The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution

Overview

A man admits that, when drunk, he tried to have sex with an eighteen-year-old girl; she is arrested and denies they had intercourse, but finally begs God's forgiveness. Then she is publicly hanged alongside her attacker. These events took place in 1644, in Boston, where today they would be viewed with horror. How—and when—did such a complete transformation of our culture's attitudes toward sex occur?

In The Origins of Sex, Faramerz Dabhoiwala provides a landmark history, one ...

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The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution

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Overview

A man admits that, when drunk, he tried to have sex with an eighteen-year-old girl; she is arrested and denies they had intercourse, but finally begs God's forgiveness. Then she is publicly hanged alongside her attacker. These events took place in 1644, in Boston, where today they would be viewed with horror. How—and when—did such a complete transformation of our culture's attitudes toward sex occur?

In The Origins of Sex, Faramerz Dabhoiwala provides a landmark history, one that will revolutionize our understanding of the origins of sexuality in modern Western culture. For millennia, sex had been strictly regulated by the Church, the state, and society, who vigorously and brutally attempted to punish any sex outside of marriage. But by 1800, everything had changed. Drawing on vast research—from canon law to court cases, from novels to pornography, not to mention the diaries and letters of people great and ordinary—Dabhoiwala shows how this dramatic change came about, tracing the interplay of intellectual trends, religious and cultural shifts, and politics and demographics. The Enlightenment led to the presumption that sex was a private matter; that morality could not be imposed; that men, not women, were the more lustful gender. Moreover, the rise of cities eroded community-based moral policing, and religious divisions undermined both church authority and fear of divine punishment. Sex became a central topic in poetry, drama, and fiction; diarists such as Samuel Pepys obsessed over it. In the 1700s, it became possible for a Church of Scotland leader to commend complete sexual liberty for both men and women. Arguing that the sexual revolution that really counted occurred long before the cultural movement of the 1960s, Dabhoiwala offers readers an engaging and wholly original look at the Western world's relationship to sex.

Deeply researched and powerfully argued, The Origins of Sex is a major work of history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Faramerz Dabhoiwala makes the case for a revolutionary change around the erotic that took place in the eighteenth century in Britain. Dabhoiwala offers a readable tour of sexual highlights and debates from the period: novels of seduction; the date over polygamy; Bernard Mandeville's call for legal, government regulated brothels; the controversial Magdalene House for reformed prostitutes; pornography; sex clubs for men; celebrity prostitutes; and royal mistresses." —Journal of British Studies

"In this lively and massively researched book, historian Dabhoiwala makes a convincing case that modern attitudes to sex in Britain derive from the changes in thought and sensibility that constituted the European Enlightenment...What distinguishes this book is its grand sweep...Recommended." —CHOICE

"Dabhoiwala works meticulously through the historical records of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries to show how English culture evolved intellectually, politically, and socially to arrive at modern ideas of sexual liberty, gender equality, and the privatization of sex-ideas that continued to evolve and transform culture during the 20th century this book is highly recommended to readers interested in English history and the history of sexuality." — Library Journal

"In this brilliantly argued, lucid and enthralling book, Faramerz Dabhoiwala describes the first sexual revolution — a sea change in attitudes towards sexual morality, the public and the private. The Origins of Sex shows how far men enjoyed, and women endured, the new sexual world. It is a majestic and provocative history of ideas and attitudes." —Amanda Vickery, author of The Gentleman's Daughter

"A splendidly informative and entertaining book ... persuasively argue[d] ... rich in anecdotes, funny, touching." — The Economist

"Wonderful ... [written] with great care and and unselfconscious aplomb ... an informative, wide-ranging book that is also compellingly readable." -John Barrell, The Guardian

"Ambitious ... brave ... a fascinating subject and also an important one ... it reveals as transient and relative so many of the values that seem non-negotiable today." — Lucy Worsley, The Financial Times

"The Origins of Sex overturns the conventional wisdom that the sexual revolution began in the Sixties ... baby boomers ... will be shocked and, I suspect, a little upset." -Cosmo Landesman, The Sunday Times

"Splendid ... audacious ... impressive ... [a] masterly debut ... [a] big book [with] many big successes ... an argument of such elegantly delivered lucidity ... the depth of detailed historical research is as eye-catching as the breadth and topicality of Dabhoiwala's argument ... [reveals] the core of the Western idea of what it is to be human and to be free ... this is more than just exemplary history; it is timely and important work. — Ian Kelly, The Times

"In this significant historical debut, Faramerz Dabhoiwala presents his readers with a revelation: how early, and how suddenly, the permissive society arrived in Christian Western Europe. Over three centuries ago a revolution took place in Western attitudes to sex; it began in England, but all modern Westerners are its heirs, and now it is challenging and remolding patterns of sexual behavior throughout the world. The book is not simply a finely-crafted work of history, but a study that will reshape the way its readers understand the most intimate level of their lives. It may even bring some sanity to modern debates about sexuality." —Diarmaid Macculloch, University of Oxford

"This is a work of serious scholarship, to be sure, but it is also a good read, entertaining, chockablock with fascinating - and often explicit - accounts....Dabhoiwala is particularly insightful in his examination of how the newfound questioning of sexual morality was expressed in the works of key writers, artists, and thinking of the period....Dabhoiwala writes deftly and with authority and the result is a work of scholarly heft that is also a pleasure to read." -Commentary Magazine

"anecdote-rich, crisply written and impressively well-researched..." -Michael Dirda, Washington Post

"Dabhoiwala's writing is lively, his reasoning rigorous and his respect for facts exemplary. And his story is irresistible, a portrait not only of a revolution in sex, but a revolution in the way we view ourselves and our place in the world." -Laura Miller, Salon

Michael Dirda
During the 17th and 18th centuries in England, people's attitudes toward sexual behavior…changed dramatically. To a large degree, this revolution pivoted on the dynamic between private actions and public, civic and religious ideals. How much, or in what way, should society police the erotic life of individuals? Was adultery a crime? Were prostitutes the devil's snare, or were they the pathetic victims of male callousness and exploitation? Should both sexes be held to the same moral standards? And exactly what standards should those be? In his anecdote-rich, crisply written and impressively well-researched The Origins of Sex, Oxford historian Faramerz Dabhoiwala tracks the answers to questions like these.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199892419
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2012
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 699,009
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Faramerz Dabhoiwala is lecturer, tutor, and Senior Fellow in Modern History at Exeter College, University of Oxford, and is a member of the Royal Historical Society.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: The Culture of Discipline
1. The Decline and Fall of Public Punishment
2. The Rise of Sexual Freedom
3. The Cult of Seduction
4. The Origins of White Slavery
5. The Media and the Message
Epilogue: Enlightened Attitudes—From the Victorians to the Twenty-First Century

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