Friday, April 24, 2009

Sex in History

My husband and I were discussing how sometimes it seems like the education curriculum is set up to discourage children from enjoying reading. They are forced to read books that they may have not a singe interest in (I still loathe Don Quixote to this day and all but run shrieking away when I see a copy) just so they can get a grade and pass the state mandated test.

I retain very few memories of all those books we were supposed to read but the one English class where we were allowed to just pick certain books off a list was wonderful. I discovered Dumas and The Count of Monte Cristo and found an entire era of literature I could really sink my teeth into.

I remember also in my college honors theatre class (which was awesome in and of itself. I loved being in honors classes because there was almost no focus on tests or grades. You just got to learn) being shown how the Shakespeare play The Taming of the Shrew would have been performed in his time. It was so much easier to understand what was going on than sitting down and trying to understand all the allegories and made up words the Bard used to get his ideas across.

Instead, most people's first introduction to Shakespeare is through being forced to read Romeo & Juliet (which I also cannot stand, though I think that's mostly due to what it's been turned into) and only after struggling through it and taking a test are allowed to watch it. Who wouldn't build up a resentment to that?

It feels like the same is done to history, the life is just sucked out of it. Instead of learning all the interesting and fascinating quirks of what life was like in Medieval Europe or how much the founding fathers came to hate each other you get to memorize names and dates so you can pass a test. It doesn't help the history seem more tangible and exciting.

And forget learning what every person is really interested in, the dirt. There are wars and violence (cause we sure love that in the states) but anything even vaguely associated with sex is blacked out or censored with thoughtspeak. Which is really sad because it's amazing just how much sense society makes when you put the sex and love back in.

For a Valentine's day my husband saw that I was eyeing a book hidden in the Romance & Relationship section of Barnes & Noble (we're weird, but it's fun to flip through those things and just see the god awful advice given) and bought it for me.

It's called Sex in History by Reay Tannahill and what I really love about it is that it doesn't just cover western Europe once we get past Egypt. There's a section devoted to China, India and Islam and eventually gets to some of Latin America when colonialism comes into play. There's still no Africa it is by far more world comprehensive than most history books I come across.

While there is a range of topics from contraception, prostitution, and talk of numerous forms of intercourse it is mostly a study on female and male relations throughout history. It's interesting how it seems like women had quite a bit of power just before the formation of a religion or civilization and then it was quickly stripped away.

It's almost as though as soon as men get a taste of power, the first thing they do is to suppress half of the population. It appears over and over from the Greek and Romans to Christianity (probably by far the worst) and Islam. There is only a bit on Judaism that is mostly tied into Egypt and the Christianity sections sadly.

Homosexuality is discussed as well. Believe it or not but the early church actually viewed contraception by far as the worst sexual sin and put homosexuality up there with masturbation in terms of penance as they were all just ways you weren't making babies. It wasn't til quite some time that the "ick" factor came into play. The church had (okay still has) some twisted views on sex thanks to Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and thanks to those gave women as little power as possible.

China during Taoism was in fact the only culture to ever hold female orgasm above male. It was thought that everyone had to balance their yin-yang. Women had an unending supple of yin while men a limited amount of yang (better known as ejaculate). In order to receive as much yin from a woman he must bring her to orgasm. Men were also discouraged from ejaculating (and losing their yang) during certain times of the year.

These are just a few little fascinating tid bits I've found in this book. If you have any interest in men and women relations throughout recorded history or want to see just how certain taboos began and then receded I'd really suggest picking up this book.

Or if there is just one topic you're curious about I'd be more than happy to talk about it. This book really covers a very wide range right up to almost present day (it was published in 1980 with an addendum about the AIDS scare in 1992) and is really fascinating.


Shell @ Disappearing Mist said...

Thanks for sharing that! It's always intriguing to read about taboo subjects :P That sounds like a fascinating book!

Linda said...

I'm definitely getting that book.
In college I was the one choosing my courses based on what books we read. Of course I was forced to take required classes but I took plenty for fun.
I read the History of Marriage which was also very fascinating.

The Cape House said...

That is certainly a book that I will have to look into. Your title immediately made me think of the book "Sex with Kings." It's about the history of royal mistresses. The information is true and therefore interesting, yet highly entertaining.