Skip to main content

Study information


Module titleSexualities
Module codeHIH3619
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Sarah Toulalan (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The history of sexuality is a vibrant field that includes not only the study of changing sexual practices and their meanings, categorisations, and regulation, but also of ways of thinking about bodies, sex and gender. It is also not just about sexual behaviour: it implicates wider issues from religion and politics to medicine, science and technology. The concept of ‘sexuality’ has not always existed, but was a medical construction of human behaviour that emerged towards the end of the nineteenth century: so how was human sexual behaviour conceptualised before this? This module seeks to explore such questions, examining and comparing the various different contexts, situations and behaviours that have been associated with sex in times past.
No prior knowledge, skills or experience is required; it is suitable for all students at this level.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module is designed to enhance your understanding of recurring themes in the history of sexualities over a time scale extending from the medieval period to the twentieth century. It will be taught by two or three different tutors, and exact chronological and thematic focus will depend on which tutors are teaching the module in any given year. By close specialist evaluation of key topics such as conceptualising sexuality, in settings as various as twelfth-century English marriage and  twentieth-century colonialism students will trace key developments in the subject, and think about these comparatively across time and space. The module will also introduce you  to a variety of different historical source materials, such as trial records and medical texts. By using a combination of tutor-led seminars and lectures, student-led seminars and independent study, the module will enable you to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of taking a comparative approach to the study of sexualities.  In this way you will learn to draw thematic comparisons between material from different sources, show awareness of contrasting approaches to research, and demonstrate an enhanced understanding of some of the philosophical questions arising from research into large historical themes. You will also learn to present some of these complex issues to the rest of the class by leading a seminar in the second half of the course.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Assess the relationship between key developments in the history of sexualities and other phenomena such as religion, the state, gender, and class across a variety of historical time-periods and contexts.
  • 2. Critically evaluate key historiographical developments in the history of sexualities across different societies and periods.
  • 3. Critically evaluate the approaches that historians and scholars working in other disciplines have taken to sexualities.
  • 4. Define suitable research topics for independent study/student-led seminars in the history of sexualities, evaluating different and complex types of historical source and historiography.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Analyse the key developments in complex and unfamiliar political, social, cultural or intellectual environments.
  • 6. Evaluate different and complex types of historical source and historiography.
  • 7. Present work in the format expected of historians, including footnoting and bibliographical references.
  • 8. Identify and deploy correct terminology in a comprehensible and sophisticated manner.
  • 9. Critically evaluate different approaches to history in a contested area.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. Work both in a team and independently in order to prepare and lead a seminar.
  • 11. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.

Syllabus plan

While the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

Each session will be taught through one 2-hour seminar and one 1-hour lecture. The lectures will focus on worked examples or case studies from the tutor’s own area of specialism and suggest questions and themes which could be explored comparatively by the students themselves.  The seminars will explore particular issues in more depth, through case studies or discussion of particular sources and historiographical debates.  They will also lay the foundations for the student-led seminars in the second half of the course.

Five sessions covering methodological and conceptual issues relating to sexualities, case studies, and set-up for student-led seminars.  Topics covered will vary according to tutor availability, and may not cover the full chronological time span from medieval to modern, but may include any (but not all) of those listed below. 

  • Introduction: module outline; conceptualising/theorising sexualities
  • Historiographies
  • Medicine and sex
  • Reproduction and contraception
  • Religion
  • Regulation
  • Marriage and family
  • Age and sex
  • Heterosexuality
  • Homosexuality
  • Perversions
  • Virginity, chastity and abstinence
  • Love and intimacy
  • Prostitution
  • Violence
  • Sex and the armed services
  • Knowledge and experience
  • Race
  • Representations (may include any or all of the following: images; literature; media; pornography)

Five seminars led by groups of 2 or 3 students on topics suggested by students  and may include global or temporal comparisons

When creating student groups for student-led seminars the following will be taken into consideration:

  • preference for working on a specific time period;
  • preference for working on a specific place;
  • preference for a particular topic.

