Steven G. EpsteinMay 30, 2022
The Quest for Sexual Health
How an Elusive Ideal Has Transformed Science, Politics, and Everyday Life
University of Chicago Press 2022
Since the 1970s, health professionals, researchers, governments, advocacy groups, and commercial interests have invested in the pursuit of something called “sexual health.” Under this expansive banner, a wide array of programs have been launched, organizations founded, initiatives funded, products sold—and yet, no book before this one asks: What does it mean to be sexually healthy? When did people conceive of a form of health called sexual health? And how did it become the gateway to addressing a host of social harms and the reimagining of private desires and public dreams?
Conjoining “sexual” with “health” changes both terms: it alters how we conceive of sexuality and transforms what it means to be healthy, prompting new expectations of what medicine can provide. Yet the ideal of achieving sexual health remains elusive and open-ended, and the benefits and costs of promoting it are unevenly distributed across genders, races, and sexual identities. Rather than a thing apart, sexual health is intertwined with nearly every conceivable topical debate—from sexual dysfunction to sexual violence, from reproductive freedom to the practicalities of sexual contact in a pandemic.
In The Quest for Sexual Health: How an Elusive Ideal Has Transformed Science, Politics, and Everyday Life (U Chicago Press, 2022), Steven Epstein analyzes the rise, proliferation, uptake, and sprawling consequences of sexual health activities, offering critical tools to assess those consequences, expand capacities for collective decision making, and identify pathways that promote social justice.
Rachel Pagones is an acupuncturist, educator, and author based in Cambridge, England. Her book, Acupuncture as Revolution: Suffering, Liberation, and Love (Brevis Press) was published in 2021.