This is why I’m always trying to get editors to let me write about sex. Alyssa Goldstein runs through the history of how women used to be considered almost dangerously horny to the point of needing constant containment and supervision right up until the 19th century, when women realized that the fight for equality would go better if they downplayed the slutty-Dionysian-force-of-nature thing. The price of respect was giving up sex – and demonizing anyone who didn’t.
If women could raise themselves up to the level of angels by being passionless, then they had so much further to fall if they did give in to their desires. As D’Emilio and Freedman explain, “In the past, as long as she repented, the woman who once sinned–like the male transgressor–could be reintegrated into the community. Now, however, because women allegedly occupied a higher moral plane than man, her fall was so great that it tainted her for life.” These “fallen women” were barred from their families and communities, and often had to work as prostitutes to support themselves.
And in the American south, as Edmund Wilson argued in Patriotic Gore, the gentility of the southern belle depended on their husbands’ sexual access to the slave quarters. In this way sexuality becomes social policy and even epistemology. As the divide between “decent” and “indecent” grows more stark, fearful people emerge to police the boundaries, projecting their hidden lusts onto the people with dark skins or strange perversions, and everything gets affected — war, racism, class, crime, even education policy.
(thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the heads up)