Sexuality through the prism of history

The main obstacle to understanding our own sexuality is that we are held captive by old notions (Bullough, 1976).

To understand the present, it is useful to study the past. Some views on sex and sexuality are passed on from generation to generation unchanged, but many modern ideas are very different from previous ones.

Ancient times

Although we have written historical monuments, which are almost 5,000 years old, information about sexual behavior and attitudes toward sex in various societies before the first millennium BC. they are very few. From the available data, it appears that already in those times there was a clear ban on marriages between close relatives (Tannahill, 1980), and the woman was considered property used to satisfy sexual needs and to continue the race (Bullough, 1976). Men could have many women, prostitution was widespread, and sex was perceived as an essential attribute of life.

With the emergence of Judaism, an interesting ambiguity in relation to sex began to emerge. The first five books of the Old Testament contain the rules of sexual behavior: adultery is prohibited (this is one of the Ten Commandments), and homosexuality is strictly condemned (Lev 18:20, Lev 21:13). At the same time, sex is recognized as a creative and enjoyable force, as described in the Song of Songs. Thus, sex was not considered an absolute evil, and its role was not limited to mere reproduction.

In contrast, in ancient Greece, some forms of male homosexuality were not only tolerated, but also enthusiastic. Sexual relations between an adult male and a boy who has reached puberty were widespread and were usually accompanied by the elder’s concern for the moral and intellectual development of the young man (Bullough, 1976; Karlen, 1980; Tannahill, 1980). If, however, this relationship was limited to sex, they were not approved, as was the homosexual relationship between adult men. And homosexual contact between adult men and boys who have not reached puberty was prohibited by law. Great importance was attached to marriage and family, but at the same time women were second-class citizens, if they could be considered citizens at all: “In Athens, women had no more political rights than slaves; throughout their lives they were completely subordinate to the closest male relative … As in all other places in the first millennium BC, women were part of personal movable property, although some of them were outstanding personalities.For the ancient Greeks, a woman (regardless of age and marital ogene) is just a “gina”, i.e. a producer of children (Tannahill, 1980).

At the dawn of Christianity, attitudes toward sexuality were a mixture of what was accepted by the Greeks and the Jews. Unlike Judaism, which did not separate physical love from spiritual love, Christian teaching borrowed from the Greeks the distinction between “eros” or carnal love, and “agape” – spiritual, non-bodied love (Gordis, 1977). Balloch (Ballough, 1976) writes that the Hellenistic era in Greece (which began in 323 BC) was marked by the denial of carnal pleasures in favor of the development of spirituality. This, together with the inevitable end of the world described in the New Testament, made the Christian religion extol celibacy, despite the fact that St. Paul wrote: “although it’s good for a man not to touch a woman … it’s better to get married than to kindle” (I Corinthians 7: 1-9).

By the end of the IV. AD, despite the existence of small groups of Christians who adhered to less rigid views on sexuality, the attitude towards the church as a whole was clearly negative, which was clearly reflected in the writings of one of the Fathers of the Church of St. Augustine, who, before abandoning worldly comforts, indulged passions. In the Confession, Augustine denounced himself with harsh words: “I have polluted the river of friendship with the abomination of debauchery and muddled its clear waters with the hellish black river of lust” (Confession, Book III: I). He believed that lust is the result of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which alienated people from God. Thus, sexuality was harshly condemned in all its forms, although Augustine and his contemporaries probably felt that matrimonial procreative sex was a lesser evil than all others.

Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
When we discuss the customs that existed in one or another historical epoch, it is necessary to remember that they differed in different countries, in different strata of society or in religious groups. It is possible to cite evidence of a rather tolerant attitude towards sex in England and France in the 1700s (Bullough, 1976), however, Puritan ethics reigned in colonial America at that time. Extramarital sex was condemned, and family cohesion was praised; those responsible for premarital sex were punished with whips, put to the pillory, imprisoned or forced to repent publicly. Some readers may be familiar with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Sign of Valor, which describes attitudes towards sex in the colonial era.

In America, the Puritan morality seized the XIX century, although there at that period there was a split in the views on sexual problems. As the boundaries of the American states expanded, and the big cities became more cosmopolitan, ideas about sexual freedom found more and more supporters. In response to a similar turn of events in the 1820s and 1830s, a movement was formed in American society to combat prostitution and rescue the “fallen women” engaged in this craft (Pivar, 1973). Despite the organized resistance of the Society for the Suppression of Debauchery and Vice and the Society of followers of the seventh commandment, prostitution flourished. In the early 1840s, the government filed cases against 351 brothels in Massachusetts alone, and by the beginning of the Civil War, a guide to the most luxurious brothels in big cities contained a description of 106 institutions in New York, 57 in Philadelphia and dozens of others in Baltimore , Boston, Chicago and Washington (Pivar, 1973).

