The first edition of Sexual Conduct, published in 1973, swiftly became a landmark text in the sociology of sexuality. It went on to profoundly shape the ideas of several generations of scholars and has become the foundation text of what is now known as the "social constructionist" approach to sexuality. The present edition, revised, updated, and containing new introductory and concluding materials, introduces a classic text to a new generation of students and professionals.
Traditional views of human sexuality posit models of man and woman in which biological arrangements are translated into sociocultural imperatives. This is best summarized in the phrase "anatomy is destiny." Consequently, the almost exclusive concern has been with the power of biology and nature in sexual conduct as opposed to understanding the significance and impact of social life. In Sexual Conduct, Gagnon and Simon lucidly argue that sexual activities, of all kinds, may be understood as the outcome of a complex psychosocial process of development. Using the social script theory, the authors trace the ways in which sexuality is learned and fitted into particular moments in the lifecycle and in different modes of behavior.
Sexual Conduct is a major attempt to consider sexuality within a non-biological, social psychological framework. It is a valuable addition to the study of human sexuality, and will be of interest to students of sociology, psychology, psychiatry, social work, and medicine.
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William Simon (1930-2000) was professor of sociology at the University of Houston. He also taught at Indiana University and from 1968 to 1975 was program supervisor at the Institute for Juvenile Research in Chicago. A pioneer in the development of the social constructionist approach to sexuality, Simon was a recipient of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality's Award for Distinguished Scientific Achievement.
John H. Gagnon was professor emeritus of sociology and psychiatry at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. He was a co-author of The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States and Sex in America, and a coeditor of Encounters with AIDS: The Impact of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic on the Gay and Lesbian Communities.Review:
“Sexual Conduct is a skillfully written book in which the authors have liberally used anecdotes, case studies, literature, findings from their research, and social science theory to demonstrate the significance of a sociological perspective in understanding human sexuality. . . . This book is an important one which should serve the different needs of different audiences. . . . [T]his volume makes interesting reading and is highly recommended.”
—Graham B. Spanier and Joanne Nicholson, Journal of Marriage and Family
“Sexual Conduct is a book which I, and I think many others, have awaited with eagerness. Its authors are recognized to be among the most skillful and the most imaginative workers in the field of human sexuality. . . . [M]ust reading for professionals in the field of sexology.”
—Judith Long Laws, Contemporary Sociology
"With the continuing attention to the study of sexualities, readers now have the opportunity to revisit--or encounter for the first time--a classic in the field. Rereading Gagnon and Simon's Sexual Conduct reminds us of its importance in having established over thirty years ago the foundation for understanding the social dimensions of sexuality while also providing us with creative insights relevant to today's issues and theoretical debates. This is a key book everyone doing research and writing about sexuality must read in order to learn how the social meanings of sexuality are developed, organized, and maintained in a culture."
—Peter M. Nardi, author of Gay Men's Friendships: Invincible Communities and professor of sociology, Pitzer College
"When I read the first edition of Sexual Conduct it literally changed my life. I was just beginning my sociological career and this book shook my worldview to the core and made me into a symbolic interactionist, and committed me to a lifelong study of the sociology of sexuality. Bill Simon and John Gagnon wrote a book that was so revelatory that nothing has been the same since it's publication. Simon and Gagnon brought the theory of social scripts home to sociology and allowed us to see the role of culture and gender in the construction of meaning about our sexual lives. The authors intellectually destroyed categorical ways of thinking about sex acts and sexual actors and showed how culture created our perceptions, norms, and feelings. Way before gender became one of the cornerstones of sociological analysis, Simon and Gagnon helped sociology and other behavioral sciences (not to mention students and other disciplines) understand how social norms created gender and now gender molded sexual behavior. Simon and Gagnon were the first wave of resistance to 'essentialism,' the belief that all major sexual feelings, from sexual arousal to partner choice are biologically based. No one can read this book and imagine that our sexuality is totally derived from biological determinism, or that it stays consistent, unmediated by life events or human interactions throughout the lifecycle. Wise and thought provoking, the book is also fun to read. And it is even more profound for having new chapters written by Gagnon on the impact of current gay movements, scholarship, and of course drastic social tragedies such as HIV. I am sure these new chapters will be excerpted by sexuality readers and texts because they are extremely useful descriptions and analysis of the rich current of sexual social change that has happened over the last twenty years or so. But it is not only the new material that will be compelling to the reader. Simon and Gagnon apply their creative minds to so many diverse and fascinating topics that I am sure the book will be adopted widely across disciplines and courses. Suddenly, sexual behavior in prison becomes much more understandable with Simon and Gagnon's analysis of the power dynamics involved in this sexual subculture. The companion chapters on homosexuality in men and homosexuality in women offer many provocative ideas about how gender affects sexual identity and practice. This book is not only perfect for courses on sexuality; it is appropriate for book clubs. There is so much to discuss here! I welcome this book back the way I would welcome a long gone, but never forgotten and certainly missed old friend. I will surely use it in my class on the sociology of sexuality—and reading it again provides particularly strong support to creative thinking. The reappearance of Sexual Conduct is a great gift to all the sister disciplines, researchers and students who are dedicated to understanding the social construction of our sexual selves, our cultural inheritances, and our sexual policies."
—Pepper Schwartz, professor, University of Washington and coauthor, American Couples: Money, Work and Sex
"Before the social construction of sexuality, LGBTQ studies, and performativity, John Gagnon and William Simon audaciously and persuasively argued that sexuality was social. Their nervy and immensely intelligent work kick-started contemporary sexuality studies. The new edition of Sexual Conduct remains a witty, engaging, accessible, and always rewarding book, which offers a rigorous and creative model of how to take sex seriously. A rich feast, for new and returning readers alike."
—Carole S. Vance, Columbia University, director, Program for the Study of Sexuality, Gender, Health, and Human Rights
"The first edition of Sexual Conduct, published in 1973, has become the foundation test of what is now known as the "social constructionist" approach to sexuality. The present edition, revised, updated, and containing new introductory and concluding materials, introduces a classic text to a new generation of students and professionals. Sexual Conduct is a major attempt to consider sexuality within a non-biological, social psychological framework."
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