An unexpected but welcome gift: ‘a history of perverse sex’

Mon. 25 Sept. 2017

I was in for quite a surprise when the postie knocked on the door a short while ago – I hadn’t ordered anything and wasn’t expecting any deliveries. The package the postie had in his hands was way too big to get through the letterbox, so it was all a bit of a mystery.

When I got the package inside and opened it, all was revealed: it was a gift from out of the blue by one of my longstanding faithfuls, who took it upon himself to express appreciation with a gift he was certain would please me, and he wasn’t wrong. It was a very pleasant surprise indeed: a substantial history of “perverse” sex. The book, The Pleasure’s All Mine: A History of Perverse Sex by Julie Peakman, is a hardcover of 472 pages including notes, bibliography and index, and was published in 2013. It has 178 illustrations, a great many of them of a fascinating historical nature (I particularly like the ones from the 17th and 18th centuries depicting men and women of the cloth indulging in earthly delights).

Here is part of the official description of what the book is about:

What is perverse sex and what isn’t? The Pleasure’s All Mine explores the gamut of sexual activity that has been seen as strange, abnormal or deviant over the last 2,000 years. This first comprehensive history of sexual difference examines an abundance of original sources – letters, diaries, memoirs, court records, erotic books, medical texts and advice manuals – and shows how, for ordinary people, different kinds of sex have always offered myriad different pleasures. There never was a “normal”...
Almost all sexual behaviours have travelled to and fro along a continuum of proscription and acceptance... Each “perversion” is explored from the time it was first visible in history, to how it is viewed today, and along the way the book asks why we can be so intolerant of other people’s sexual preferences. Carefully researched as well as a fascinating read, and featuring a wide array of illustrations, The Pleasure’s All Mine reaches conclusions that are surprising, and sometimes shocking. This is an essential volume for anyone interested in the art, history and culture of sex.

And here is an extract from one review of the book:

Throughout history, sexual norms have shifted drastically: an act that is seen as deviant at one time may be widely accepted at another. Peakman argues that sexual acts have not changed much through the ages, but the cultural response to them has. Today, discussions about sexual preferences are still taboo in many parts of the world, and many opinions are still colored by society’s long-held beliefs... Peakman asks readers to think about how society dictates their own opinions, and her work helps pave the way for more open discussions of sexuality in the future.

Indeed. I think this book should be essential reading for our politicians and those lobbyists who seem intent on enforcing a new Victorianism upon us all, a moral hypocrisy that is out of touch with the reality of human nature (for my own thoughts on these subjects, you can start with my News item ‘Extreme porn’ and internet censorship).

For information about Julie Peakman, see her website: Julie Peakman, historian & author.

I look forward to reading this book; it promises to be both very enlightening and enjoyable.

Mistress Geo

Dust jacket of the hardcover edition, The Pleasure’s All Mine: A History of Perverse Sex, by Julie Peakman
(Reaktion Books, 2013).