future research in French history and beyond.”—Annette F. Timm, coauthor of Gender, Sex, and the Shaping of Modern Europe

“The more senior scholars in this collection are leading voices in the history of French sexuality and its many connections with related developments in social, cultural, and gender relations from the Old Regime onward. And the younger historians here develop new, striking perspectives, some of them derived from recent efforts among activists to redefine sexual manners and mores within a rapidly changing demographic landscape in the Western world. This work richly deserves the attention of a broad anglophone audience.”—James Smith Allen, author of A Civil Society: The Public Space of Freemason Women in France, 1744–1944

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Andrew Israel Ross and Nina Kushner
1. Colonial Liberties: Sex, Race, and the Law in the French Atlantic, 1603–1791
Jennifer J. Davis
2. Blood, Rape, and Stigmata: Revisiting the Cadière-Girard Affair of 1730
Cathy McClive
3. Unchaste Women: Sexuality and Identity in the Eighteenth Century
Nina Kushner
4. Domesticating Pleasure: The Sexual Politics of the French Enlightenment
Lisa Jane Graham
5. The Queer Gaze in Haussmann’s Paris, 1850–1900
Andrew Israel Ross
6. Secrets, Sex, and Medicine in Late Nineteenth-Century France
Jessie Hewitt
7. Sex, Scandal, and Power in the Steinheil Affair of 1908–1909
Sarah Horowitz
8. Mériadeck, Sexual Commerce, and the Urban Milieu
Michelle K. Rhoades
9. Two Readings of Gabrielle, or Passion, Mobility, and the Governance of White Prestige in Colonial Senegal
Jennifer Anne Boittin
10. Sex before 1968: Adolescence and the Presse Féminine
Sarah Fishman
11. Creating Lesbian Community: Sexuality on the French Minitel in the 1980s
Tamara Chaplin
Robert A. Nye

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