Sex in the archives

Writing American sexual histories

By Barry Reay

Sex in the archives


  • Hardcover
  • Paperback

Book Information

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-2455-5
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Published Date: December 2018
  • BIC Category: Sexual Behaviour, Humanities / 20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000, Modern History, History, History & Archaeology, HISTORY / Social History, HISTORY / United States / 20th Century, North America (USA & Canada), Humanities / Social & cultural history


The archive has assumed a new significance in the history of sex, and this book visits a series of such archives, including the Kinsey Institute's erotic art; gay masturbatory journals in the New York Public Library; the private archive of an amateur pornographer; and one man's lifetime photographic dossier on Baltimore hustlers. Shedding new light on American sexual history, the topics covered are both fascinating and wide-ranging: the art history of homoeroticism; casual sex before hooking-up; transgender; New York queer sex; masturbation; pornography; sex in the city.

This book will appeal to a wide readership: those interested in American studies, sexuality studies, contemporary history, the history of sex, psychology, anthropology, sociology, gender studies, queer studies, trans studies, pornography studies, visual studies, museum studies, and media studies.


'Barry Reay once again has applied his sharp historical eye and his willingness to open himself to "perversion" to write a nuanced and layered history of sex archives. Far from dry or limited to "facts," however, Sex in the Archives shows the erotic nature of archiving and of studying archives. The archive becomes itself fleshed, an erotic site of exchange among (past) subjects and the researcher, who (in this case) willingly admits his implication in what he studies. This is a beautiful book, but also an extremely informative one; theoretically sophisticated, it also provides historical detail to figures often misunderstood or superficially recounted.'
Amelia Jones, University of Southern California

'This is important work, comparable to the very best recent scholarship in queer history and the history of sexuality more broadly. It builds on many of the theoretical advances in the field that challenge identities and binaries, opens up some important archives and new approaches, and never drowns the reader in esoteric jargon.'
Brian Lewis, Professor of Modern British History at McGill University

'The erotic histories in words and pictures that Reay finds in the archives are breathtakingly revealing of the sexual histories of the twentieth century. They are beautifully and sympathetically told, worlds within worlds, that have left their traces in the libraries and manuscript collections of the western world.' Thomas Laqueur, Helen Fawcett Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley


1 The lure of the archive
2 Sexual portraits: Edward Melcarth and homoeroticism in modern American art
(co-authored with Erin Griffey)
3 Autoarchivism: Alfred Kinsey's informants
4 Promiscuous intimacies: rethinking the history of American casual sex
5 A transgender story: the diaries of Louis Graydon Sullivan
6 Sex in the archives: David Louis Bowie's New York diaries, 1978- 93
7 ANONYMOUS and Badboy Books: a 1990s moment in the history of pornography
(co-authored with Nina Attwood)
8 The body as amusement park: a quick history of masturbation
9 Queer Baltimore: the photography of Amos Badertscher
(co-authored with Branka Bogdan)


Barry Reay holds the Keith Sinclair Chair in History at the University of Auckland, New Zealand

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