“Discuss the two major schools of scholarship on the understanding of human sexuality from the point of view of social sciences”.
Human sexuality is a complex phenomenon that has been variously understood by social scientists. In recent years, two major schools have emerged in the social scientific field. Following Sigmund Freud, the Austrian psychoanalyst, there is a group of scholars who view sex as a psycho-sexual energy that confronts social repression and in turn is repressed by it. There is another influential group of scholars who follow the French philosopher Michel Foucault and argue that repression is not external to the understanding of human sexuality but a key to it. This paper explores both the views and makes a strong case for Michel Foucault’s understanding of the subject.
Two major schools of socio-scientific thought that have dominated western scholarship on sexuality are the Freudian and the Foucaultian schools. Sigmund Freud was the father of modern psychoanalysis and the progenitor of the idea of the unconscious. According to Freud, sexual repression occurs at the level of human unconscious, (Freud, 1900) whereby all the incestuous desires of a child is repressed through a fear of loss of manliness. Freud calls this castration complex (Freud, 1905). An adult normal human being, it is argued, represses his sexual desires in order to be socially acceptable.
Michel Foucault, the renowned French philosopher disagrees. According to Foucault, although repression does occur, sexuality is not hidden. In fact, the very act of repression opens up a range of public debate and discussion on how sexuality should be managed and handled. Foucault calls this the discourse of sexuality (Foucault, 1976). It refers to the polyvalent ways in which sexuality is debated, discussed, written about and spoken about in the public forum. When we talk about sexuality, we are automatically guided by this ‘discourse’. We are always bound by this discourse and are unable to think outside it.
In my opinion, Foucault’s ideas seem to be more convincing. Think of the current climate of public discussion of sexuality in so called ‘repressed societies’. Apparently we are all repressed and yet we constantly discuss sex and sexuality in public forum. Advertisements, newspapers, cinema and TV shows constantly discuss sexuality. They inform the ways we human beings relate to the concept of sexuality. It is therefore impossible for us to think of sexuality outside this public discourse. Psychological understanding of sex is therefore a part of this larger discourse and is not immune to societal politics.
- Freud, Sigmund, The Interpretation of Dreams, Franz Deuticke, Leipzig & Vienna, 1900.
- Freud, Sigmund, On Sexuality : Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and Other Works, Fischer, Frankfurt Am Main, 1905.
- Foucault Michel, The History of Sexuality, Trans. By Robert Hurley, Vintage Press, New York, 1976, Reprint, 1978.
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