Events Calendar

The Signs of Sex: The Making of a Public Sexual Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris

Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 4:30pm to 6:30pm

Peters Hall, 104 50 North Professor Street, Oberlin, OH 44074

A talk by historian Andrew Ross of Kenyon College exploring the process by which female prostitutes and men who sought sex with other men produced a public sexual culture in 19th-century Paris. 

From the 1860s to the end of the century, police authorities, moralists, and city dwellers increasingly noticed the presence of female prostitutes and men who sought sex with other men in public space. This apparent increase of prostitution and male same-sex sexual activity occurred as traditional regulatory mechanisms designed to manage these sexual practices seemed to be breaking down. But it also coincided with the rise of new efforts to categorize disparate forms of public sexuality by doctors, moralists, and sexologists. The evident weakness of police authority led people to perceive more clearly than before the ways in which women and men signified their sexual availability as they entered the cafés, dance halls, and even public urinals that served as emblems of Paris's urban modernity. As people created, recognized, and misrecognized these signs, they participated in a "public sexual culture" that included far more than just those actually seeking sex in the city. Female prostitutes did not, therefore, constitute a closed caste or profession, nor did men seeking sex with other men simply construct a secretive subculture. Rather, as they sought out clients and partners, they actively produced a sexualized urban culture in which anyone could and did take part.

Event Type

International/Cultural, Speakers, Discussions, Faculty Book Talks, Readings


Academic, French and Italian

Contact Person

Julie Kleinman

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