Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 9, April 18, 2006


Theorizing Sex in Heterodox Society:

Postmodernity, Late Capitalism and Non-monogamous Sexual Behavior

Richard Coon, PhD

Introduction 1

This discourse sets forth an account of past and present normative stands and their relationship to a contemporary form of sexual activity termed “the lifestyle”. The paper represents what Foucault termed an “effective history” (Grenz, p.147 , 1996 ), in that I make no claim to a privileged perspective outside of history but rather set forth a pragmatic account which suggests a coherent interpretation of a possible history of action that helps explain why standards of behavior appeared in history as they have and why they are now changing. The claims of the piece are grounded in a pragmatic understanding of truth rather than an essentialist, objectivist assertion of universal certainty.

The Lifestyle/Swinging

Recently various authors have reported the growth in numbers of people participating in what has been termed swinging or “the Lifestyle” (Schnakenberg, 2002; Laying, 1998; Bergstrand and Blevins Williams, 2000, Gould, 2001; St. John, 2004). Gould (2001), for example, asserts that millions of people in the U.S. participate or have participated in the swinging lifestyle. By using one of the various search engines available on the Internet one can get some idea of the growing ubiquity of this lifestyle choice, even though this non-monogamous form of sexual expression has historically been considered morally inappropriate behavior. The question I seek to deal with here is why this practice now appears to be more acceptable than it was in the past several hundred years. That is, what is it about the contemporary social situation that has created this state of affairs? My approach to this examination will suggest that both cultural and structural factors have played a major role in cultivating a normative landscape which creates a more open and pluralist understanding of sexual practice, thereby weakening the negative normative standards historically associated with non-monogamous behavior. The individual psychological reasons, however, for the increase in what is termed “sex positive” 2 behavior seem to vary widely. As one swingers website states: “One could easily conclude that the reasons for participating in swinging are as varied as the people who like swinging themselves.” (www.xxxwebspace.net/xguides/swinging/) Hence, what I will suggest is that there have been certain transformations in the make up of contemporary social organization and practice that have created the opportunity for a shift in paradigm/episteme and that this shift has facilitated the increased potential for people to carry out behavior which has always been part of the human behavior matrix but was suppressed due to normative standards grounded in a different social and cultural matrix of discursive formations 3.

Situating the normative sexual narrative in history

Later in this section of the paper I articulate a necessarily brief outline exposition of some of the forces which are implicated in the construction of the morality of monogamy. First, however, I will indicate why the constitution of monogamy as the moral high ground is problematic.

Various authors have begun to question the institutionalization of sexual monogamy as an essential or “natural” model of social and reproductive organization. For example, Michael Medved (p.2, 2002), while being discordant with this state of affairs, none the less has noted that “cutting edge anthropologists have recently ... suggest(ed) that the monogamous restraints of the traditional nuclear family represent an unnatural and unhealthy development for humanity.” In their book “The Myth of Monogamy”, Barash and Lipton argue that “...the evidence is overwhelming that monogamy is no more natural to human beings than it is to other living things.”( 2001. p 141) They suggest that monogamy may well be the outcome of what is more or less a political strategy worked out in antiquity by males to lesson the infighting over sexual access. Further, they point out that polygamous sexual relationships appear to have been as “natural” a manifestation as any other for a large segment of human history. Citing the work of Baker and Bellis regarding sperm competition, Gould points out that their research indicates that “(i)n our evolutionary past, monogamy had probably never existed as a biological ‘norm’ for our species” (2001, p. 209). In fact, Dupanloup et. al. (2003) suggest that for most of our history humans were polygynous and only relatively recently took up monogamy as our primary approach to sexual interaction. Further, in his paper “The Establishment and Maintenance of Socially Imposed Monogamy in Western Europe”, Kevin MacDonald (1995) indicates that for numerous reasons monogamy is a social/political rather than “natural” strategy for organizing humans into social groups. Thus, an increasing amount of recent scholarship is calling into question the essentialist character of monogamy as it relates to human sexuality.

