Orgasm, Generation, and the Politics of Reproductive Biology


Orgasm, Generation, and the Politics of Reproductive Biology



University of California Press

publication year



SOMETIME IN THE LATE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY human sexual nature changed, to paraphrase Virginia Woolf. This essay gives an account of the radical eighteenth-century reconstitution of female, and more generally human, sexuality in relation to the equally radical Enlightenment political reconstitution of "Man"-the universalistic claim, stated with starkest clarity by Condorcet, that the "rights of men result simply from the fact that they are sentient beings, capable of acquiring moral ideas and of reasoning concerning these ideas. [And that] women, having these same qualities, must necessarily possess equal rights."' Condorcet moves immediately to biology and specifically to reproductive biology. Exposure to pregnancy, he says, is no more relevant to women's political rights than is male susceptibility to gout. But of course the facts or supposed facts of female physiology were central to Condorcet, to Mill, to feminists as well as antifeminists, to liberalism in its various forms and also to its enemies. Even the political pornography of Sade is grounded in a theory of generation. The body generally, but especially the female body in its reproductive capacity and in distinction from that of the male, came to occupy a critical place in a whole range of political discourses. It is the connection between politics and a new disposition of male and female that concerns me here.2 Near the end of the century of Enlightenment, medical science and those who relied upon it ceased to regard the female orgasm as relevant to generation.

education level





Katie Arthur

was created by

Laqueur, Thomas

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