Overcome by Man's Most Precious Fluid
2007 Choice Outstanding Academic Title
Winner of the Passing the Torch Award from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies
It has been called sperm, semen, seed, cum, jizz, spunk, gentlemen's relish, and splooge. But however the “tacky, opaque liquid that comes out of the penis” is described, the very act of defining “sperm” and “semen” depends on your point of view. For Lisa Jean Moore, how sperm comes to be known is based on who defines it (a scientist vs. a defense witness, for example), under what social circumstances it is found (a doctor’s office vs. a crime scene), and for what purposes it will be used (in vitro fertilization vs. DNA analysis). Examining semen historically, medically, and culturally, Sperm Counts is a penetrating exploration of its meaning and power.
Using a “follow that sperm” approach, Moore shows how representations of sperm and semen are always in flux, tracing their twisting journeys from male reproductive glands to headline news stories and presidential impeachment trials. Much like the fluid of semen itself can leak onto fabrics and into bodies, its meanings seep into our consciousness over time. Moore’s analytic lens yields intriguing observations of how sperm is “spent” and “reabsorbed” as it spurts, swims, and careens through penises, vaginas, test tubes, labs, families, cultures, and politics.
Drawn from fifteen years of research, Sperm Counts examines historical and scientific documents, children's “facts of life” books, pornography, the Internet, forensic transcripts and sex worker narratives to explain how semen got so complicated. Among other things, understanding how we produce, represent, deploy and institutionalize semen-biomedically, socially and culturally-provides valuable new perspectives on the changing social position of men and the evolving meanings of masculinity. Ultimately, as Moore reveals, sperm is intimately involved in not only the physical reproduction of males and females, but in how we come to understand ourselves as men and women.
“Sperm Counts is a serious book, and the first on its subject. But it also includes anecdotes from Moore’s life, lending it a more conversational tone than most academic works. The book's margins are even squiggled with sketches of sperm — flip the pages and they swim around. (This is a subject matter, after all, that requires a certain degree of levity.) Moore happily lists spermatic nicknames (“baby gravy,” “gentlemen's relish,” “pimp juice”) before skewering, in a later chapter, the burgeoning home sperm-test industry (sample ad slogan: “I don't know how that semen got in my underwear!”).”
“At her best, Moore has a frank, breezy manner that may be partly due to her practical experience outside academe. . . . Sperm Counts is a lively, funny read.”
—Camille Paglia, The Chronicle Review
“While nearly every point she makes about the hidden significance of sperm is a home run, ultimately, this is an academic sociological study written in an appropriately starchy style. . . . [that] results in a fascinating read packed with conclusions.”
“So fascinating and fresh. . . . Should be required reading for scholars in sexuality/queer studies, women’s and gender studies, social studies of science and cultural studies. . . . Essential.”
“Sperm Counts is careful to include the history of semen research, as well as examining its role today. . . . [Moore] approach[es] the topic of semen with precision and diligence.”
“Cartoon line-drawings of sperm wriggle over each page of text in this dissection of the ways societal views of sperm shape culture. A feminist account backed by sociological and scientific research, Moore’s academic tome is accessible to the masses.”