Monogamy as the Normative Standard: How did monogamy come to dominate

Considering that the essentialist qualities of monogamy are now being called into question by anthropologists, physical psychologists, psychiatrists, geneticists and others, what would explain its rise to dominance in western civilization? Perdue, (1986, p. 117) writing of the work of Talcott Parsons, states that Parsons believed “that the Christian church was the first crucible for Western culture”. Kathy Gaca (in Richlin, 2005) suggests that sexual morality in modern culture has been shaped by early Greek and Christian postures toward sex. Foucault (1978) also suggests that later in European history, Christian conanical and pastoral pronouncements played a primary role in defining appropriate sexual practices.

Furthering this line of thinking, I articulate a modest examination of the role of religion in defining the parameters of proper sexual behavior. Early in European history religious institutions managed to take control of sexual behavior and institutionalize it in relation to the discursive formations of the time. In so doing, codified religion assured itself a strong role in the organization and management of human affairs for a very long time. But where did the Christian church come up with its normative narrative regarding sexual behavior?

The Hebrew Background of Christian Sexual Norms

Barrington Moore, in his recent book “Moral Purity and Persecution in History” (2000), uses the concept of pollution to point out how sex was colonized as part of the narrative 4 which separated Hebrews as a people from those other cultures with which they came in contact. Sex was identified as part of a much larger category of polluting behaviors defining monotheistic Hebrews from other non-monotheists. Conversely, associated with this notion of pollution is its opposite, purity. The pure Hebrew must act in certain ways so as to remain defined as a desirable member of his/her community. As Moore points out, at this point in human history maintaining one’s standing in the community was of utmost importance, for being banished, or even ostracized, meant one’s chances for securing a good life, or even survival, dropped precipitously. The social construction of appropriate sexual behavior, then, serves as a means of socially ordering the community. It is a political tool as much as anything else.

Boswell notes that, “(p)rocreative purpose provided an early and influential rationale for controlling sexuality both inside and outside marriage” (1994, p. 112). Certainly in terms of species survival the reproductive aspect of sex has obviously been of significance for most of human history and therefore had to be dealt with by communities if they were to survive. As Moore (2000) suggests, the early Hebrew communities were small and in a precarious state of affairs. Thus, sexual reproduction was a significant responsibility for community members. Not only that, but a large family was a significant subsistence/economic asset. The need for reproduction, however, did not provide sex with a pro-social status in and of itself and was not the only reason for controlling sex. The Hebrews almost certainly controlled sexual behavior for purposes associated with paternity as well as population expansion and labor. Being a highly patriarchal society where women had low political status, males sought to assure themselves of proprietary control of their offspring by controlling female sexuality. Couple the need for population expansion with the proprietary nature of this particular form of strongly patriarchal social system and one begins to understand why, for example, for the Hebrews, same sex activity was considered inappropriate as well. Thinking about sexual activity from the point of view of patriarchy and inheritance, as well as the income associated with bride price, one can also see why a normative standard which prohibited females from being sexually active with more than one male came into being. Hence, it becomes obvious that a normative standard of monogamous heterosexuality would serve the interests of the Hebraic social order.

Even this superficial examination points out the socio-political nature of controlling sex. These are social/political and not “natural” pressures which act to shape the normative structure of sexual activity. Sex is used as a means of “governmentality”, that is, as a means of managing behavior so as to conform to a certain type of social organization. The discursive formation of sex penetrates and colonizes the cultural space and is then internalized by individuals as the natural and appropriate behavioral code. In this way, individuals self evaluate and regulate their behavior in accord with the dominant master narrative, making it much more difficult for them to comprehend the politics/power expressed in their actions. ( This seems to me to be an excellent example of the pervasiveness of power embedded in the social matrix which Foucault found so intriguing.)

Out of the context of this patriarchal Hebraic tradition arose a reformist movement lead by Jesus Christ. Christ held many of the tenets of the Hebrew canon, such as the transcendent nature of God, while at the same time preaching a new doctrine of peace, inclusivity and forgiveness. Many Hebrews joined this new cult and began following this new charismatic leader. This change in narrative doctrine represents the beginning of what becomes a significant “discontinuity” (Foucault, 1994). However, as Weber (in Coser, 1971) has pointed out, charisma is an ephemeral quality and is lost with the demise of the charismatic leader. Once such a leader is no longer able to rally the followers, a process of routinization takes place so as to maintain the movement. It is out of this reformist movement that the less charismatic and more routinized institution of Christianity was formed.

