Yvonne Knibiehler

Sexuality and History Publication date : September 1, 2002

After the euphoric years of “sexual liberation”, sex has begun once again to raise fears. It transmits dangerous, often deathly, diseases. It inspires increasingly frightening forms of violence: gang rape, paedophilia, pornography, etc. Women and children are the main victims.
Given the context, what can be done today to help young people — as individuals and as citizens — deal with the basic fact of gender differences? How can society go about replacing the rules that governed sexual behaviour until they that were discredited in the 1970s?
In this concise and factual historical review, written in a willingly neutral style, Yvonne Knibielher examines half a dozen topical problems from a historian’s perspective, following a chronological progression from Antiquity to the present. She studies the relations between sexuality and violence, from the rape of the Sabine women to gang rape in housing estates today. She shows the difference between Greek pederasty and contemporary paedophilia, between ancient representations of nudity and sexist ads. She explains the existence of intimate reactions such as modesty as well as the development of forceful institutions such as marriage. Above all, she reveals the powerful hold of sexuality over all aspects of civilisation.
Knibielher’s careful observation of previous generations, in this concise but essential book, should provide readers with the tools for further reflection on the relationship between sexuality and violence.

Yvonne Knibielher, a historian and feminist, is the author of La Révolution maternelle (Perrin, 1997) and L’Histoire des mères et de la maternité en Occident (PUF, 2000). In addition, she contributed to L’Histoire des femmes, edited by G. Duby and M. Perrot (Plon, 1991).