The work that follows is drawn from papers and essays, published and unpublished, written over the past decade (1984-94). It is not, however, merely a collection of such papers and essays. Each has been revised, frequently incorporating concepts and insights developed in others. By the same token, it is not intended to represent a single, continuous text of fering a comprehensive theory of human sexuality. Indeed, it is a major contention of this work that such a comprehensive theory of human sexuality necessarily implies otherwise questionable essentialisms; such an effort must adopt a view of sexualities that are significantly independent of specific sociocultural contingencies. I will argue that all discourses of sexuality are inherently discourses about something else; sexuality, rather than serving as a constant thread that unifies the totality of human experience, is the ultimate dependent variable, requiring explanation more often than it provides explanation. At best, this book aims at developing a conceptual apparatus for dealing with this complex and profoundly variable topic.
One consequence of my abandonment of any pretense at a linear coherence is an inevitable redundancy This is particularly true when the concepts most central to the effort, such as “scripting” and the distinction between “paradigmatic” and “postparadigmatic” social orders, are applied. Such redundancies might be defended on two grounds. First, as one considers for whom one is writing, it is necessary to recognize that many readers will not read this book from beginning to end. One of the most prominent aspects of the current, postmodern condition can only be described as a crisis of intellectual overproduction. As a result, increasing numbers of us, particularly those involved in multidisciplinary topics, learn to read selectively. At the same time, an attending pluralization of perspectives leaves little by way of common conceptual meanings. Few of even the most generic of sociological concepts can currently be used without specification of specific meanings. Second, appearing in different contexts, each presentation of central concepts provides what are often critically different shades of meaning.
A second concern, one repeated throughout this book, is the inevitable biases found in the unexamined assumption of the author. As one who has tried to call attention to the ways in which Freud’s vision of human sexuality was colored by
his experiences within a specific historical setting, I cannot exempt myself from the same accusation: the risk of having one’s perceptions and preferred images of representation be tainted by a multidimensional ethnocentrism. I am a white, late middle-aged male who has lived his entire life in North America, and whose sexual experience has been predominantly heterosexual. And while I have attempted to limit the effects of such inevitable biases by being as cognizant as possible of available research and commentary, such efforts may actually serve as much as a mask for biases as serving as protection from such biases.
The best defense against the biases of time, place, and experience is an effort to avoid allowing the sometimes powerful imagery of sexuality to create a seemingly isolated culture of its own, and to place such considerations in as broad an intellectual frame of reference as possible. This, to the best of my ability, I have tried to do: to try to make sense out of sexuality by applying the larger text of making sense out of being human. As Darnton (1994) observed:
As carnal knowledge works its way into cultural patterns, it supplies endless material for thought, especially when it appears in narratives — dirty jokes, male braggadocio, female gossip, bawdy songs, and erotic novels. In all these forms, sex is not simply a subject but also a tool, used to pry the top off things and explore their inner things. It does for ordinary people what logic does for philosophers; it helps make sense of things.
To which I can only add: I hope so.
William Simon Houston, Texas