A significant factor associated with the rise of institutionalized Christianity is that this later Christian religious narrative/dogma remained grounded in a doctrine of transcendence, hierarchy, patriarchy and extended the orthodoxy of sexual pollution. In the Christian masternarrative the body was seen as part of the lower realm of nature/animal existence and nature was seen as wild and in need of being tamed. Notice that for the Christians, God is said to have given the natural world to “man” to rule over. The task of the human was to act as a steward, “husbanding” resources so as to *manage* the worldly realm for the good of this transcendent God. In the Christian iteration of the great chain of being doctrine, the human condition is understood as somehow above the rest of nature and yet, manifest in a body, hence, one must *manage* the animalistic aspects of the body as well. In order for humans to fulfill their transcendent character they must control those lower characteristics so as to rise above the way of the flesh.

The discursive formations articulated by the Hebraic and Christian masternarratives set the ground work for a canon of sexual control (a form of biopower/governmentality) which, although being called into question in contemporary society, none the less, still functions as a powerful normative guide regarding appropriate sexual behavior. The episteme/paradigm of these early monotheists, whose account of hierarchical transcendence became the dominant western theme, can be understood as the fundamental epistemic grid upon which later western social systems articulated their social scaffolding, especially, in this case, regarding the general understanding of sexual behavior in western civilization. It seems to me that it can be argued that it is at this early period in western civilization that preliminary processes of creating “docile bodies” (Foucault in Allen, 2004) can be identified. This might be seen as a rudimentary form of “biopolitics” in that the economy of power articulated by the masternarrative embeds control of human action in the social order. Social control is thereby wrested from the secular individual and sedimented in the religio-political social narrative. Martine Rothblatt, in “The Apartheid of Sex” asserts that religious doctrine functioned to extend control of female sexual behavior to one male in the form of monogamy. This form of normative control served “the objective of better cementing patriarchal control over women….” (1995, p. 41) From her perspective, religiously based normative monogamy is primarily a politics of patriarchal control.

Up to this point then, what I am arguing is that historically, sexual behavior was normatively determined by the exigencies of the communities, the general episteme of the culture and by the occasioned narratives articulated by significant members of the power structure of that cultural matrix, rather than from some essentialist master code grounded in a biology or larger civilizational context. However, as Christianity, an off shoot of Hebrew doctrine, came to dominate European society, it brought with it many of the memes 4 integrated into that particular cultural complex. With Christianity taking hold on the European continent many of the beliefs of its early proponents became integrated into the cultural episteme of the dominant societies of the time and thereby became the dominant masternarrative in western civilization.

In the statements of many early church fathers one can see that sex itself is condemned as a polluting act. For example, Paul, one of the towers of the early church states that “(i)t is good for a man not to touch a woman...” (Barash and Lipton, p. 182, 2001). “Influenced by such opinions and the belief that sexual abstinence was the highest Christian calling, many Christians in many times and places forswore sexual relations altogether, even with their spouses” (Boswell, 1994, p. 119) Christianity was and still is a transcendent monotheistic patriarchal religion very unlike the pagan traditions it was replacing. Especially after the onset of religious transformations in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the code of behavior became quite restrictive and unyielding. “There was only one way to gain signs of one’s state of grace as a portent of one’s being elect; namely, the methodical adherence to a God-pleasing code of conduct in whatever position the pious found himself.... The minimization of impulses and deviations from the religious code served the pious ... as an indication of his selected status in the eyes of God (Gerth and Mills, 1953, p. 235). Had Europe followed any one of various other “pagan” religious narratives the cultural memeplex/paradigm around sexual behavior would have been decidedly different in later western society.

The Postmodern Turn

What is being suggested is that humans have wide potential for sexual expression which is not innately determined. The historic epoch and the epsiteme/paradigm of the specific culture play a very significant role in determining the proscriptive narrative associated with what is understood to be appropriate sexual behavior. Up until recently that narrative took the form of a totalizing masternarrative which allowed very little by way of alternative behavior. Through newly institutionalized means, identified by Foucault (1990), practices were instituted in the 17 th and 18 th centuries which solidified the production of the docile bodies necessary for a more disciplinary society. Behavior which did not correspond to the masternarrative, grounded in the Christian cultural paradigm, was defined as deviant, sick, insane, abhorrent, wicked or in some manner individually and socially offensive and problematic. People so defined were sanctioned in some manner so as to control their behavior in conformance with what was understood to be “Truth” relative to that particular epoch and episteme.

