Promiscuous intimacies
Rethinking the history of American casual sex
in Sex in the archives
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Casual sex has become a cultural commonplace since it was named in the 1960s and later became associated with the US college sex phenomenon of ‘hooking up’. However, contemporary accounts of this sexual practice are curiously lacking in historical perspective. This chapter explores this modern history, both before and after uncommitted, non-romantic sexual encounters – sex for sex’s sake – were named as casual sex. It argues that studies that contrast the increased ‘sexual possibilities’ of hook-up sex to the assumed restrictive practices of an earlier era distort both the restrictions of the previous period and the freedoms of the latter. The practice of uncommitted sex was not an invention of modernity, but what was the thing before it was identified as casual sex or hooking up? The aim of this chapter, with a focus on the early twentieth-century sexual history of Chicago and New York, is to rethink modern casual sex. It is not intended as the total history of a concept, but rather a reflection on particular historical moments as a way of reconsidering a concept’s claimed novelty.

Sex in the archives

Writing American sexual histories

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