[Paleopsych] The Times: Put what where? 2, 000 years of bizarre sex advice
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Put what where? 2,000 years of bizarre sex advice
Put what where? 2,000 years of bizarre sex advice
Tight corsets cause nymphomania, orgasms can kill and wasps are a
turn-on. John Naish looks at the top sex tips over the ages
Mating. Reproduction. Nothing is more crucial to humanity's survival,
so it would be logical to expect us to have got it sussed early in our
evolution. But since the start of civilisation, the fundamentals of
human sex -- where to put it, how and when -- have been absurdly
confused by a parade of moralists, pundits and visionaries all
claiming to know the magic secrets and only too happy to pass them on
at a very reasonable price.
Just as every generation thinks that it invented sex, we also think we
invented lovemaking manuals, or at least based them on a few
prototypes such as the Kamasutra and Marie Stopes's 1918 Married Love.
But today's maelstrom of books, videos and DVDs has a far richer, more
twisted heritage than that.
The tradition of bestselling love guides goes back to the Ancient
Chinese. Our earliest known manuals were first written in 300BC and
buried in a family tomb at Mawangdui, in Hunan province. Recent
translation reveals the timeless nature of the subjects they tackled.
Written as Cosmo coverlines, they would look like this: Four Seasons
of Sex -- and Why Autumn is Hot, Hot, Hot; Wild New Positions; Tiger
Roving, Gibbon Grabbing and Fish Gobbling; Aphrodisiacs to Keep You Up
All Night!Plus Exclusive! Your Love Route to Immortality.
As ever, it was all nonsense: home-made Viagra recipes involved
ingredients such as beetle larvae, wasps and dried snails. The books
also promised that any man who had sex with a different virgin every
night for 100 nights without ejaculating would live for ever (albeit
These odd beginnings set a trend: weird tips from strange authors,
many of whom became manual martyrs. Ovid, the Roman poet, advised
women on the best positions to suit their bodies in his poem Ars
Amatoria. For example: "If you are short, go on top/If you're
conspicuously tall, kneel with your head turned slightly sideways."
The prudish Emperor Augustus banished poor Ovid to a chilly outpost of
empire (a small town on the Black Sea in modern Romania).
Medieval European sex advice followed the strait-laced trend: most of
it said "don't". Pleasure paved Hell's roads and misogynistic manuals
such as De Secretis Mulierum (The Secrets of Women) claimed that
females used sex to drain men of their power and that some hid sharp
shards of iron inside themselves to injure innocent lovers.
A technological breakthrough in the Renaissance put us back on our
lascivious tracks. The printing press enabled publishers to churn out
dodgy books faster than the Church authorities could ban them. Readers
were treated to gems such as Mrs Isabella Cortes's handy hint from
1561 that a mixture of quail testicles, large-winged ants, musk and
amber was perfect for straightening bent penises. The era also brought
us the earliest recorded recommendation of slippers as a sex aid
("Cold feet are a powerful hindrance to coition," warned Giovanni
Sinibaldi in his 1658 book Rare Verities.) But to find history's
oddest advisers, we must look to the Victorians and Edwardians.
William Chidley, for example, believed that he could best promote his
ideas by walking around in a toga. Chidley, an Australian, advised
readers in his 1911 pamphlet The Answer that heavy clothing caused
erections, which would lead to sexual overexcitement, illness and
death, as well as being "ugly things" of which "we are all ashamed".
He urged people to live on fruit and nuts and to practise a method of
flaccid intercourse apparently based on horses' sex lives. Yet it
wasn't his ideas that got him repeatedly arrested, but his silk toga,
which the authorities thought indecent. After his death, supporters
continued propounding his theories into the 1920s.
For the ultimate proof that you don't need relevant qualifications to
become a world expert, we turn to Marie Stopes. She was married and in
her late thirties when she wrote one of Britain's most enduring sex
guides, Married Love. But she was also a virgin.
Stopes was inspired by her betrothal to Reginald "Ruggles" Gates, who,
she told a divorce court, had failed ever to become "effectively
rigid". When Married Love hit the shelves early in 1918 it outsold the
bestselling contemporary novels by a huge margin. By 1925, sales had
passed the half-million mark.
Stopes was a fan of Hitler's eugenics and arrogant enough to offer
Rudyard Kipling and George Bernard Shaw advice on writing. Her main
sex-manual innovation was a theory that women have a "sex tide" of
passion that ebbs and flows on a fortnightly basis -- and woe betide
the man who didn't understand this. In case her second husband, the
manufacturing magnate Humphrey Verdon Roe, got it wrong, she made him
sign a contract releasing her to have sex with other men.
