the origins of sex


Philip Larkin facetiously claimed that “Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen-sixty-three … Between the end of the Chatterley ban/ And The Beatles’ first LP”. If perchance you thought that Larkin was being serious, Faramerz Dabhoiwala will put you right. The Oxford historian sets out to show that sex began in the 18th century – or, to be fair, that’s when people started thinking and talking about it in a recognisably modern way. Today we believe that women are less lustful than men – it was vice versa before 1800. Today we believe that everyone is entitled to be treated the same regardless of race or social class; certainly not so then. Today sex is a private matter, and what they get up to next door is nobody’s business but their own. However, if you suspected that your 17th-century neighbour was committing adultery, you could send her off to the church courts. There she might (at least theoretically) even lose her life just on the strength of your word. Is our modern obsession with the sex lives of celebrities some crude and vulgar 20th-century phenomenon? No, it actually kicked off in the 1660s.

more from Lucy Worsley at the FT here.