“Harem culture.” Is that like HBO’s series “Big Love” except Muslim, not Mormon, and with tassels, a potted palm and no bickering? Well yes, sort of. But there are a lot more women in a harem. A lot. The seraglio of the sultan of the Ottoman Empire housed about 1,600 virgins, each hoping to be chosen for one night of honor. The sultan makes Brigham Young, who had only a few dozen wives, look like a piker with low self-esteem. Yet after reading Richard Bernstein’s fascinating new book, “The East, the West, and Sex” (which could have been subtitled “Boys Behaving Badly”), you really have to give the Mormons credit for trying to implement an American version of the infamous harem of “the East.” As if that were going to work around here. Most of the world is not only not around here, of course, but also so old and so vast that the United States is less than a blip on the screen of human erotic history. India was playing Twister — the Kama Sutra version — more than a thousand years before Columbus got a boat and came to find us.
more from Toni Bentley at the NYT here.