Sunday, 19 August 2012

103/111 - Sexuality: A Very Short Introduction by Veronique Mottier

The second book in my spree of reading books about sex. This is one I bought recently as there was a three for two offer on the 'very short introduction' series. I have read a couple of books from this series before, with mixed results. Some have been good, others not so good. I think this is due to the fact that you can get a very mixed bag of authors when writing something like this. Obviously, you need to find someone who is an expert in their field, but who can also write an accessible and interesting volume, that is also quite short.

When I was interning for a British publisher who were producing similar guides, sort of as an introduction to a topic. One of the tasks I undertook while I was there was to perform research into potential authors for an introductory guide to particle physics. It was tough. I had to just start googling professors and experts and compiling lists of people who might be suitable. It's not as simple as that, though. One of the other things I had to do was to proofread a manuscript for a guide to modern history. It was dreadful. I can't remember who it was written by, however it was never published, as it was basically incoherent. I found it amazing that someone who is a university professor could not write a basic introduction to the subject. Awful.

Anyway, onto this book. This book was actually quite good, and very interesting. One of the better guides, a good introduction to the topic which actually makes you want to read more into the topic. Some of the bits I found interesting included:

- The history of sexuality, with a brief outline of how the ancient Greeks and Romans approached sexuality. There was a cool part where they talked about finding some ancient fossilised footprints in the floor, where a prostitute had carved the words 'follow me' into the base of their shoes to advertise their trade.

- Early Christians actually didn't believe that marriage was a good idea. They believed mostly in chastity and believed that marriage and families distracted from getting closer to God. Which is probably one of the reasons that priests are not allowed to get married, I guess? Eventually the church decided that marriage was an acceptable compromise.

- Throughout the book, it outlines the usual stuff about women having been thought of as inferior to men. It was also traditionally thought that women had sexual appetites that were out of control, and that if men had sex with them too much, then women would drain their power.

- Many feminists initially viewed the pill with suspicion as it was seen as another instrument of male control over the female body. I already knew this, but some feminists believed that women should no longer have relationships with men, at least until the balance of power became equal. Sleeping with men was regarded as sleeping with the enemy. I think this is a difficult idea to get to grips with.

- The most interesting chapter was about the state in the bedroom. I had no idea that eugenics was so widely spread throughout Europe. There was a quote in the book from someone called Margaret Sanger: 'Funds that should be used to raise the standard of our civilisation are diverted to the maintenance of those who should never have been born.' Ouch. This quote was from 1921, but it sounds like it could have been written at any time. Like during the reign of the Nazi party, or even today! It's really difficult to think about this, because on the one hand it's an awful thing to think, and totally dreadful. However, on the other hand, from a pragmatic point of view it seems to make sense that people who don't have the money or resources available to raise families should maybe not have loads and loads of kids? I don't know, it's a really uncomfortable idea because historically, eugenics was very much racially motivated. People didn't want 'undesirable' races breeding, or people with supposed 'defects'. Creepy.

- Another thing which pretty much totally horrified me was to read that during the 70s and early 80s, gay rights groups and feminist groups had alliances with paedophile groups, and they worked together for the decriminalisation of sex with children. However, this was more to do with forming alliances between groups on the grounds of solidarity, since they were all groups of marginalised people. Obviously, gay rights groups and feminists are not paedophiles. It's crazy to think that there was at one point alliances between these groups! Eventually, gay rights groups released formal statements distancing themselves from paedophile advocacy and actively began to criticise their aims.

I guess in a way it's strange to think about how much things have changed. There was a time when it was unthinkable that women should be allowed to vote, they weren't allowed to own land, and they were not supposed to enjoy sex. Until quite recently, being gay was defined as a mental illness and was criminalised in many places (and still is in some). To me, this is unthinkable, and I fully support the rights of women and people in the LGBT movement. However, will we one day look back at paedophiles and be horrified at how badly we treated them? Will sex with children one day be decriminalised? I can't imagine it happening, and I hope it doesn't. Obviously I accept that women and LGBT people are adults with their own faculties and should be allowed to live their lives in any way they want to. But children cannot give informed consent and are not physically mature enough to have sex, no it seems to me that a relationship between a child and an adult would be too much of an uneven balance of power. Gross!

So yes, very interesting book, and I have one book on sex left to read, which I will be reading next! It's called 'The Sex Myth' by Dr Brooke Magnanti, who is actually the same woman who wrote the 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl' books under a pseudonym.

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