Moral Panics, Sex Panics

Fear and the Fight over Sexual Rights

304 pages

June, 2009

ISBN: 9780814737231



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Gilbert Herdt is Professor and Founder of the Department of Sexuality Studies at San Francisco State University and author of Guardians of the Flutes, Third Sex, Third Gender, and Secrecy and Cultural Reality.

All books by Gilbert Herdt

Finalist for 2010 LGBT Anthology Award from the Lambda Literary Awards

Unwed teen mothers, abortion, masturbation, pornography, gay marriage, sex trafficking, homosexuality, and HIV are just a few in a long line of issues that have erupted into panics. These sexual panics spark moral crusades and campaigns, defining and shaping how we think about sexual and reproductive rights. The essays in Moral Panics, Sex Panics focus on case studies ranging from sex education to AIDS to race and the "down low," to illustrate how sexuality is at the heart of many political controversies. The contributors also reveal how moral and sexual panics have become a mainstay of certain kinds of conservative efforts to win elections and gain power in moral, social, and political arenas. Moral Panics, Sex Panics provides new and important insights into the role that key moral panics have played in social processes, arguing forcefully against the political abuse of sex panics and for the need to defend full sexual and reproductive rights.

Contributors: Cathy J. Cohen, Diane DiMauro, Gary W. Dowsett, Janice M. Irvine, Carole Joffe, and Saskia Eleonora Wieringa.


  • “Smart analysis and crucial advice in a timely academic call to arms.”

    Between the Lines

  • “In this six-essay collection, with an astute introduction from editor Herdt, social scientists and scholars of sexuality dissect where such loathing for personal freedoms originates, how maniacally it is deployed and whether there is an effective response to the fomented onslaught of anti-woman, anti-gay and anti-sexual moral Puritanism.”

    Pittsburgh’s Out

  • “Individuals and activist groups committed to the progressive struggle for cultural and sexual freedoms will find smart analysis and crucial advice in a timely academic call to arms.”

    Gay and Lesbian Times

  • Moral Panics, Sex Panics is a valuable interdisciplinary contribution to emotion, media, and gender studies.”

    H-Net Reviews

  • "The authors here provide thorough accounts of contemporary social and sexual issues that dominate social consciousness, media and politics . . . the book offers a modern synopsis of how sex and sexuality continue to be embedded in political, educational and social debates."

    —Lindsay Sprague, Social Anthropology

  • "Abortion, AIDS, non marital sex, homosexuality, pornography, contraception, sexual rights, and the rest have posed persistent threats and challenges across the world for some time. ‘Sex’ stands as a major political and moral symbol that marks boundaries and shapes change in cultures.Here an outstanding group of social scientists give a firm focus to the culture wars and moral panics that split cultures and speak to persistent and deep divides round the world. The essays in this timely volume provide critical insights to the battle lines that must be overcome for a new world to flourish."

    —Ken Plummer, author of Intimate Citizenship: Private Decisions and Public Dialogues

  • "Nowadays panic seems to be everywhere—from homeland security to economic crisis—yet sexual topics seem to prompt the most extreme episodes of fear, loathing, indignation, and overreaction. How do sex panics unfold? How can defenders of sexual rights respond effectively? In this state-of-the-art volume, noted scholars of sexuality take a big step forward in addressing these questions while zooming in on crucial topics such as reproductive rights, sex education, AIDS, same-sex marriage, and the politics of race and empire."

    —Steven Epstein, author of Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge

  • "This is a very important book. If you want to understand the state of sexuality politics in this country—and have a hope of reversing moral panics and public lies—you need to read this book!"

    —Pepper Schwartz, author of Prime: Adventures and Advice about Sex, Love and the Sensual Years