Overrated Book

D'Emilio, John, and Estelle Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (1988).

In some ways this is a harsh judgement of a path-breaking book that gave me a sense that a field existed when I began to research in this area. Yet as a path, its approach turned quickly into a dead–end. The authors’ claims in the preface to the 2nd edition notwithstanding, almost immediately after it was published new scholarship appeared that could not be contained within its vision. This was especially true in the area of gay history, and also in regard to shifting ideas about sexuality, which were underplayed, representations of sexuality, sex and and the law and race and sexuality. Intimate Matters is often held up as a much needed textbook for the history of sexuality, but it is generally at odds with what teachers are trying to do in their courses. D'Emilio and Freedman's reductive theoretical approach and generally bland style can quickly make the history of sexuality seem anything but sexy. Do we need a good synthesis of the history of sexuality? Yes. Do we need a good textbook? Yes. Does Intimate Matters fill those needs? No. We do now have a lively, engaging intriductory survey of gay and lesbian history in Leila Rupp's A Desired Past.