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Abstract

Arising in the mid-nineteenth century, sexology has been viewed as central to the development of sexual modernism, conceived as a sex-saturated age in which sex became, as Havelock Ellis puts it, “the central problem of life.” This essay examines several prominent trends in research exploring the relationship of sexology, modern U.S. and British society and literature, and the history of sexuality. The first trend is the deepening and expansion of a long-standing inquiry into the influence and effect of sexology on modernist literature. The second trend explores sexology's place in modern culture, suggesting that it was only one source (and sometimes not even the most important source) from which early twentieth-century British and American citizens learned about sex. The final trend involves a lively and growing debate about how to write the history of sexuality, a project in which sexology has previously played a prominent role. Some scholars have called for a queering of this endeavor, in part by departing from traditional practices of history-writing, whereas others have suggested that we can write the history of sexuality more complexly without completely abandoning recognized disciplinary practices. The essay ends by suggesting that some sexologists set the terms for a queer un-raveling of the identitarian and pathologizing legacy of sexology and that this may be the side of sexology that appealed most to some modernist writers.