Publication Date

Fall 10-1-1999


This paper explores the religious implications of eroticism in Western culture since the Sexual Revolution, a period at once applauded for its open and immanent view of sexuality and denounced for its shamelessness and promiscuity. After discussing the work and effects of Alfred C. Kinsey, the father of the Sexual Revolution, I focus on a critical appraisal of Kinsey written by French theorist Georges Bataille (“Kinsey, the Underworld and Work,” in L’Erotisme, 1957). Bataille situates contemporary Western sexuality within a larger historical movement towards the “desacralization” of all aspects of human life: sex, under the scientific gaze of the Kinsey team, became simply another “object” to be analyzed and classified, and “good” sex defined solely in terms of frequency and explosiveness of orgasm. For many, including Hugh Hefner, this approach to sex occasioned a refreshing awakening from the long dark night of Victorian sexual repression. However, as Bataille’s protégé Foucault has shown, the scientific approach to sexuality often masks a desire to control and delimit sexual behaviour, not “liberate” it. Moreover, Bataille makes the point that the desacralization of sexuality denudes sex of a vital component—eroticism—which is necessary for real pleasure and ecstasy. Beyond the “moral” critiques one often hears leveled against Kinsey and his work, Bataille provides a “religious” critique, one that stands, perhaps surprisingly, on the “near side” of sexuality.


Journal of Religion and Culture



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Comparative Humanities