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The Quest for Sexual Health: How an Elusive Ideal Has Transformed Science, Politics, and Everyday Life (Paperback)
Offering an entryway into the distinctive worlds of sexual health and a window onto their spillover effects, sociologist Steven Epstein traces the development of the concept and parses the debates that swirl around it.
Since the 1970s, health professionals, researchers, governments, advocacy groups, and commercial interests have invested in the pursuit of something called "sexual health." Under this expansive banner, a wide array of programs have been launched, organizations founded, initiatives funded, products sold—and yet, no book before this one asks: What does it mean to be sexually healthy? When did people conceive of a form of health called sexual health? And how did it become the gateway to addressing a host of social harms and the reimagining of private desires and public dreams?
Conjoining "sexual" with "health" changes both terms: it alters how we conceive of sexuality and transforms what it means to be healthy, prompting new expectations of what medicine can provide. Yet the ideal of achieving sexual health remains elusive and open-ended, and the benefits and costs of promoting it are unevenly distributed across genders, races, and sexual identities. Rather than a thing apart, sexual health is intertwined with nearly every conceivable topical debate—from sexual dysfunction to sexual violence, from reproductive freedom to the practicalities of sexual contact in a pandemic. In this book Steven Epstein analyzes the rise, proliferation, uptake, and sprawling consequences of sexual health activities, offering critical tools to assess those consequences, expand capacities for collective decision making, and identify pathways that promote social justice.
About the Author
Steven Epstein is professor of sociology and the John C. Shaffer Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University. He is the author of several award-winning books, including Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge and Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research.
"This book is rich, thought provoking, and timely. Epstein provides an insightful and meticulous analysis that brings together the multiple layers of social, cultural, political, and institutional processes that shape the amorphous and ubiquitous term of sexual health."
— Jennifer Reich, University of Colorado Denver
"A major work. The Quest for Sexual Health is likely to change the way we think about the field of sexual health for years to come. This is the kind of critical scholarship that is truly a pleasure to read. I am convinced that it will quickly come to be recognized as the definitive study on the field of 'sexual health.'"
— Richard G. Parker, Columbia University