The best books on the history of sexuality in modern Latin America

Natalia Milanesio Author Of Destape: Sex, Democracy, and Freedom in Postdictatorial Argentina
By Natalia Milanesio

Who am I?

I am a historian of twentieth-century Argentina and a professor of modern Latin American history currently teaching at the University of Houston. Born and raised in Argentina, I completed my undergraduate studies at the National University of Rosario and moved to the United States in 2000 to continue my education. I received my M.A. in history from New York University and my Ph.D. in history from Indiana University, Bloomington. I have written extensively about gender, working-class history, consumer culture, and sexuality in Argentina. I am the author of Workers Go Shopping in Argentina: The Rise of Popular Consumer Culture and Destape! Sex, Democracy, and Freedom in Postdictatorial Argentina.

I wrote...

Destape: Sex, Democracy, and Freedom in Postdictatorial Argentina

By Natalia Milanesio,

Book cover of Destape: Sex, Democracy, and Freedom in Postdictatorial Argentina

What is my book about?

Under dictatorship in Argentina, sex and sexuality were regulated to the point where sex education, explicit images, and even suggestive material were prohibited. With the return to democracy in 1983, Argentines experienced new freedoms, including sexual freedoms. The new availability and ubiquity of sexual material became known as the destape, and it uncovered sexuality in provocative ways. This was a mass-media phenomenon, but it went beyond this. It was, in effect, a deeper process of change in sexual ideologies and practices.

By exploring the boom of sex therapy and sexology; the fight for the implementation of sex education in schools; the expansion of family planning services and of organizations dedicated to sexual health care; and the centrality of discussions on sexuality in feminist and gay organizations, my book shows that the destape was a profound transformation of the way Argentines talked, understood, and experienced sexuality, a change in manners, morals, and personal freedoms.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Securing Sex: Morality and Repression in the Making of Cold War Brazil

Why did I love this book?

This book contributes greatly to the global history of the Cold War by showing that “moral technocrats” during the military dictatorship in Brazil equated political subversion with sexual subversion: Anticommunist countersubversion included anxieties about gender, sex, and youth. South American Cold War dictatorships have been traditionally understood as modernizing projects but Cowan complicates the definition by exploring the moral panic, and consequent calls and attempts at repression, related to the sexual revolution, new forms of female sexual expression, and pornography. 

By Benjamin A. Cowan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Securing Sex as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this history of right-wing politics in Brazil during the Cold War, Benjamin Cowan puts the spotlight on the Cold Warriors themselves. Drawing on little-tapped archival records, he shows that by midcentury, conservatives-individuals and organizations, civilian as well as military-were firmly situated in a transnational network of right-wing cultural activists. They subsequently joined the powerful hardline constituency supporting Brazil's brutal military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. There, they lent their weight to a dictatorship that, Cowan argues, operationalized a moral panic that conflated communist subversion with manifestations of modernity, coalescing around the crucial nodes of gender and sexuality, particularly in…

Book cover of Sexual Revolutions in Cuba: Passion, Politics, and Memory

Why did I love this book?

By analyzing fascinating oral history interviews that allow readers to “listen” to people telling their stories in their own words, Hamilton offers an insightful examination of sexual practices and ideas after the 1959 Revolution. This is a “sexual history from below” that delves into same-sex relations, contraception, marriage, and the intersections between race and gender. The book shows that the political, cultural, and economic changes introduced by Fidel Castro’s regime did not always result in a radical transformation of sexuality. On the contrary, sexuality was a sphere of life in which old values and practices coexisted—sometimes full of tensions—alongside new, revolutionary ones.

By Carrie Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sexual Revolutions in Cuba as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Sexual Revolutions in Cuba Carrie Hamilton delves into the relationship between passion and politics in revolutionary Cuba to present a comprehensive history of sexuality on the island from the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 into the twenty-first century. Drawing on an unused body of oral history interviews as well as press accounts, literary works, and other published sources, Hamilton pushes beyond official government rhetoric and explores how the wider changes initiated by the Revolution have affected the sexual lives of Cuban citizens. She foregrounds the memories and emotions of ordinary Cubans and compares these experiences with changing policies…

Book cover of The Sexual Question: A History of Prostitution in Peru, 1850s-1950s

Why did I love this book?

In this first book in English about the history of sexual commerce in Peru during the state regulation of brothels, Drinot tells a multilayered story of the complex interactions among sex workers, clients, the police, the government, feminists, and physicians. With a remarkable diversity of archival sources, Drinot explores topics that are frequently disregarded in the history of prostitution like the meanings of masculinity and the interaction between race and venereal diseases that, in the case of Lima, resulted in the stigmatization of Chinese migrants and indigenous men as infectious agents.

By Paulo Drinot,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sexual Question as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The creation of Lima's red light district in 1928 marked the culminating achievement of the promoters of regulation who sought to control the spread of venereal disease by medically policing female prostitutes. Its closure in 1956 was arguably the high point of abolitionism, a transnational movement originating in the 1860s that advocated that regulation was not only ineffective from a public health perspective, but also morally wrong. The Sexual Question charts this cyclic process of regulation and abolition in Peru, uncovering the ideas, policies, and actors shaping the debates on prostitution in Lima and beyond. The history of prostitution, Paulo…

Book cover of Desired States: Sex, Gender, and Political Culture in Chile

Why did I love this book?

Using a truly interdisciplinary approach anchored in queer studies and affect theory, Frazier subverts the common approach to sex as privatized and located in individual subjectivity by looking at desire as a central component of political culture and power. The book explores a variety of Chilean political projects and actors throughout the twentieth century including feminists, the revolutionary left, and the military dictatorship to understand the ways in which both sexual and non-sexual practices and ideologies were intrinsically connected to emotions and ideas of pleasure and to sexualized and gendered discourses and experiences.

By Lessie Jo Frazier,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Desired States as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Desired States challenges the notion that in some cultures, sex and sexuality have become privatized and located in individual subjectivity rather than in public political practices and institutions. Instead, the book contends that desire is a central aspect of political culture. Based on fieldwork and archival research, Frazier explores the gendered and sexualized dynamics of political culture in Chile, an imperialist context, asking how people connect with and become mobilized in political projects in some cases or, in others, become disaffected or are excluded to varying degrees. The book situates the state in a rich and changing context of transnational…

Masculinity and Sexuality in Modern Mexico

By Víctor M. Macías-González (editor), Anne Rubenstein (editor),

Book cover of Masculinity and Sexuality in Modern Mexico

Why did I love this book?

This is a solid edited volume that has contributions from leading scholars of Mexican history exploring straight and gay sexualities from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century in different parts of the country. The chapters examine a wide range of interesting topics including cinema and movie going, public bathhouses, prostitution, elopement, and mariachi culture to untangle how masculinities are historically constructed and to interrogate the concepts of macho and machismo.

By Víctor M. Macías-González (editor), Anne Rubenstein (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Masculinity and Sexuality in Modern Mexico as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Masculinity and Sexuality in Modern Mexico, historians and anthropologists explain how evolving notions of the meaning and practice of manhood have shaped Mexican history. In essays that range from Texas to Oaxaca and from the 1880s to the present, contributors write about file clerks and movie stars, wealthy world travelers and ordinary people whose adventures were confined to a bar in the middle of town. The Mexicans we meet in these essays lived out their identities through extraordinary events--committing terrible crimes, writing world-famous songs, and ruling the nation--but also in everyday activities like falling in love, raising families, getting…

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