Sexuality was one of the most intensively, and bitterly, fought-over sites in the struggle for social change in late twentieth-century Ireland. As the 2015 marriage referendum demonstrates, there has been a dramatic transition in the dominant values and mores regulating sexual life. At the same time, feminists and sexual rights activists continue to campaign to secure reproductive rights for Irish women, while also contending with the paradoxes and contradictions of a late capitalist “liberated” and “postfeminist” sexual culture. This survey of scholarship on Irish sexual history identifies recurring patterns, salient concerns, and discursive frameworks. It highlights the persistence of ideas about Irish exceptionalism, the dominance of a modernization narrative, and a continuing problem with conceptualizing the dynamics of transforming sexual subjectivities. This survey also notes the emergence of queer and materialist hermeneutics in Irish scholarship and considers how these might expand and challenge the prevailing liberal historical model.

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