Book Reviews, Love, Sociocultural Phenomena

Neosexualities: Cultural Change in Love and Perversion

By Volkmar Sigusch (1940–2023) [1]

Part I

«Young people today vacillate quite confidently between undramatic fidelity in love relationships and dramatized events full of thrills. Their neosexuality, which will become generalized, is more of a feel-good lust than the libidinous lust of old. It is self-optimized and self-disciplined. Due to its high degree of egotisms, it can indeed be referred to as self-sex, which is also concurrent with the enormous social and emotional revaluation of masturbation in the past decades. Masturbation is the only sexual practice that has gone from being a persecuted, frowned-upon no-go to being appreciated by both men and women in the course of the 20th century.» (Preface)

Volkmar Sigusch not only graduated in psychiatric medicine, he was moreover an intellectual of the first order, who had studied with Adorno and Horkheimer. He was habitually outspoken and defied all but few boundaries. Accordingly fresh and invigorating is his book, which is actually a handbook of sorts for all social failings in the field of sexuality. It would make an excellent must-read for all the uptight people in the world, addressing as it does countless taboos that all of us should be confronting. A lot of research remains to be done in the field of sexology, and the list of prejudices to be dealt with is endless.

It is highly gratifying that Sigusch gives primacy to sociology and empiricism over psychology. He thus comes much closer than many of his colleagues to lived practices. He opposed the «psychiatrization» of sexual disorders all his life. A pioneer of German sexual medicine, he took an intensive part in the development of the more recent sexual criminal law. He liked to refer to medicine as «economy’s whore».

Sigusch founded the Institute for Sexual Science in Frankfurt as early as 1972 and headed it until his retirement in 2006. His institute continued in the tradition of the homonymous Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (1919–1933), founded by Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin. Volkmar Sigusch established critical sexual science and regarded his sexual research above all as social criticism. Unlike most others, he addressed issues such as loneliness, pressure to perform, violence, and a wide variety of stigmas. He was also one of the first to integrate gender studies into his teaching, and he was the one to coin the term «cisgender» in 1991.

Photography: Youssef Limoud

Sexuality, gentle and disciplined

«Heterosexuals today can choose very different forms of relationships without being out of the ordinary. Men have become somewhat more «feminine» and women somewhat more «masculine»; the two major sexes are converging. In light of the pioneering role of homosexual men in the last third of the 20th century—take the keyword gay movement—it is no exaggeration to say that heterosexuality has been homosexualized. Consider the new body awareness of many heterosexual men, who are no longer satisfied with a paunch and a pair of double rib underpants every two weeks. Consider how the old offers of fidelity have changed, leading to the compatibility of love and libido relationships. Consider the loss of significance that the spheres of reproduction and family of origin have undergone. For the first time in the history that we are aware of, heterosexuals are even free to be asexual and to publicly declare a persistent lack of interest in sexual desires without being ridiculed, or worse, despised.» (Preface)

«At the age of 60, many people still behave as if they had just turned 30. It should give us pause that they would not change places with young people despite the prevailing youth fetish. Not even those who are already confronted with their withered bodies want to start all over again today. Poor youth. Aren’t young people amazingly gentle and disciplined in view of this situation? Shouldn’t they be much tougher and shriller?»

To be continued in two weeks!

[1] Volkmar Sigusch, Neosexualitäten. Über den kulturellen Wandel von Liebe und Perversion, Campus Verlag, Frankfurt a. M., 2005


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