How Foucault Was Shielded from Scandal

Consider the hare and the hyena. The hare, Clement of Alexandria told readers of his 2nd-century sexual self-help manual Paedagogus, was thought to possess both male and female sexes and swapped their roles from year to year. As for the hyena, it was believed to acquire an extra anus annually and ‘to make the worst use of these added orifices’, as Michel Foucault puts it in the newly translated fourth volume of his History of Sexuality.

For early church theologians the moral lesson was clear: we must not emulate gender-bending hares or randy hyenas. Rather, sex should be procreative, not pleasurable; we must go forth and multiply, borne by duty, not ecstasy. St Augustine went as far as to argue that since Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, sex was inherently tainted by association with original sin. Only outside Eden did Adam’s penis stir unbidden, cursing humans to become slaves to their degrading appetites. Many church fathers, Foucault considers, championed virginity as a lifestyle alternative.

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