How sexism spoiled the history of sex: Romans buried wandering virgins, Victorians feared cycling
BOOK OF THE WEEK
A HISTORY OF SEX
by Kate Lister (£ 25 unbound, 384 pp)
What a miracle that the human race succeeds in reproducing itself, generation after generation, for the attempts to eradicate sexual activity through the ages have been relentless.
As Kate Lister, author of this colorful study, makes it clear, people have always wanted to make sex “a moral issue,” with complex social structures and taboos to regulate basic biological urges.
Take the worship of virginity, for example, which is always associated with purity and innocence.
It is something which, once “lost”, is irrecoverable – involving a lack, a degradation, a defilement. The punishment for a vestal virgin having sex in ancient Rome was to be buried alive.
Lister says that “in a paternalistic society, where wealth and power are passed down through the male line, female chastity is tightly controlled to ensure legitimate offspring and that your material goods pass to your children.” And not the milkman’s children.
The concern is that erotic desire, if left unchecked, can endanger the distribution of property or capital – lust obscures judgment. Baden-Powell therefore warned Boy Scouts of the dangers of self-abuse.
Three women with a bicycle in 1895, a time when Victorians were wary of the effect cycling could have on anatomy, according to Kate Lister – author of A History Of Sex
Young boys were encouraged to use barbed urethral rings, acid, needles, and electric shocks to discourage nighttime erections.
John Harvey Kellogg advocated circumcision without anesthesia, which “will have a salutary effect on the mind”.
Also, “the recovery of organs with a cage has been practiced with full success”.
Nowadays, the medical philosophy is that regular daily orgasms – or “paroxysms” – are an effective way to prevent prostate cancer.
Poor souls who only ejaculate four times a month are 36% more likely to contract the disease.
But the Victorians were even worried about cycling, which was physical, toned, energetic, and “all that bouncing in a saddle” not only made a man’s eyes cry, but the ladies, pedaling with determination, “would damage organs. women of marriage need and shake them ‘.
Bicycles were linked to the sexuality of women in the 19th century (pictured, a woman undressing in front of her bicycle in Italy sometime between 1900 and 1910)
It’s possible: Fifteen commitments were announced following a single picnic by the cycling club.
Nonetheless, Lister’s book is more about denial and suppression than fulfillment and adventure.
She tells us that to reduce passions, cold baths have always been recommended, even enemas with ice water. Or, soap and water were to be avoided altogether.
Public baths were supposed to “ignite the lustful senses,” and in the Middle Ages, “filth was synonymous with piety and humility” – all those smelly monks, literally with dirty habits.
The bath was believed to weaken the body, “leaving the skin open to infections.”
The main, disturbing lesson of A Curious History Of Sex, however, is man’s fear of female passion and independent erotic existence, a “moral leprosy” that needed to be crushed.
They had bursts of bursts, which induced “irritability, whim, and irritability,” and in 1869 this was seen as a good reason for denying them the vote. It was also widely believed that a menstruating woman “could pollute the food”.
But the main problem was the clitoris, as described anatomically for the first time by Gabriele Falloppio who, while standing nearby, found his famous tube. “It was so hidden that I was the first to discover it,” he boasted in 1561.
And once located, doctors were eager to eliminate it – the widespread evil of female genital mutilation. The clitoris has been blamed for lesbianism and “abnormal sexual appetites”.
Lovers by Paolo Fiammingo portrays an obsession with sex. The main, unsettling lesson from A Curious History Of Sex, however, is men’s fear of women’s passion.
Dr Isaac Baker Brown (1811-1873), one of the founders of St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, was particularly in favor of clitorectomy, because the operation was, according to him, a cure for hysteria, ailments back, epilepsy, paralysis, blindness and many more Continued ‘.
He doesn’t look much different from the 16th century witch-seekers, examining women for the devil’s mark – warts, moles, scars and that “protuberance adjoining such a secret place that was not decent to see. “.
In 1593, an old lady was burnt as a witch because of her hoo-hah, while the World Health Organization estimates that today more than 200 million girls have been subjected to genital torture.
A HISTORY OF SEX by Kate Lister (£ 25 unbound, 384 pp)
Which doesn’t mean that the men get away with it. Dr Serge Voronoff (1866-1951) devised a crazy plan to transplant monkey testes into the human scrotum.
It was a purported remedy for constipation, cramps, colitis, “refusal to work, poor memory, indifference and depression”.
As part of the rejuvenation process, has the patient started to climb trees and eat bananas?
Dr Voronoff’s operation was so popular that he had to establish a colony of monkeys in France to keep up with the demand. All these monkeys singing soprano.
We shouldn’t think we are smarter or better. Lister takes a scornful look at plastic surgery, Botox injections, penis enlargement surgeries, vaginal tightening, “and all kinds of lotions and potions” being deployed to delay old age.
Ant eggs and vinegar have been used as hair removal aids, especially since underarm hair removal was first imposed in the 1920s as a corollary of the fashion for sleeveless dresses.
If Victoria Wood had decided to write a scientific book on sex, it would be like this. Lister has a naughty spirit and I loved the deployment of ingenious euphemisms: baby-cave, lady baubles, dragee.
I burst out laughing when I heard that vibrators were never sold as sexual aids. They were devices to treat colds, digestive disorders and flatulence, “from which the patient finds great relief”.
Most importantly, the descriptions of the treatment of women are very irritating – from the total ostracism of single mothers, to the horror of illegal abortions, to the insulting use of the word “bitch”, which has come to mean “a bitch”. woman who has authority over a man and must be silenced at all costs. ”There was a lot of shame, a lot of silence.