As both Kuhn and Foucault point out, however, paradigms/epistemes are not set in stone and do change (what Foucault called discontinuity) and with that change comes a new world view (1994). In his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” Kuhn notes that: “...when paradigms change, the world itself changes with them. .... In so far as their only recourse to that world is through what they see and do, we may want to say that after a revolution (change in paradigm) scientists (people) are responding to a different world.” (Kuhn, 1973, p. 111, my insertions) In other words, for various reasons, paradigms change and when that happens what passed for truth before can and may be called into question. In these new cultural spaces, created by paradigmatic revolutions, new narratives can express very different understandings of how the world, life and/or society works.

I suggest that the concept of postmodernity refers to just such a revolution/discontinuity of world view. The episteme of the present epoch is being transformed by a variety of forces which include capitalism in its latest manifestation as an institution geared toward maximal consumption, the exceptionally rapid transformation and expansion of technology (see for example Jean-Francois Lyotard) and the growing crises of legitimation in a variety of institutions in contemporary society (eg., religion, science and government). Even Fredric Jameson, who doesn’t see postmodernity as necessarily a full break with the modern world but rather as simply a late stage of capitalism, notes that the normative standards of present society have changed drastically, and not necessarily to his liking.

“As for the postmodern revolt..., however, it must equally be stressed that its own offensive features - from obscurity and sexually explicit material to psychological squalor and overt expressions of social and political defiance, which transcend anything that might have been imagined at the most extreme moments of high modernism - no longer scandalise anyone and are not only received with the greatest complacency but have themselves become institutionalised and are at one with the official or public culture of Western society. (Jameson, 1984, 1994, p. 4).

In his book on the postmodern condition, Lyotard, (1984) asserts that one of the primary features of the postmodern world is the loss of faith in metanarratives. In fact, he considers this to be the defining factor of the postmodern state of affairs. For instance, he says, “(s)implifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanaratives.” (Lyotard, 1984, p. xxiv, emphasis in the original) What this suggests then, is that there is no longer any one central or core narrative which defines appropriate behavior such as was the case while Christianity held sway. Rather, there are now numerous micro narratives which serve to legitimate and direct behavior under various circumstances. As Gerth and Mills (1953, p. 116) put it years ago, there is an “...intrinsically social character to motivation.... The words which may fulfill this function are limited to the vocabulary of motives acceptable to given situations by given social circles.” In other words, the codes of conduct individuals draw upon to define and direct their behavior are socially situated and grounded in the episteme of specific epochs and potentially even specific social realms and this is even more the case now then when Gerth and Mills stated this point. The postmodern world is a more heterodox world than ever before.

As this relates to sexual behavior, what is happening in the contemporary consumer society is that forces associated with consumer capitalism, technology and institutional legitimation crises have created the cultural space for a situational narrative code which opens the market place of behaviors to an almost limitless array of expression. One example of constructing a new micro account of an otherwise historically dominant institutional narrative can be found in statements made by Christian swingers legitimating their non-monogamous behavior (see for example www.libchrist.com/bible/compatible.html). At this time in the history of advanced consumer societies there are few restrictive narratives associated with sexual expression which are not being deconstructed and delegitimated (see for ex. Rothblatt, 1995).

Foucault (1978) points out that sex is an exceptionally powerful behavioral node in the cultural matrix which became more administered in the last three humdred years than it had been even under the restrictions of earlier religious narrative. Although Foucault relegates structural analysis of this sort to a level of secondary concern, I believe it can be argued that a significant part of the reason for this increase in the administration of sex had to do with the turn toward the rational administration of the world in general, associated with the growth of capitalism as the economic form in western society and science as the technology for articulating truth. As Weber suggests (Coser, 1971), along with capitalism came a rise in rationalization and bureaurcratization. Increased management of sex in the life world co-arose with the transformation of the life world by a confluence of factors; increased religious asceticism, capitalism, rational calculation, bureacratization and the scientization of the life world being five of the more significant transformative forces. A Marxian account of this state of affairs might be that managing the social world, what Foucault refers to as discipline, became more important to capitalism because as the worker sold his labor on the market, the capitalist as buyer attempted to maximize his gain in terms of his labor purchase. In other words, the logical imperative of capitalism colonizes as much of the energy, both physical and mental, of the social system for market purposes as is possible. As the exploitation of labor was of keen interest to the owner, control of the laborer only seemed reasonable. The worker owed his livelihood to the owner and the owner felt it was his right to protect his interests by controlling the behavioral field. While it is true that non-disciplinary sex of the meanest sort expressed itself in the oppressed working class, as an acceptable form of behavior, sex was regulated and disciplined because, although “(s)ex had no industrial value” (Mumford, 1962, p. 180) the *disciplinary value* associated with this form of social control helped shape the “docile bodies” of the time into human capital. It was simply one more aspect of a disciplined social order mandated by the newly unfolding rational world. Foucault points out that the management of sex followed various paths at this time; for the working class he believes what he calls “alliance” played the primary role. “... (T)hey were subjected in specific ways to the deployment of “alliances”: the exploitation of legitimate marriage and fertility...” (1974, p.121). Here one can see how economic forces determine social relations. As is the case in all social systems, how these narratives are implemented varied across social categories.

In the latter part of the twentieth century, however, there was a change in the axial problematic of capitalism, from the issue of production to one of consumption. This change in economic imperative may be seen to correspond to changes in the axial problematic associated with the normative discipline/management of sexual expression in contemporary society. This transformation in disciplinary normative code is associated with an expansion in the market place of ideas relating to sex and sexuality. The issues associated with reproductive sex have become more complex and are being narrated as part of a new politics of freedom. With the advent of the birth control pill and the opening of the employment structure, women are becoming more self empowered agents in terms of directing their own futures. They are exerting their new found status as equal members of the economic order in ways that are reshaping the politics of sex as well as sexuality. As a consequence of these new social dynamics the discursive formations which held in the past are now being challenged. What it means to be a woman is being contested and reshaped. The concepts of sexuality and gender are coming under scrutiny. The individualism of the market place is now shaping the sexual identity of both men and women. The certainty of proper sexual behavior established by the modern metanarrative is now much more open to interpretation.

As noted, the advancement in reproductive technologies of recent decades has helped to precipitate this change in world view. On numerous occasions Rothblatt (1995) avers that the social order that held sway in the past can no longer continue to do so because of the numerous changes which have taken place in the social world. Gimenez (1991, p.1) points out that “(f)ertility control technologies” allow people to control reproduction and thereby allow for “the separation of sexuality from reproduction”. As I suggested earlier, technology has played a significant role in the fabrication of the postmodern condition. The transformation of technical potential relative to reproduction is an important impetus for the new social acceptance of non-reproductive sexual activity. With the advent of the potential to control the reproduction of the human species through easily facilitated means, such as the birth control pill, and the increasing potential to actually create human life outside of the context of actual human sexual activity, the forms of, and reasons for, control of sexual behavior are much different for society today than in the past. 5

Under this new state of affairs, transformed by these technologies of sex and with the axial problem in modern capitalist society more and more becoming one of consumption versus production, sex has taken on new value as an aspect of the market. For example, one of the problems faced by the contemporary capitalist is getting consumers to purchase his/her particular product versus one of the sundry other replications on the market. In the twentieth century, advertising was expanded and made more sophisticated to do just that, get people to buy a specific product, but as all manufacturers now advertise, the new problem is to engage what is becoming a highly cynical audience. As there is more and more advertising, marketers must somehow break through the confusion and chaos of messages to get the attention of potential consumers. One of the means to do this is to create sensational ads using sex to get attention. Hence, we have seen more and more ads in the past few decades associating sex with products, even if there is no intrinsic relationship. Under these circumstances varied sexual behavior is simply not that shocking any longer. As Foucault (1994) points out, because power is polymorphous in its effect, the outcomes of its use are not necessarily always in the direction of its application. Hence, although sex is now introduced into society as a sales vehicle its trajectory into the social order is also transforming mass behavior codes in ways which are tangential to its intended use. Now the expression of sexual activity is simply becoming blase’ due to the sheer number of exposures each individual has in the contemporary market place. Sex is losing its taboo quality (Layng, 1998).

With media programs such as “Sex in the City”, Howard Sterns and El Vacilion (Bonilla, 2006) becoming normal fare one can easily see how different the present social milieu is from even the 1950’s. Members of present day western society are more accommodating to variations on sexual expression 6 at least partially because of the way marketers have linked it with other, supposedly positive facets of life. To some extent then, the transformation of norms and attitudes toward sex may be understood as an unintended manifestation of simple classical conditioning. What I want to suggest here is that regardless of the actual causal mechanisms, the episteme/paradigm of contemporary consumer based society has changed and that within the cultural context of that change, for a growing segment of the society sexual practices such as swinging are no longer seen in the same light as they had been in the past. 7

In the consumer demand culture of advanced capitalism there seems to be increased legitimacy for a wide variety of behaviors which corresponds to a consumerist behavior code. As noted earlier, the central problematic of late consumer capitalism is one of consumption. What is consumed is of much less import than that consumption takes place. Note that after the 9/11 tragedy president Bush rallied Americans to go buy something. He did not delimit what should be consumed, that was of less significance than that something, anything, be purchased for consumption. It is consumption that underpins the structures and mind-set of late capitalism. Thus, it seems only reasonable that consumption would migrate from the realm of purely economic activity to that of general social activity and hence, sexual expression.

In fact, it can be argued that since we have little or no legitimate guiding masternarrative to shape human social conduct today, other than the a-moral economic code of the self interested pursuit of what is deemed profitable, individuals participating in “the Lifestyle” are simply acting in accord with the behavioral parameters of postmodern society. 8 I do not state this as an evaluative statement of good or bad but rather simply as indicative of the discursive formations guiding human comprehension and explication at this time. Hence, sexual behavior of the sort associated with swinging, as long as it does not cause physical problems for the community at large and does not cause problems for the participants, can not legitimately be ostracized in the context of contemporary heterodox society based on the orthodox moral hortatory of merely one cultural enclave, even if that enclave represents various powerful segments of the system. As Robert McGinley notes, “(j)ust look at our evolution as a nation and you’ll see where the playcouple fits in naturally.” (Gould, 2000; p. 25)


What I have tried to suggest here is that for various reasons the epistemic grid upon which discursive formations rest has changed and that such a change brings forth a new and different social reality. Capitalism, advanced technologies (especially reproductive and computational), the loss of faith in numerous fundamental institutions (note for example the recent scandals associated with the Catholic church and the impact this is having on the laity) and the general sense of estrangement from other primary institutions (especially government, as can be seen by the drop in voter participation in America) all appear to be implicated in the matrix of forces serving to transform the paradigm and masternarrative(s) which controlled society for the last several hundred years. The old classical and modern masternarratives, grounded in a different episteme, are being questioned and no longer hold a fully totalizing grip on all segments of society.

As a caveat, it must be noted however, that orthodox conventions expressed as social cannon still play a considerable role in determining what constitutes appropriate behavior for the general population. As Lyotard (1984) pointed out, postmodernity is uneven in its manifestation across societies as well as within social systems. None the less, it is evident that the modernist canon is being challenged and that certain enclaves of individuals are forging new and different situated micro narratives regarding appropriate standards for human conduct. In the context of contemporary advanced consumer society, sexual norms are being transformed to include a variety of sexual expression such as homosexuality, bisexuality and non-monogamous heterosexual relationships and the new postmodern paradigm appears to be shaping itself to accommodate this new diversity. Unless conditions change considerably in the coming years I see no reason why non-monogamous heterosexuality will not become a more normal and accepted manifestation of a presently widening array of sexual expressions.

Having said that, I feel it important to note that it may well be that conditions/contingencies change so as to reverse this trend and actually bring about a narrowing of behavioral potential. As environmental conditions worsen we may see a rebirth of frugality in all aspects of human existence, not just commodity consumption. The backlash of conservatism may also constrict the sexual market place; notice the recently renewed effort to dismantle Roe vs. Wade. If people want to continue to expand human potential it will be wise to pay attention to the narratives being forged to explicate acceptable human behavior and to attend to the biopolitics and governmentality of neoconservative political institutions as well as to the power/knowledge associated with the expansion of informational technologies and disciplines.


