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The Boundaries of Desire:

A Century of Bad Laws, Good Sex, and Changing Identities

(Counterpoint, 2015)


The act of reproduction, and its variants, have changed little since the beginning, but our ideas about who should have sex, and how, are in constant flux. Jump forward or backward a decade, cross a border, or traverse class lines and the harmless fun of one group become the gravest crimes in another.


The Boundaries of Desire traces the fast-moving blood sport of sex law over the past century, and challenges our most cherished notions about family, gender, and identity. Beginning when the law guarded marriage by letting men rape their wives and banning birth control information, and continuing to the present day (when rape, gay rights, sex trafficking, and sex on the internet saturate the news), Boundaries uses the flesh-and-blood stories of real people to show the law’s clumsy relationship with sexual morality.


Why do sex laws always change? Should sexting teens be jailed? Should young kids be branded as sex offenders for touching their playmates? Why keep sex offender laws when they don’t protect communities? Why are college students more protected against rape than the maids who clean their dorms? Do sex trafficking laws do more harm than good? If pornography is free speech, why are some website operators put in prison? If science dictated that gays be lobotomized, that poor females be sterilized, and that women often want to be raped, should we ever ask science to answer sexual morality questions? 


The urge to control the sex of others is as strong as the desire for sex itself. So long as sex drive burns at the intersection of identity and power, sex law is everybody’s personal business.


Book of the Week & Starred Review -- Publishers Weekly

"An eye-opening history of sexual legislation...Berkowitz makes legal history readable, not relying on the subject matter being salacious (which this book is not) but accessibly conveying sophisticated topics and complex events with the assurance of an expert...Readers will be sad to arrive at the end of this skillful piece of popular history."


Read the online review here

Review -- Booklist

"A bracing look at the often-strange relationship between sexuality and the legal system over twelve tumultuous decades."

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Starred Review -- Kirkus


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Hot Release -- Bookish

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Excerpt --

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Praise for The Boundaries of Desire

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"There may be no facet of human experience as riddled with accusation, judgment, and shame as sex. In lively, passionate prose, legal scholar Eric Berkowitz shows how irrational, unjust, and destructive even well-intentioned attempts to legislate lust can be. This controversial book is as mind-blowing as it is heart-opening."

-- Christopher Ryan, author of Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships


"This very well written, captivating and compelling description and analysis of American sex law deserves a wide readership. The laws relating to homosexuality, gender change, sexual activity by minors, prostitution, abortion and contraception, proof of sexual coercion and abuse, punishment (including post-release restrictions), and religious objections to various sexual activities and preferences, are disputed, confused, and conflicting, frequently obsolete, and on the whole probably too severe. The book lays out these problems concisely, and should stimulate a more active search for solutions."

-- Richard A. Posner, Judge Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals; Senior Lecturer, University of Chicago Law School; Author, Sex and Reason and A Guide to American Sex Laws


“A gripping account of how the law has enforced the sexual subordination of women, children, minorities and LGBT people -- and a thought-provoking appraisal of how new legal efforts to protect victims can backfire. In this fascinating read, Eric Berkowitz tells the human stories behind the law.”

-- Stephanie Coontz, author of The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap



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