By the middle of the XIX century, with the beginning of the Victorian era, there was a return to ostentatious modesty and restraint in Europe, but this time it was less connected with religious attitudes. The general trend in this era was the suppression of sexuality and a strong desire for modesty; this was necessary in view of the exalted purity and innocence of women and children. As Taylor writes, “such subtlety reached the sensitivity of the Victorians, their thoughts turned to sex so easily that the most innocent actions were banned if it seemed they could conjure up seductive images. It has become reckless to offer the lady a chicken leg. “This conservatism extended to clothes that did not leave even the neck open and did not allow even a glimpse of the ankle (Taylor, 1954). Today, the hypocrisy of that time seems incredible to us: in some homes they wore crinolines on the piano legs , and books by authors of the opposite sex were placed on shelves nearby only if they were husband and wife (Sussman, 1976).

In America, despite the strong influence of Victorianism, various movements periodically shook moral values. So, in 1870, the St. Louis city council found a loophole in state law that allowed legalization of prostitution, which caused a storm of indignation throughout the country. The anti-sexual debauchery societies that found allies among the fighters against alcohol were re-formed. In 1886, 25 states were considered adults to have reached the age of ten (which contributed to the flourishing of child prostitution), but by 1895, due to public resistance, this early period remained only in 5 states, and in 8 states the age of majority was raised to 18 years .

Although in general, in the Victorian era, attitudes toward sex were negative, it was this era that was marked by the emergence of a sexual “underground” – the widespread use of pornographic literature and drawings (Marcus, 1967). Prostitution was common in Europe; in the 60s XIX century, the British Parliament passed a law legalizing and regulating prostitution. In addition, Victorian fake modesty in sexual behavior and attitudes towards sex did not extend to all sectors of society (Gay, 1983). The middle and lower classes did not resort to pretense, as was the case in the higher circles. Extreme poverty forced many young women from the lower class to engage in prostitution, and the middle class – despite the ideal of a submissive and sexless Victorian lady – not only experienced sexual feelings and desires, but also behaved in this regard in much the same way as modern women. In the Victorian era, women lived sexually (and experienced pleasure) with their legitimate husbands, and sometimes even made passionate novels, as can be seen from the numerous diaries that have come down to us, in which they described in detail the quantity and quality of their orgasms (Gay, 1983). Thus, a review on the sexual behavior of women was recently discovered, written in 1892 by a lady named Clelia Dwel Mosher and containing additional information in favor of the fact that it would be wrong to consider the Victorian era to be completely anti-sexual. Haller and Haller also expressed an interesting point of view on the sexuality of women in this era (Haller, Haller, 1977).

It is clear that in the Victorian era, many women suffered from a repressive attitude towards sex, but on closer acquaintance with this problem, it seems that those women who contributed to the emergence of hypocrisy are in fact very close to today’s feminists. The women of the Victorian era tried to gain a kind of sexual freedom, denying their sexuality … in an attempt to avoid treating themselves as an object intended for sexual pleasure. Their feigned modesty was a mask, under which it was convenient to hide the “radical” efforts to gain personal freedom.

Science and medicine fully reflected the anti-sexuality of this era. Masturbation is branded this way and that, accusing it of harming the brain and nervous system and causing insanity and a wide variety of other diseases (Bullough, Bullough, 1977; Haller, Haller, 1977; Tannahill, 1980). It was believed that women are few or
completely non-sexual, and both physically and intellectually should be placed below men. In 1878, the prestigious British Medical Journal published letters from doctors claiming that the meat touched by a woman in the menstrual period is not suitable for food. Even such an eminent scientist as the father of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin, in his book The Origin of Man and Sexual Selection (1871) wrote that “Man is braver, more pugnacious and more energetic than woman and has a more inventive mind” and that ” obviously superior to woman. ”

At the end of the 19th century, the German psychiatrist Richard von Kraft-Ebing created a detailed classification of sexual disorders. In his book Sexual Psychopathy (Psychopathia Sexualis, 1886), which has endured 12 editions, this problem is considered in depth and comprehensively. Kraft-Ebing’s views remained dominant for more than 75 years (Brecher, 1975). His influence had both positive and negative aspects: on the one hand, Kraft-Ebing insisted on the sympathetic attitude of physicians to the so-called sexual perversions and on the revision of laws relating to sexual offenses, and on the other, in his book sex, crime and the violence was piled up as it were. He paid a lot of attention to those aspects of sexuality that he considered abnormal: sadomasochism (sexual satisfaction, obtained as a result of inflicting pain on his partner, or pain inflicted on himself), homosexuality, fetishism (sexual satisfaction derived from objects related to a particular person, and not from himself) and bestiality (sex with animals). Kraft Ebing very often resorted to grim examples (sexual assassinations, cannibalism, destructiveness and others), which he described on the same pages as the less intimidating sexual perversions, and therefore many readers of his book had an aversion to almost all forms sexual behavior. However, Kraft Ebing is often called the founder of modern sexology.

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