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The Sexual History of London: From Roman Londinium to the Swinging City---Lust, Vice, and Desire Across the Ages

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  456 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews

If Paris is the city of love, then London is the city of lust. From the bath houses of Roman Londinium to the sexual underground of the twentieth century and beyond, this is an entertaining, vibrant chronicle of London and sex through the ages.

For more than a thousand years, England’s capital has been associated with desire, avarice, and the sins of the flesh. Richard

Hardcover, 333 pages
Published December 6th 2011 by St. Martin's Press (first published 2010)
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Feb 11, 2015 Melki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, naughty-bits
England swings like a pendulum do *

It seems that London was once a writhing cesspool of filth, corruption and sexy, sexy sex, and everyone who was anyone had syphilis. Arnold's account makes everything that "stays in Vegas" look tame by comparison.

From medieval bath house hijinks - description to the sixties' Profumo affair - description most of the history seems to swirl around the staggering amount of money to be made by the selling of sex.

I think everything is summed up nicely by John Wilmot, Second Earl of Roch
Jill Hutchinson
Apr 19, 2013 Jill Hutchinson rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
With such a titillating title, the reader might want to use a book cover when reading it in public! However, this is a serious look at the sex trade in London from the time that it was called Londinium and the Romans brought their camp followers to Britain until modern times and the use of the internet for advertising.
London had more prostitutes than any city in the 17th-19th centuries. Poverty was rampant and girls had to "go on the game" to survive. Of course, there were the high class ladies
Jan 29, 2012 Dfordoom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Catherine Arnold’s City of Sin: London and its Vices is an entertaining history of the sex industry in London.

Arnold takes us back as far as Roman times, and is concerned mostly with prostitution although pornography is dealt with in passing. She encompasses every level of prostitution in her story, from the humbles streetwalkers to the most expensive and successful courtesans like Nell Gwyn and Skittles.

The author does her best to give her subject matter an even-handed treatment. She doesn’t gl
Rob Atkinson
Dec 13, 2011 Rob Atkinson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tales of debauchery! This is a very entertaining look at the underground (and sometimes right out in the open) sexual history of London, from Roman Londinium to the modern era. In its 2000 years of existence, London has seen it all, and there are many surprises here. The first chapter on Roman London suffers a bit from an apparent lack of local evidence, and so it includes a lot of speculation based on generalities of urban life in the empire, and the extreme depravity of the Caesars which she ...more
Nov 12, 2011 Filli rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
You should read this if you want a short introduction to the darker side of London. Arnold is entertaining, but not a historian by any means. The tales she tells are interesting, although she does seem to like picking out the ones that will shock her readers the most. She has no cohesive argument. She flip flops from protitution to homosexuality (although she barely touches lesbianism), and the last few pages or so of the book are completely pointless. She simply isn't able to fit 2000 years of ...more
Dec 12, 2011 MissInfo marked it as to-read
Shelves: curious-about
i must be an easy sell...I added this to my list of "curious about" books purely because of the following description:
"Arnold takes us on a journey through the fleshpots of London from earliest times to present day. Here are buxom strumpets, louche aristocrats, popinjay politicians, and Victorian flagellants—all vying for their place in London’s league of licentiousness."

strumpets. that is all.

(ps: "curious about" is subtext for "probably not")
Mar 18, 2016 Caroline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If Paris is the city of love, then London is the city of lust. For over a thousand years, England's capital has been associated with desire, avarice and the sins of the flesh. Richard of Devises, a monk writing in 1180, warned that 'every quarter [of the city] abounds in great obscenities'. As early as the second century AD, London was notorious for its raucous festivities and disorderly houses, and throughout the centuries the bawdy side of life has taken easy root and flourished.