1. This paper is a more or less postmodern form of explication, in that I ground the validity of the narrative in what might be understood to be an inter-textual honorific style of claims making rather than valorizing the authority of the positivist, data based explanation. This is an unabashedly interpretive hermeneutic exegesis. I suggest that human action must be understood within the context of historically specific cultural, structural and epistemic patterns/matrices. Hence, to some extent, my approach is concordant with the concept of historical materialism, albeit without the attendant search for underlying universals and with a greater emphasis on cultural factors. This does not, however, mean that I eschew the facticity of biology or the prepotence of evolution. I am simply asserting a non-biologically essentialist elucidation of social factors which serve to fabricate a pragmatic explanation of changing sexual behavior. I do believe that biology plays a significant role in the expression of human action but that it is only one facet of understanding the human project. I suggest that due to the accumulation of culture over time, both in its material and non-material expressions, culture is playing a more and more prominent role in shaping human action. This being the case, the interrogation of culture becomes of utmost importance in comprehending human activity. The pertinent insight here is the suggestion that while biology does remain an important feature of the human condition, it, for all practical purposes, has remained in stasis while culture has continued to accumulate, now to such a point as to dominate the behavior field.

2. The concept “sex positive”, as I understand it, refers to viewing pleasurable versus reproductive sexual behavior pragmatically, in terms of its positive psychological and physical characteristics versus the negative connotations which have been associated with non-reproductive sex for many years.

3. Foucault’s concepts of discursive formation and episteme, along with Kuhn’s concept paradigm, will be used to indicate that human comprehension of the world is shaped by culture and sign. An episteme, as I understand it, can be understood as a sign code which gives order to things. Radford (2001), writing of issues of librarianship, states that “...a discursive formation (similar to episteme in Foucault’s late writing) refers to the ways in which a collection of texts are organized with respect to each other.” In a more abstract sense it refers to “the ... idea: that a society in an historical epoch shared an unconscious cultural formation which set up the rules of reasoning ... and the codes of cultural thought.” (Horus Gets In Gear, p. 3) As I am using paradigm one might think of it as a memeplex. That is, a set or pattern of meaning units which make up a thought container or matrix through which individuals within that memeplex view and understand the world. Paradigm, like episteme, exists more or less a priori the actor in each historical epoch. That is, they predate incumbents in the cultural system. They are not, as Kuhn has pointed out, temporally absolute and can and do change over time, however. One might think of the difference between these concepts as one, episteme, acting like the rules of thinking and associating significant signs and the other, paradigm, the content of what is thought.

4. Bevir and Rhodes (2001) suggest that: “... Narrative stands here as a form of explanation that unpacks human actions in terms of the beliefs and desires of the actors. It embodies particular theories about the rationality of actors, their institutional embeddedness, and their capacity for agency, as well typically as a historical story. .... A narrative thus bears at least a partial resemblance to Michel Foucault’s concept of an episteme or Thomas Kuhn’s of a paradigm.”

5. Certainly reproduction is still a significant issue and interestingly, due to the confluence of ideology and population dynamics some are now calling for an increase in reproduction (Steyn, 2006), but the exigencies of the contemporary global issues will almost certainly shape behavioral responses in a fundamentally different manner than in the past.

6. The concept of memes was first articulated by Richard Dawkins in his book “The Selfish Gene” in 1976. I understand this concept to refer to meaningful units situated in culture which somehow manage to remain a significant aspect of culture overtime not necessarily because they are true but because the meme provides a service to the user or the community in itself.

Tony Lezard (What is a meme) puts it like this: “Richard Dawkins, who coined the word in his book The Selfish Gene defines the meme as simply a unit of intellectual or cultural information that survives long enough to be recognized as such, and which can pass from mind to mind. There's not much of a sense of describing thought processes, but nor is it just a model. As Richard Dawkins writes (this is from memory), ‘God indeed exists, if only as a pattern in brain structures replicated across the minds of billions of people throughout the world.’ (Of course the patterns aren't physically identical, but they represent the same thing.)”

7. Note for example the large spread in the New York Times (1/11/04) SundayStyles section. Replete with erogenous pictures, the article does not present this as negative behavior but merely one more variation.

8. I believe for many people participating in the practice of swinging (who are known as play couples) these practices are not only more acceptable than in the past but actually fill a void for them which has been created by the late capitalist postmodern condition itself.


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