Why are Americans, and American politicians more specifically, obsessed with sex? Why, in the words of Janet Jakobsen, are gender and sexuality such riveting public policy concerns the United States? In The Sex Obsession: Perversity and Possibility in American Politics
(NYU Press, 2020), Jakobsen answers this question by breaking apart the standard narrative that religion is primarily responsible for the moral regulation of sexuality. Instead of viewing religion as the devil of the story, Jakobsen proposes taking a kaleidoscopic approach to better understand the dynamics of sexual politics. Using this approach, Jakobsen analyzes sex when it is the focus of the discussion and demonstrates how sex remains consequential even when it appears to be on the periphery. Jakobsen’s kaleidoscopic approach allows the reader to see the complex dynamics of sexual politics and challenges the assumption that religion is the basis for sexual values.
Janet Jakobsen is Claire Tow Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University.