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The Weirdest Sex Manuals Throughout History
Want 2400-year-old Viagra? Try bee stings.
By Johannah King-Slutzky
Everyone knows that the sexual revolution invented sex, right? Oh, people have been doing this for millennia? With Masters of Sex premiering Sunday, it's clear sex how-to is more than a one-off source of fixation. But what did sex manuals look like before contemporary iterations like The Lovers' Guide or Savage Love? Nerve scavenged Google Books to find out just how variable (and seemingly ahead-of-its-time) sex advice can be. Some of it's beautiful, some of it's weird, some of it's eerily prescient: Here's our favorite historical sex advice. (Illustrations might be NSFW.)
1. The School of Venus, 1680
This premodern sex manual is surprisingly frank about sexuality, covering seemingly anachronistic ground like condoms, female orgasms, and fuck buddies. Samuel Pepys, noted diarist, called it "the most bawdy, lewd book that ever I saw" -- and then bought it. Excerpts and illustrations below. (h/t The Appendix)
2. An ABZ of Love, 1963
A favorite of Kurt Vonnegut's, this tender sex manual authored by Danish couple Inge and Sten Hegeler promises: "aspects of sexual relationships seen from a slightly different standpoint.” In the Hegelers' case, that meant a progressive approach to LGBT rights, sexism, and family-oriented sex ed, often penned in a sweet, wry tone.
"We are none of us so full of common sense as we would like to think ourselves. So there are two paths we can take: one is try to deny and suppress our emotions and force ourselves to think sensibly. In this way we run the risk of fooling ourselves. The other way is to admit to our emotions, accept our feelings and let them come out into the daylight. By being suspicious of all the judgments we pass on the basis of what we feel (and not until then) we shall taken a step towards becoming practitioners of common sense."
3. Private Sex Advice To Women, 1917
Penned by R.B. Armitage, M.D., this guide for "For Young Wives and Those Who Soon Expect To Be Married" is morally a mixed bag. On the one hand, Armitage spends several chapters talking about the major hip new technology of his time, eugenics. Not so great. But there's also advice that sounds surprisingly contemporary, namely, on the ethics of birth control and abortion. It's still just another old white guy talking to women about their bodies; but it's pretty cool that he grasped the importance of planned parenthood and the weight of such a personal choice before there was a Planned Parenthood or Pro Choice. The more things change...
"One of the most distressing features of the popular prejudice against Birth Control, arising from a total misconception of the subject, has been the widely spread and popularly accepted notion that Birth Control is practically analogous to abortion[...]. We realize that in exercising control over the entrance gate of life we are not fully performing, consciously and deliberately, a great human duty, but carrying on rationally a beneficial process which has, more blindly and wastefully, been carried on since the beginning of the world. There are still a few persons ignorant enough or foolish enough to fight against the advance of civilization in this matter; we can well afford to leave them severely alone, knowing that in a few years all of them will have passed away. It is not our business to defend the control of birth, but simply discuss how we may most wisely exercise that control." (Via.)