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Dirty Little Secrets
True Tales and Twisted Trivia About Sex
By Erica Orloff, JoAnn Baker
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Erica Orloff and JoAnn Baker
All rights reserved.
ONCE UPON A TIME
Once upon a time, sex was a simple affair — but we're talking a really long time ago. So, we might as well start with the primordial ooze, when life consisted of single-cell organisms. These microscopic forms were so basic they didn't even have genders. To reproduce, they just split in two. But whenever the population outgrew its environment and sustaining life was more difficult, some of the organisms fused together instead. To improve their chances of survival, the cells chose fusion partners as different from themselves as possible (probably causing their friends and relatives to wonder why two such opposites would be attracted to one another).
It is not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance?
Eventually, more and more cells glommed together (no one said this book is scientific), and life forms got bigger and more complex until finally there were stable species with two distinct genders.
From this lowly beginning, males and females have been relentlessly pursuing each other. But it wasn't until modern man arrived on the scene that sex became a complicated matter involving spiritual, social, and political ramifications.
THOU SHALT BETTER STOP BOFFING
The ancient Greeks and Romans have a reputation for enjoying licentious behavior, while it seems as if the ancient Jews were always getting smote down for it. Since both cultures understood that people have strong sex drives, how is it they developed such diverse attitudes? Probably because humans have one instinct even stronger than the one to procreate — the one to survive. According to some theorists, because both the Greeks and Romans lived in relatively small areas, as their civilizations grew so did the need for population control. Since sex and procreation went hand in hand, and the invention of the pill was a few millennia away, alternative methods of sexual satisfaction were not only accepted, but to some degree, encouraged. Some men kept sterile mistresses, others took male lovers. Homosexual activity was regarded as natural enough to be woven into the legends of their gods and heroes. The parameters of acceptability, however, are a little ironic. While sodomy between an adult male mentor and his adolescent student was expected, a monogamous homosexual relationship between two grown men was a social no-no. Go figure. And sex with a child not yet through puberty was illegal.
At one point, the Greeks also controlled their population by exiling fertile, unmarried women to the Isle of Lesbos. Since the only sex to be had there was with other women, it's no wonder Lesbians became synonymous with female homosexuals.
The ancient Jewish civilization had a completely different problem. They lived in a fruitful land surrounded by hostile neighbors with much larger populations. For the Jews, increasing their numbers was as necessary to survival as controlling the populace was to the Greeks and Romans. So the ultimate goal of sex was conception, which eventually translated to conception being the only respectable goal for sex.
By the time Moses came trotting down the mountain with his rules on rock, communal morality frowned upon alternative sexual practices. Masturbation, homosexuality, bestiality, and prostitution all got negative press in the Old Testament. (And coveting your neighbor's wife isn't allowed, although knocking up your brother's widow is not only okay, it's a duty.) But marital sex was regarded with approval and is celebrated in the Song of Songs.
Considering the Good Book's rather stringent regulations regarding sexual relations, it's rather odd that a common euphemism for intercourse with a woman is "to know her in the biblical sense."
Since the first Christians had been Jewish, the newly created religion held to Jewish beliefs regarding sex. But by 500 A.D., even intercourse for procreation was viewed as a necessary evil. Celibacy was a holy trait. This was partly because of the teachings of St. Augustine. He had been quite a wild one, taking both male and female lovers, until he renounced his evil ways. Once he tucked the old one-eyed snake away for good, he wrote about his experiences and his interpretation of them. Lust, he felt, was the defining difference between Man and God. He believed Adam and Eve were cast from the Garden of Eden for their sin of sexual lust and that, as a result, all humans were burdened from birth with this original sin.
FEET IN THE STIRRUPS, KNEES APART
Gyne, the root word for gynecology comes from the Greek and means bearer of children. Gynecologists, however, do not bear children for a living. They are more like inspectors of child-bearing equipment. They do their job using a miner's hat and ice-cold instruments.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Chinese, Hindu, and Islamic people had an entirely different perspective on sex. A celebrated facet of life, sexual activity was neither restricted nor regarded as negative. The Kama Sutra (a manual on sexual variety and positions) was first compiled around the time Augustine was promoting a chaste life.
A LITTLE ICE IN THE CODPIECE AND VOILA!
Christianity quickly spread, and the number of followers grew with each generation. By the Middle Ages, the church was so powerful in Europe that it eclipsed secular society, and religious rules were synonymous with common law. Church leaders dictated sexual repression for the multitude, but certain members of the upper class could have "courtly love." A highly suspect custom, courtly love sprung from the idea that while marriages (which were usually arranged) generally resulted in love, that love was somewhat sullied by the obligatory nasty stuff that went on between the sheets. In contrast, courtly lovers were thought to have a pure love, untainted by sex, for one another. To prove their love was the courtly variety, the pair was tested by being stripped naked and made to lie down next to each other for a period of time. If no signs of lust passed between them, they were free to spend time together without a chaperone. (The idea that Lord Muffwilling and Lady Peterlove wouldn't eventually consummate their relationship once out of the public eye is certainly a curiously naive supposition. Perhaps because the priesthood attracted a fair amount of homosexuals who were capable of loving a woman without lusting for her, they based their assumptions on their own experience.) Apparently, commoners were incapable of "pure" love, since this practice was only acceptable among the elite.
BUT HONESTLY, M'LORD, THIS BELT DOESN'T GO WITH MY ENSEMBLE!
It was also during the Middle Ages that technology reared its sometimes ugly head in the form of a new invention — the chastity belt. The belt allowed men to lock up their wives and daughters, who were considered property. Entirely made of metal, the chastity belt sat on a woman's hips and a molded band, attached to the front, went between the legs and locked onto the back of the belt. Two small holes in the band provided an outlet for elimination but were too small for any kind of penetration. Whether a chastity belt was made of ornately carved gold or crudely molded iron, it was heavy, rigid, and it restricted movement. But these were the least of the wearer's problems. A woman could be locked into a belt for extended periods of time while her husband was away. Even with very frequent bathing, hygiene was extremely difficult. Menstrual flow and bowel movements could easily cause bacterial infections that could turn deadly. The metal bands could chafe to bleeding, and the resulting sores were also an open invitation to bacteria. If a woman lost weight, it might be easier for her to keep herself clean, but the chafing would increase. If she gained weight, the opposite was true. And if she gained enough weight, she could lose circulation below the belt. One of the original intentions of putting a woman in a chastity belt was to prevent rape. But it seems logical that a rapist (who is more likely to commit the crime out of aggression, not desire) would be more likely to kill his victim if he found the goodies inaccessible.
LORDY, LORDY, GIVE THE GIRL SOME CREDIT
Clear up until the mid-1600s, it was generally believed that teeny tiny humans resided within the viscous ejaculation of men. These mini-folks just needed a nice warm womb so they could grow up to be babies. This theory meant that as long as a man could ejaculate, he was capable of producing offspring. So, invariably it was a woman's fault if a couple failed to have children.
Anatomy professor Dr. Gabriel Fallopius noted the existence of both the ovaries and tubes (yup, those fallopian things) in women sometime in the mid-1500s, but another 100 years would go by before anyone figured out that those extra parts had a purpose. The discovery came, not from a scientist or physician, but from a haberdasher.
Antoine van Leewenhoek ground glass into lenses as a hobby and succeeded in creating a microscope with a high enough resolution to see cells. The world's first microbiologist, this Dutch haberdasher made numerous discoveries, one of which is that women produce and contribute an egg to the procreation process.
Both the Protestant Reformation and resurgence of the arts and humanism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries brought a more relaxed attitude toward sex. Not to say slutting around was encouraged, but things did loosen up somewhat, and the customs of courtly love and chastity belts faded into the past.
A BRAND-NEW WORLD, BUT THE SAME OLD IDEAS
Mainstream Europe might have been less uptight about sex in the 1700s, but in America the Puritan ethic in New England was alive and well. Laws against perversion (pretty much any sex act that wasn't intercourse between married couples) abounded and proscribed punishments ranged from public humiliation (as in Nathaniel Hawthorn's The Scarlet Letter) to the death penalty, with everything from whippings, to stockade or jail time in between. To prevent impropriety, rules for single men and women were very specific and addressed a multitude of situations, including when (only during daylight, unless engaged) and how (man on the street side, never touching more than a woman's elbow) a pair could walk together in public.
Americans who had less interest in purity could pack up and head for the Wild West, where prostitution abounded. Lawmen were too few and too busy to bother with blow jobs for hire. And because the number of men so far exceeded that of women, prostitutes were a welcome diversion.
PLEASE, DON'T TELL ME YOU'RE ONLY NINE
In view of the Victorian attitude toward sexual behavior, certain laws during the era seem particularly incongruous. In 25 states, the legal age of consent was only 10, making children victims of both prostitution and sale for marriage. A public outcry in 1886 eventually caused all but five states to raise the age of consent, but many of them only brought it to 13 or 14.
I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU, THIS BELT DOESN'T GO WITH MY ENSEMBLE!
