New Books Network

Paulo Drinot’s The Sexual Question: A History of Prostitution in Peru, 1850s-1950s (Cambridge University Press, 2020) studies the interplay of sexuality, society, and the state...

Paulo Drinot’s The Sexual Question: A History of Prostitution in Peru, 1850s-1950s (Cambridge University Press, 2020) studies the interplay of sexuality, society, and the state in Peru in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Drinot analyzes the rules and norms that governed prostitution and venereal disease in this period, and tracks how regulation of prostitution was implemented in the early twentieth century, and then seemingly abandoned in the 1950s. Drinot’s story foregrounds the many agents that intervened in this process: prostitutes––or sex workers as we may call them today––but also government officials, physicians, journalists, feminists, among others.

Set in a global and comparative framework, this book centers on Peru, a country that came “late” to the regulation of prostitution, and did so under arguments that combined concerns about public health and ideas about proper female and male sexuality. The Sexual Question goes beyond the history of prostitution for it also sheds light on broader processes such as the medicalization of society and the construction of the nation-state in Latin American societies. Race figures prominently in this story: throughout this period, the regulation of prostitution was accompanied by the racialization of disease, and the policing of certain groups deemed especially dangerous or in need of protection (Afro-Peruvians and indigenous groups for example). This is a timely book, not only for those listeners concerned with Latin American history, but also for those who are interested in sexuality, the state, race, and medical history more generally. A must for our listeners!


Lisette Varón-Carvajal is a PhD Candidate at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. You can tweet her and suggest books at @LisetteVaron