Skip to content

It’s history, but not as we know it, Jim

July 29, 2020

If you’re looking for some light relief (to coin a phrase) from the troubles of the day, you could try reading Kate Lister’s A Curious History of Sex. I won’t go into the contents in any detail, since this isn’t an adult blog.

But suffice it to say that Lister, who covers the whole gamut of sexual activity in varying levels of detail, deals with her subject in an academic style, with loads of footnotes, references, a huge bibliography and a comprehensive index. But she does so with a lack of the stuffiness and arcane language you would expect from someone who makes her living as a university lecturer. In fact the book is laced with wicked humour that’s entirely appropriate because, as we all know, sex can be a very funny subject.

We meet many of the usual suspects, from Casanova to Kinsey, Lord Rochester to D.H. Lawrence, and a number of earnest but little known inventors who over the ages have come up mechanisms both to encourage and prohibit the art of procreation and the enjoyment thereof. The illustrations are almost worth the investment on their own.

In case you think that this is a smutty book dressed up as a serious academic tome, be reassured. It’s neither, though there’s plenty of smut as well as scholarly reflection. Kate Lister really knows her stuff, so if you want to know about the history of aphrodisiacs, monkey glands, contraception, sacred prostitution, bicycles and menstrual fetishes, she’s your woman.

Let’s face it, most of us have done it, thought about it, read about it and remembered it, even if for some it’s a theoretical interest. Sex is everywhere, whether we like it or not. So it surely does us no harm to delve into the subject in a little more depth than we might if all we encounter beyond our own experience is bonkbusters, adult websites and R-rated movies.

Having said that, it’s not the sort of book you would want to leave lying around when your grandparents come to visit unless you’re pretty sure of their broad-mindedness. Are grandparents shockable these days? I’m not sure, but I suspect that my children’s grandparents, if they were still alive, might have squirmed a bit.

On the other hand, you might find it amusing to read it at the airport and watch the carefully-disguised reactions of your fellow-passengers.

Well worth a read, even if you feel the need to wrap it in brown paper.

From → Books, History, Social, UK

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: