Foucault, Sex, and a little bit of Freud

March 25, 2007

On 1648 Foucault writes of sex, “As if in order to gain mastery over it in reality, it had first been necessary to subjugate it at the level of language, control its free circulation in speech, expunge it from the things that were said, and extinguish the words that rendered it too visibly present.”  What I got from that is that on its own, “sex” is something too abstract to be roped in and be controlled.  So in order to control it, it must first be put into a form that can be controlled, language. 

I did a little reading in Barry, and found that Foucault was into new historicism.  “New historicism is resolutely anti-establishment, always implicitly on the side of liberal ideals of personal freedom and accepting and celebrating all forms of difference and ‘deviance’.” (Barry, 175.)  After reading “The History of Sexuality,”  it is easy to see why Foucault would subscribe to new historicism.  Through the essay, he is obviously against any form of establishment, and thinks that sex is something that should be kept on an individual level.  In his wikipedia profile ( it also lists Althusser and Marx as being influences on Foucault.

On page 1653 Foucault mentions Freud’s Three Essays on Sexuality.  And while I was on wikipedia, I figured I’d look to see what they were all about.  “In short, Freud argued that “perversion” was present even among the healthy, and that the path towards a mature and normal sexual attitude began not at puberty but at early childhood (see psychosexual development). Looking at children, Freud claimed to find a number of practices which looked innocuous but were really forms of sexual activity (thumb sucking was a primary example, the implications being fairly obvious). Freud also sought to link his theory of the unconscious put forward in The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) and his work on hysteria by means of positing sexuality as the driving force of both neuroses (through repression) and perversion. It also included the concepts of penis envy, castration anxiety, and the Oedipus complex.”  (

On  1655, Foucault mentions a new kind of school, “Salzmann even organized an experimental school which owed its exceptional character to a supervision and education of sex so well thought out that youth’s universal sin would never need to be practiced there.  And with all these measures taken, the child was not to be simply the mute and unconscious object of attentions prearranged between adults only; a certain reasonable, limited, canonical, and truthful discourse on sex was prescribed for him– a kind of discursive orthopedics.”  A special school where kids go to learn about sex?  With the way things are today, that may be necessary.  It seems today that nobody wants to talk to kids about sex, parents expect schools to do it, and schools expect parents to do it. 

I think my favorite part from the essay is in this section still on page 1655 when he describes the outcome of the children’s sex education in this school, “The replies were enlightened, offered without shame or embarrassment.  No unseemly laughter intervened to disturb them–except from the very ranks of an adult audience more childish than the children themselves, and whom Wolke severely reprimanded.”  This just goes to show that no matter how old you are, you may still not be mature enough to talk about sex.  


2 Responses to “Foucault, Sex, and a little bit of Freud”

  1. joei5 said

    Hey Ryan,
    You’re probably tired of me always commenting on your blogs, but I always end up talking about the same things you do in your blog! =)

    Anyway, I picked out the same quote on page 1655 about sex and schools. It really is so true where you said that “parents expect schools to do it, and schools expect parents to do it.” It’s like a lot of parents today just don’t believe that their children would do such a thing. Maybe they do know, they just don’t want to come to terms with it? Either way, I really think the smart thing to do would be to sit them down and talk about it with them.

  2. bobsaget said

    Come on Ryan where is the tie in Seinfeld or Simpsons? Maybe reflect back to the line “Sex… to save the friendship?” This line by Jerry is all I could muster and could not figure out a clever way to tie it in. Anyway I also found Foucalts view on sex education on children amusing as well. The problem is that it was hard for me to pick out what he was serious about or what he was against. As always the writing is confusing but this guy I just didnt get. On page 1653 he says “men multiply like the yields from the ground and in proportion to the advantages and resources they find in their labor” I figured Rubin would get a kick out of this since her writing reflects the image Foucalt produces. Men do recieve advantages over women for thier labor and aquire more resources. It seems Rubin would have a problem with this. But agree with he fact that he could acknowledge this taboo over sex and its transformatin into language.

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