So that's our sexual forebears, a weird lot with funny ideas. Compared
with them we might appear at the zenith of sexual enlightenment. Our
age is remarkable for the sheer volume of sex advice being consumed:
one woman in four now owns a sex manual, says a survey by the
publishers Dorling Kindersley. Everyone from porn stars to the
car-manual firm Haynes has one out. Well, I wonder. In 50 years' time,
I foresee the students at a university faculty of s exual semiotics
studying the early Twenty-Ohs with the same mirth, incredulity and
horror that shake us when we consider our ancestors' obsessions.
Perhaps they will wonder why we bought so many manuals, videos and
DVDs but seemed to have so little time or energy left for sex. Maybe
they will link our obsession with orgasms to our endless need to go
shopping. They might also connect our avid consumption of sex advice
to our growing terror of personal embarrassment and "getting it
wrong". They may even have a name for us; perhaps the erotic
Put What Where? Over 2,000 Years of Bizarre Sex Advice, by John Naish
(HarperElement £9.99), is available from Times Books First at £9.49
p&p free. Call 0870 1608080 or visit
Wisdom of the ancients
How to pull
"Pick the woman's worst feature and then make it appear desirable.
Tell an older woman that she looks young. Tell an ugly woman that she
looks `fascinating'." Philaenis, papyrus sex manual (2BC)
"All women are lascivious but auburn blondes the most. A little
straight forehead denotes an unbridled appetite in lust." Giovanni
Sinibaldi, Rare Verities: the Cabinet of Venus Unlock'd (1658)
Buns and corsets cause nymphomania
"Constricting the waist by corsets prevents the return of blood to the
heart, overloads sexual organs and causes unnatural excitement of the
sexual system. The majority of women follow the goddess Fashion and so
also wear their hair in a heavy knot. This great pressure on their
small brains produces great heat and chronic inflammation of their
sexual organs. It is almost impossible that such women should lead
other than a life of sexual excess." Dr John Cowan, The Science of a
New Life (1888)
On the other hand . . .
"The majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled
with sexual feelings of any kind." Dr William Acton, Functions and
Disorders of the Reproductive Organs (1858)
"Rub your penis with the bristles of certain insects that live in
trees, and then, after rubbing it for ten nights with oils, rub it
with the bristles as before. Swelling will be gradually produced. Then
lie on a hammock with a hole in it and hang the penis through the
hole. Take away the pain from the swelling by using cool concoctions.
The swelling lasts for life." Kamasutra, translated by Sir Richard
Burton and F. F. "Bunny" Arbuthnot (1883)
Climaxes can kill
"Fainting, vomiting, involuntary urination, epilepsy and defecation
have occurred in young men after first coitus. Lesions of various
organs have taken place. In men of mature age the arteries have been
unable to resist the high blood pressure and cerebral haemorrhage with
paralysis has occurred. In elderly men the excitement of intercourse
with young wives or prostitutes has caused death." Havelock Ellis,
Psychology of Sex: a Manual for Students (1933)
"The ordinary man can safely indulge about four times a month. More
than that would be excess for a large majority of civilised men and
women." Lyman B. Sperry, Confidential Talks with Husband and Wife: a
Book of Information and Advice for the Married and Marriageable (1900)
"Look at the habitual masturbator! See how thin, pale and haggard he
appears; how his eyes are sunken; how long and cadaverous is his cast
of countenance; how irritable he is and how sluggish, mentally and
physically; how afraid he is to meet the eye of his fellow, feel his
damp and chilling hand, so characteristic of great vital exhaustion."
Dr Henry Guernsey, Plain Talks on Avoided Subjects (1882)
Never marry these women
"Redheads. Any girl named after a mountain, a tree, a river or a bird.
Ones with rough hands or feet. Ones who sigh, laugh or cry at meals.
Any girl with inverted nipples, a beard, uneven breasts, flap ears,
spindle legs or who is scrawny. Girls whose big toes are
disproportionately small. Girls who make the ground shake when they
walk past." Koka Shastra, The Indian Scripture of Koka (12th century)
And, if you can't find it, don't worry
"The clitoris, while important, is not nearly as important as many of
us have been taught or led to believe." Edward Podolsky, Sex Technique
for Husband and Wife (1947)
But whatever you do ...
"Never fool around sexually with a vacuum cleaner." Dr Alex Comfort,
The Joy of Sex (1972)
John Naish will be available on Times Online to answer your questions
on his book. Send your e-mails to him and read the answers here
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