Tutor-led seminars will include some or all of the following sessions:

  • General introduction and set-up: explaining how the course works; explaining the module guide and assessments; answering queries; organising work for seminars.
  • Conceptualising/theorising sexualities
  • Case studies from tutor research
  • Workshop: planning student-led seminars

Student-led seminars

Groups may choose to work on:

Global comparisons (groups may present on a specific country or a continent or region, or a comparison between no more than 2; if a comparison is presented then it must be for the same time period for each place selected; a comparison may also be presented for the same place but between different time periods).

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching1111x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching126 x 2 hour tutor led seminar
Scheduled learning and teaching105 x 2 hour seminars, each led by a group of 2 or 3 students. Topics should be chosen from a menu of subjects agreed in advance by tutors. While tutors give guidance and a basic reading list, students are responsible for designing seminar activities and identifying further reading materials.
Guided independent study267Students prepare for seminars, essay, final report and exam through reading and research; they also work in groups to lead seminars based on projects that have been developed.

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay303000 words1-9,11Oral and written
Student-led seminar [comprising: leading a student led seminar (36%) and participation in student-led seminars (4%)]402 hours1-11Oral and written
Written Assignment302000 words1-9,11Oral and written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (3000 words)1-9,11Referral/deferral period
Student-led seminar and participation2500 words (written by student individually) describing and reflecting on the proposed seminar activities and materials equating to one person’s contribution (c. 45 minutes), plus proposed handout or slides from seminar (not more than 2 sides of A4) and seminar reading list (not more than 1 side of A4)1-9,11Referral/deferral period
Written Assignment (2000 words)Written Assignment (2000 words)1-9,11Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of a 3000 word essay and 2000 word assignment, as in the original assessment, but replaces leading and participating in student-led seminars with a written seminar plan and reading list that corresponds to one student’s contribution to such a seminar. The plan should outline how the seminar is to be structured and organised as well as detailing the material to be used. This will enable a reader to gain a sense of what the student intended to do in the seminar, the rationale for this activity, and when this activity / discussion would take place.

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

• Bristow, Joseph, Sexuality, New York and London: Routledge, 1997.
• Clark, Anna, Desire: A History of European Sexuality, London: Routledge, 2008.
• Crawford, Katherine, European Sexualities, 1400-1800, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
• Dinshaw, Carolyn, Getting medieval: sexualities and communities, pre- and postmodern, Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1999.
• Ellingson, Stephen and M. Christian Green (eds), Religion and Sexuality in Cross-cultural Perspective, London: Routledge, 2002.
• Fisher, Kate and Sarah Toulalan (eds), Bodies, Sex and Desire from the Renaissance to the Present, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011.
• Garton, Stephen, Histories of Sexuality, Antiquity to Sexual Revolution, London: Equinox, 2004.
• Herzog, Dagmar, Sexuality in Europe: a twentieth-century history, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
• Houlbrook, Matt and Harry Cocks (eds), The Modern History of Sexuality, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2006.
• Karras, Ruth Mazo, Sexuality in Medieval Europe: doing unto others, London: Routledge, 2005.
• Kimmel, Michael S. And Rebecca F. Plante, Sexualities: identities, behaviors and society, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
• Miller, Andrew H. And James Eli Adams, Sexualities in Victorian Britain, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.
• Nye, Robert (ed.), Sexuality, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999
• Peakman, Julie (general ed), A Cultural History of Sexuality, Oxford: Berg, 2011 (6 vols.)
• Phillips, Kim M. and Barry Reay, Sex before Sexuality: a Premodern History, Cambridge: Polity, 2011.
• Stearns, Peter N., Sexuality in World History, London and New York: Routledge, 2009.
• Toulalan, Sarah and Kate Fisher (eds) The Routledge History of Sex and the Body in the West, 1500 to the Present, London and New York: Routledge, 2013.
• Weeks, Jeffrey, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800, London and New York: Longman, 1989.
• Weeks, Jeffrey, Sexuality and its Discontents: meaning, myths and modern sexualities, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985.
• Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E., Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World: Regulating Desire, Reforming Practice, London and New York: Routledge, 2000.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Other material from module lecturer(s) as needed.

Key words search

Sexualities, sex, bodies, gender

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date