It is an interesting feature of the culture wars that frequently partisans on both sides believe that it is only those on the other side who are doing the warring. But this new book of essays, “The War on Sex,” edited by David M. Halperin and Trevor Hoppe, puts me in mind of a line by Philip Rieff: culture is the form of fighting before the firing begins. The authors of these essays do not in the least believe that the culture wars are over. Not, at any rate, if the book’s description generally reflects their views. The publisher’s description is below.
The past fifty years are conventionally understood to have witnessed an uninterrupted expansion of sexual rights and liberties in the United States. This state-of-the-art collection tells a different story: while progress has been made in marriage equality, reproductive rights, access to birth control, and other areas, government and civil society are waging a war on stigmatized sex by means of law, surveillance, and social control. The contributors document the history and operation of sex offender registries and the criminalization of HIV, as well as highly punitive measures against sex work that do more to harm women than to combat human trafficking. They reveal that sex crimes are punished more harshly than other crimes, while new legal and administrative regulations drastically restrict who is permitted to have sex. By examining how the ever-intensifying war on sex affects both privileged and marginalized communities, the essays collected here show why sexual liberation is indispensable to social justice and human rights.