Sex and Punishment tells the story of the struggle throughout millennia to regulate the most powerful engine of human behaviour: sex. From the savage impalement of an Ancient Mesopotamian adulteress to the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde for 'gross indecency' in 1895, Eric Berkowitz evokes the entire sweep of Western sex law. 'I don't think I've ever read such an entertaining historical work. Whether you want to fuel your indignation, or simply furnish yourself with enough jaw-dropping data to galvanise a hundred party conversations, you really must shell out for this book. It's worth every penny.' Nicholas Lezard, Guardian 'A wonderful exposure of the illogicality of so much legislation that attempts to regulate sexual activity ... from the age of consent to adultery and sex on college campuses.' Mary Beard 'A fascinating and gruesomely compelling study of human sexuality' Mail on Sunday 'Eric Berkowitz's cross-examination of human sexuality is both exciting and impressively relentless.' Sunday Times 'Stimulating … Berkowitz has achieved a perfect balance between case study and analysis, and between narrative and reflection. … This is a wonderfully well-written, well-organised and accomplished book.' Sarah Wheeler, Literary Review The cast of Sex and Punishment is as varied as the forms taken by human desire itself: royal mistresses, gay charioteers, medieval transvestites, lonely goat-lovers, prostitutes of all stripes and London rent boys. Each of them had forbidden sex, and each was judged - and justice, as Berkowitz shows - rarely had anything to do with it.
Berkowitz, a lawyer-journalist, begins his historical tour of "sex and punishment" with the 4,000-year-old murder of a priest in Mesopotamia his wife, suspected of adultery, was executed for the homicide. The book ends with Oscar Wilde's well-chronicled pillorying for his homosexuality. In between is a bewildering array of ideas about what sexual behavior was unacceptable and strange, and the brutal punishments handed down for it. Berkowitz builds his history around various legal systems, ancient to modern, religious to secular, but he seems to delight in graphic descriptions of the various punishments visited upon adulterers, sodomites, and others who transgressed against the sexual mores of their time and place. In Mesopotamia a disloyal wife was impaled on a pole "and left to suffer a slow and very public death." The medieval Church burned homosexuals at the stake. Berkowitz also highlights the long history of prostitution and the hypocrisy surrounding it; for example, a 1566 papal edict exiling prostitutes from Rome was rescinded when it was learned that 25,000 people planned to leave the city. Berkowitz writes straightforwardly and has done credible research, but lacking enough sociological and cultural context, the material becomes repetitive. Photos.