complex societal framework .
Few people today would admit to inclinations towards incestor bestiality, knowing the strongly prohibitive attitude of society towards such desires.
If sexuality is taken to be the “capacity for sexual desire”, does this mean that a history of sexuality is impossible? A comprehensive history is certainly impossible, but that is true of all history. It is important to consider what a history of sexuality comprises. A history of religion is not simply a study of the beliefs of many individuals, but concerns the interactionof religion with society, its practice, changes and continuities in the over time. In the sameway, while sexual desires are central to a history of sexuality, the practice of sexuality, thetreatment of deviants and the interaction of sexuality with society are also important.Therefore a flawed, but still worthwhile, history of sexuality can be written.The concept of a history of sexuality is further complicated by the constructionist-essentialistdebate, as to whether sexuality is a continuous or discontinuous concept.
Either view couldmake a history of sexuality conceptually dubious. If sexuality is a transhistorical andtranscultural constant, the extreme of the essentialist argument, favoured by historians such asJohn Boswell, how can it have a history?
If the constructionist view that society and cultureshape sexuality, so that there is nothing fundamental to sexuality except that which anindividual society imposes, as argued by Henry Abelove and once argued by David Halperinis correct, how can modern historians recognise all of these sexualities as one concept tostudy? However, sexuality is neither a transhistorical, nor utterly discontinuous. The modernwestern view of sexuality, in which people are divided into categories according to theobjects of their desire is, as discussed above, relatively new. Such a categorisation does notaccord with the classical Athenian sexuality, where sexual role rather than sexual object wasimportant, so that while an adult citizen male might have sexual relations with anyone of lower social status, he must have an active penetrative role, in accordance with his social position.
This lack of distinction made between sexual objects clearly demonstrates somevariation in different times and cultures in sexuality. Sexuality is not entirely discontinuouseither but gradually changing, as is demonstrated by Halperin himself, in the softening of his
Bodies that matter: on the discursive limits of sex
, (London, 1993), pp. 1-5.
The history of sexuality: Volume 1
, p. 38.
Valerie Traub, “The present future of Lesbian historiography”, in
A companion to Lesbian, gay, bisexual,transgender and queer studies
, George E. Heggarty and Molly McGarry (eds.), (Oxford, 2007), pp. 124-145, pp.124, 139 and David M. Halperin,
How to do the history of homosexuality
, (London, 2002), pp. 60, 105.
H.G. Cocks, and Matt Houlbrook, “Introduction”, in
Palgrave advances in the modern history of sexuality
,H.G. Cocks and Matt Houlbrook (eds.), (Basingstoke, 2006), pp. 3-18, p. 9 and Voss, “Sexuality inarchaeology”, p. 45.
K.J. Dover, “Classical Greek attitudes to sexual behaviour” in
Sexuality and gender in the classical world
,Laura K. McClure (ed.), (Oxford, 2002), pp. 19-33, p. 26 and Halperin, “Is there a history of sexuality?”, p. 418.3