The Sex Obsession

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Perversity and Possibility in American Politics

The Sex Obsession takes up seemingly intractable conflicts over gender and sexuality in American politics and offers a way out. Sex is everywhere it seems. Sex is at the center of contemporary political polarization. Sex is in the midst of a wide range of movements like including those for women’s, gay, and trans liberation and reproductive justice. And sex is at the center of policy debates focused on welfare, policing, and immigration in the 1990s, or wars claiming to “save women” in the 2000s, or over healthcare during the Obama Administration, or about the meaning of nationalism in the Trump era.

Religion has been wound up in these political struggles, but Jakobsen decisively breaks with the common sense that religion and sex are the fixed binary of American political life. She instead follows the kaleidoscopic ways in which sexual politics are embedded in social relations of all kinds – not only the intimate relations of love and family with which gender and sex are routinely associated, but also secularism, freedom, race, disability, capitalism, nation and state, housing, and the environment.

In the midst of these obsessions, Jakobsen’s promiscuous ethical imagination guides us forward. Drawing on examples from collaborative projects among activists and academics Jakobsen shows that sexual politics can contribute to building justice from the ground up, and that gender and sexual relations are practices through which values emerge and communities are made. Sex and desire, gender and embodiment emerge as bases of ethical possibility, breaking political stalemate and opening new possibilities.

NYU Press
Pub Date: Aug 25, 2020

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News & Reviews
  • Library Journal Reviews “The Sex Obsession”
    VERDICT Highly recommended for those seeking greater clarity about how sex, race, and gender are mobilized in American political life. Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Library Journal
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PRAISE

“Shreds our common-sense narratives about sexual politics in the United States. The author dismantles the misleading opposition between religious regulation and secular freedom and leads us through a dynamic intersectional analysis to a provocatively thrilling call for theoretical promiscuity and relational perversity in the service of an expansive practice of social justice. This meticulously argued, groundbreaking book is a must-read for all of us engaged in building another world from the ground up.”

Lisa Duggan, author of Mean Girl: Ayn Rand and the Culture of Greed

“It has become common sense that U.S. politics around issues of sex, race, and gender are an intransigent political struggle between Christian conservatives and secular libertines. Yet how true is this narrative—and whom does it serve? Jakobsen argues this simplistic dichotomy of religious traditionalists vs. secular progressives shores up, rather than dismantles, persistent inequalities … Highly recommended for those seeking greater clarity about how sex, race, and gender are mobilized in American political life.”

STARRED Library Journal

“This original and deeply learned book provides a compelling examination of sexual politics over the past five decades in relation to religious intolerance as well as the possibilities for an expansive ethics of care. Jakobsen brings together queer, feminist, critical race, postcolonial, disability, and religious studies to analyze how and why sex has come to overshadow other progressive values for evaluating moral wellbeing, such as economic equality, racial justice, opposition to war, and environmental health. Jakobsen’s argument is irrefutable: until we recognize the complex relations among the sexual, the economic, and the political, we undermine the prospects for alliance building and social justice.”

David L. Eng, author of The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Radicalization of Intimacy

“It has become common sense that U.S. politics around issues of sex, race, and gender are an intransigent political struggle between Christian conservatives and secular libertines. Yet how true is this narrative—and whom does it serve? Jakobsen argues this simplistic dichotomy of religious traditionalists vs. secular progressives shores up, rather than dismantles, persistent inequalities … Highly recommended for those seeking greater clarity about how sex, race, and gender are mobilized in American political life.”

STARRED Library Journal

“An essential companion to this moment and all that troubles it, The Sex Obsession begins with the beguiling question, why is sex everywhere in US policy debates? It then refutes the commonsensical answer: because of religion. By showing how the secular/religious binary clouds an understanding of the dense intersections between myriad social forces, Janet Jakobsen offers a brilliant, riveting, and incisive study full of transformative conceptions of the possible and previously hidden passages to social change. Read this book to imagine life differently.””

Mary Pat Brady, author of Extinct Lands, Temporal Geographies: Chicana Literature and the Urgency of Space

“Janet Jakobsen’s The Sex Obsession is a tremendous book; it makes a major contribution to our understanding of US culture. In four crisp chapters, Jakobsen convincingly demonstrates that many of our most strongly held assumptions about politics and sex are false—and also dangerous. She skillfully highlights the ways in which narratives of ‘progress’ produce skewed understandings of US culture and politics. Jakobsen’s analysis of the complicated relationships between secular ideologies and religious ones is especially compelling. The Sex Obsession is both timely and brilliant.””

David Harrington Watt, author of Antifundamentalism in Modern America
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