Los Angeles Review of Books: "Sex and the Constitution" is "Titillating and Humorous"

A “Christian Nation” with an Enlightenment Constitution
Alyson Claire Decker
Los Angeles Review of Books
June 10, 2017

UNLIKE THE BOOKS usually prescribed for Constitutional Law classes, Geoffrey R. Stone’s Sex and the Constitution is rather titillating and humorous. From descriptions of ancient Greek dildos to a charming story of Supreme Court law clerks having to describe, out loud, the erotic films that were being screened in preparation for various obscenity cases to Justice Harlan, who was losing his eyesight, there is something for everyone — including the legal practitioner, the history buff, and the casual reader. The vivid descriptions of hard-core pornography can become tiresome, though, and even detract from the focus of the book: the application of the Constitution to “sex” laws.

Sex and the Constitution is divided into two sections. The first deals with the history of how we have celebrated, condemned, and attempted to control sex and sexual expression from the Ancient Greeks to the legacy of Anthony Comstock (more on him later). The second half focuses on the real question posed by the book: how has the Constitution, which says nothing expressly about sexual rights and freedoms, become the primary method by which reproductive and homosexual rights are established and protected in the United States? One might ask why Stone spends so much time exploring the sexual norms of ancient civilizations and early America, but it is precisely because the Constitution does not enumerate sexual rights that historical context has become increasingly relevant. In fact, multiple Supreme Court justices have turned as far back as antiquity to ground their decisions in historical and traditional cultural precedents.

Faculty: 
Geoffrey R. Stone