In yet another cycle, Europeans were going puritanical again, and by the Victorian Era of the 1800s, "proper" behavior was so sexually repressed that offering a lady a breast or thigh of chicken was considered offensive. In fact, offering a leg was also rude. Women's clothing was so modest that heaven forbid a neck or ankle was seen. In many homes, piano legs became victims of virtue and were kept covered with skirts. (Perhaps they believed Fido wasn't the only one that might find himself in amorous pursuit of furniture legs.) Prudishness also reigned in home libraries, where books written by male authors were not shelved next to those written by females (except for authors married to one another).
THERE'S NO ONE BUT EWE
Horny farm guys have occasionally looked to the back end of their animals for relief, but in Massachusetts during the 1600s the practice of buggery (a euphemism for sex with animals) could have devastating results. Whether the guilty party was a grown man or a young boy, those caught bonking livestock were quickly put to death. First, however, the offender was usually required to watch while the animal was killed. Doing away with the victim came from the belief that sex between humans and animals could produce offspring. The concept of a half-human species was terrifyingly real to these early Americans, and they felt it was imperative to prevent such births.
The chastity belt reappeared during this time, but with a few differences. For one thing, some women chose to wear a chastity belt for protection. In those cases, the woman herself had the key, and she used the belt only outside the home. For women locked into them, cleanliness was quite a bit easier with a bidet. And some girls were put into chastity belts by their parents to prevent masturbation.
WE WANT TO BE PRUDES, TOO!
Upper-class Americans were quick to hop on the Victorian bandwagon of repression, and they brought it into the political arena. Groups such as "The American Society for the Prevention of Licentiousness and Vice and the Promotion of Morality" and "The American Society for Promoting Observance of the Seventh Commandment" were gaining a voice. These gangs of moral conservatism wanted to stop prostitution and save "fallen women" from an eternity in hell. These groups weren't very successful at eliminating brothels, but they enjoyed some political clout and sowed the early seeds of the temperance movement. But, as with every mainstream movement, there are those who have a different set of values and rebel against the status quo. So while culturally correct households covered their furniture legs to keep from offending delicate sensibilities, pornography flourished underground. Officials passed laws regarding censorship and banning porno, but the law had little effect on the popularity of erotic material. At the start of the Civil War, officers prosecuted soldiers caught with lewd material but quickly determined their efforts were futile. So, within the military the censorship laws were pretty much ignored.
In fact, many sexual beliefs and practices of the time were not consistent with one another. While Victorian followers were pretending s*x didn't really exist, some doctors began recommending ways husbands could bring their wives to orgasm.
IF WE CAN'T MAKE IT GO AWAY, LET'S HIDE IT IN A MENTAL INSTITUTION
Throughout the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century, homosexuality was not acceptable, but "romantic love" between friends was. A Victorian etiquette book for women suggests that the practice of girls touching, stroking, and kissing each other was a private affair and should never be done in front of a gentleman. Likewise, it wasn't considered odd for a man to write a letter confessing his love to his male friend. Yet, despite the homoerotic nature of these relationships, sex acts like cunnilingus or fellatio between couples of the same gender was scandalous. The custom of romantic love and society's tolerance for it might have come, in part, from the constant separation of the sexes. This is especially true of students at boarding schools, soldiers fighting the Civil War, and the cowboys working in the Old West. For many, indulging in homosexual relationships was born, not of preference, but of long periods of time spent in single-gender situations. For those people who did prefer their own sex, however, the cowboy life reputedly drew a number of men specifically because of the freedom to pursue an alternative lifestyle. And there are accounts of lesbians who dressed and lived as men so they could earn men's wages and openly engage in relationships with other women.
Morality groups got vocal in their opposition to homosexuality, and in the 1880s the American Medical Society labeled homosexuality as a perverse mental disease. Within a year, laws forbidding "acts against nature" (a euphemism for sodomy) appeared on the books in most states. Gays caught in the act could avoid prosecution by pleading insanity.
ALL THAT JAZZ
Europeans, who started the whole Victorian thing, changed their tune and, by 1860, went so far as to legalize prostitution. While Americans never reached the same level of liberalism, the mainstream attitude started to relax by the turn of the century.
Life for middle- and upper-class Americans changed fast and furiously between 1900 and 1920. Males and females, previously separated most of the time, spent a majority of their days side by side. A growing economy allowed far more children to continue their education through the twelfth grade. High schools were jam-packed with hormonal teenagers who had much more time to socialize without the watchful eyes of their parents. Hollywood movies, a blossoming form of entertainment, promoted relationships based on mutual attraction rather than convenience or arrangement. Popular reading material included romance novels, true confession magazines, and Sigmund Freud's writings. These things all emphasized sexuality as an important force in the human experience — though each from a different perspective.
Excerpted from Dirty Little Secrets by Erica Orloff, JoAnn Baker. Copyright © 2001 Erica Orloff and JoAnn Baker. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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