A rollicking, myth-busting history of sex that moves from historical attempts at birth control to Hildegard von Bingen’s treatise on the female orgasm, demystifying plenty of urban legends along the way.
Roman physicians told female patients they should sneeze out as much semen as possible after intercourse to avoid pregnancy. Historical treatments for erectile dysfunction included goat testicle transplants. In this kaleidoscopic compendium of centuries-old erotica, science writer Rachel Feltman shows how much sex has changed—and how much it hasn’t. With unstoppable curiosity, she debunks myths, breaks down stigma, and uses the long, outlandish history of sex to dissect present-day practices and taboos.
Feltman’s mischievous humor dismantles fear and brings scientific literacy to a subject surrounded by misinformation, and indeed, as it gravitates toward the strange, Been There, Done That delivers some sorely needed sex ed. Explorations into age-old questions and bizarre trivia around birth control, aphrodisiacs, STIs, courtship rituals, and more establish that, when it comes to carnal pleasures and procreation, there’s never been a normal, and sex isn’t something to be scared of.
Popular Science editor Feltman debuts with a playful, myth-busting survey of human sexuality and the history of reproductive science. Tackling the subject from a queer, feminist perspective, she explains the mechanics of conception, traces the evolution of birth control methods, and documents the many techniques, such as "poach goat testes in milk and consum them with sesame seeds and porpoise fat," that have been used to treat erectile dysfunction since the eighth century BCE. Elsewhere, Feltman delves into the science of AIDS transmissibility, debunks historical legends (Cleopatra did not have a vibrator made of bees; Catherine the Great did not have sex with a horse), and discusses recent research into the sexual behaviors of transgender and nonbinary people. Turning to fetishism and the "concept of deviance," Feltman discusses how the Bible story of Sodom and Gomorrah came to be interpreted as a prohibition against homosexuality and notes that Richard von Krafft-Ebing added more technical jargon and Latin passages to later editions of Psychopathia Sexualis (first published in 1886) in order to keep people from "devouring his academic treatise like porn." Enlivened by Feltman's keen sense of humor and affirmational tone, this is an entertaining and informative catalog of "sexual expression and queer existence and horny exuberance through history."