Michel Foucault's "The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality, Volume 1," is part one of a trilogy of works, which examines the evolution of discourse about sex and sexuality from the seventeenth century onwards. It explores the way in which theological, pedagogical, social, economic and political forces have shaped our understanding and attitudes towards sex and sexuality. Foucault proposes that, rather than discourse being reduced over three centuries, discourse and awareness of one's own sexuality increased as a result of changes in society. This paper will firstly critically examine and evaluate Foucault's propositions and resulting conclusions, and then evaluate the validity of the argument. It will secondly examine Foucault's works though Marinucci's concept of paradigm and the essentialism/constructionism debate on sex/gender/sexuality. It will examine whether Foucault's works suggests a change in the paradigm society uses to think about sex/gender and sexuality.
Foucault presents his reasoning in a clear and logical historical time line, in order to demonstrate evolution of the discourse about sex. Foucault reasons that on first glance, the beginning of the seventeenth century marked an age of repression and restriction, very characteristic of bourgeois societies. It was a period of prohibition. Language and vocabulary concerning sex was restricted, strictly defined, policed and censored. However, there was a continual rise in the discourse. Foucault reasons that the prohibition itself produced a counter-effect. People rebelled against the strict rules and standards of decorum. The 'unauthorized' illicit discourses about sex became crude and indecent - in the views of the power holders – and added intensity and value to this discourse for the individual.
The discourses about sex amongst the everyday person were reinforced at an institutional level.