Age difference and the emergence of gendered models of sexuality in European sexual science?

Our project directors, Professor Kate Fisher and Dr Jana Funke spoke at the conference¬†Histoires de la sexologie / Histories of sexology conference, University of Lausanne, 12th December 2016. Their paper was on ‘Age difference and the emergence of gendered models of sexuality in European sexual science?’.

Abstract

This paper explores the centrality of ideas about youth and sexuality, sexual corruption and age-structured sexual relationships to the emergence and shape of European sexology. We argue that alongside and informing the emergence of an understanding of sexuality that divided people according to a gendered binary (homosexual/heterosexual) was a series of contested debates about youth and sexuality. Indeed the very category of the homosexual, defined by his/her attraction to an individual (of any age) but of the same sex was, in part, a response to the need to distinguish homosexuality from age-unequal relationships, that were increasingly seen as unacceptable. Our paper also puts cross-European dialogue under the microscope. Some of the tensions informing the emergence of gendered models of sexuality were locally specific (e.g. the Oscar Wilde trials, British public school scandals, the German Knaben-Liebe movement), whereas others (e.g. the study of texts and materials from ancient Greece, debates about the age of consent, etiological questions about the extent to which homosexuality was a matter of influence and corruption) were influential across Europe and discussed in European meetings and congresses. The challenges of facing appropriate methodologies for writing about European connections and European differences in the writing of European sexology is thus a key question that our paper will consider.

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