Never have the forms, meanings, and valuations attached to sex changed so radically than during the process of urbanization. The modern metropolis provided spaces of freedom and promised anonymity. At the same time, it offered an outlet from social control and the fulfillment of sexual desires. But the city also enabled novel modes of surveillance, resulting in new ways of disciplining and categorizing sex.
Drawing on numerous examples from the nineteenth century to the present, “Sex in Vienna” conveys how the constant struggle between freedom and repression continues to mark every moment of a sexual encounter – right from the first glance to the proverbial cigarette after. Who could look at whom, and in which way? Who could make the first move? Which forms of sexual desire could be acted out openly, and which ones only furtively? What consequences hung in the balance of each act or transgression?
What is clear despite the ambiguites is that neither moralistic sermons nor monitoring by the police was able to curb what took place in the city’s secluded bedrooms, secret spaces, and darkened corners.