In the third
Alison Hamel
Nov 23, 2011 Alison Hamel rated it really liked it
I won an advance copy of this book on goodreads. I hoped to have a chance to finish it before its release date, and I'm happy to say I did; it was hard to put down once I started. As a former English major and slight British history fanatic, I enjoyed the trip from medieval London to modern times. Arnold does a fantastic job of providing salacious details that hold the pleasure reader's attention and writing in a manner that is easy to read, all the while remaining historical by citing her ...more
E. Amato
Dec 26, 2013 E. Amato rated it liked it
There's a lot of great information here, but Arnold is no Peter Ackroyd. Though she paces the book at light speed, the material is organized chronologically which means a great deal of repetition and circling back on subjects. The emphasis of the book - based on percentage of material - is on the female sex worker. While there is a lot of information here, this has all been covered before, and Arnold's unnecessary and often inconsistent editorializing gets in the way. The case studies feel ...more
Dec 01, 2014 Margaret rated it really liked it
Another fantastically entertaining book from Catharine Arnold. Her London specific histories are always both fascinating and educational.

Going from Roman London to the 21st Century the book leaves no stone unturned in the search for interesting facts about sex (mostly illicit) in what is, arguably, the world's most fascinating city.

It was interesting, for instance, to discover that one Victorian man donated his collection of over 15,000 pornographic books to the British Museum, thereby starting
Dec 29, 2012 Kelly rated it did not like it
I guess my expectations for this book were incorrect. I was hoping it would cover more of the history of perversions - what has been considered perverse across the ages, how our perceptions have changed, etc. But this book was primarily just a history of prostitution, which I didn't find to be largely different from one era to the next. At least not different enough for me to notice & be interested in the differences - as someone who doesn't have much of a base interest in that area of ...more
Apr 09, 2012 Carolynn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Unevenly paced, with rather more attention paid to the exceptions than the rules, and focusing rather too excessively on the 16th to 18th centuries. I for one should have appreciated a closer look at the Roman and contemporary periods. Far from demystifying sex work, I fear that Arnold’s book paints a too-glossy veneer onto the industry. While an enjoyable and colourful read, it rings just as hollow as Joleen Zanuzoski’s ‘Social Analysis of Sex-For-Sale in Modern Singapore’ (2006).
Dec 26, 2011 Blogs rated it it was amazing
Remember when Metacritic used to do books? Go to to see a makeshift metacritic for books. AND LIKE THIS COMMENT SO IT CAN GET NOTICED!!!!!!!
Jul 18, 2012 Agnes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: research
A broad description of London's sex life throughout the ages. Great for a first-timer in the topic.
Apr 08, 2016 Ashley rated it did not like it
Based on the title I assumed this would be a historical account of the sexual changes of London over the last 2000 years. I knew it had once been a Roman outpost and, like modern day military bases, I assumed the sex trade would be prevalent. My mistake was that I thought the narrative would move past that. The city started that way, and some of the old ways remain to this day- but I was interested in knowing how the average person changed their views of monogamy, sexuality, and morality as the ...more
Christopher Fox
Sep 15, 2016 Christopher Fox rated it really liked it
This exceptionally detailed, serious survey of a narrow topic is an interesting read. Arnold not only weaves contemporary comments, phrases, letters and other sources into the fabric of her story but also places the changes in public and even private displays of sexuality within the wider social and political contexts of their times. She also does not censor any of her or others words so every four-letter word for every sexual act and body part is here in all its splendour. My personal criticism ...more
Kevin Fanning
Feb 22, 2014 Kevin Fanning rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Essentially a history of prostitution in London, from Roman slaves to Belle du Jour, with detours through Jack the Ripper, the Hellfire Club and the trial of Oscar Wilde. I enjoyed the book and I love the subject but I guess I was hoping the sexual history of London was somehow much more perverted and strange than I imagined. That's about me, not the book.

The first half of the book is essentially: there has always been prostitution in London, but it went in or out of favor with different monarch
May 03, 2016 Dena rated it really liked it
"When it comes to sex, London has always had a bit of a reputation."

I picked up this book in part because I love the history of London, and because I'd just read Peter Ackroyd's book, London Under, which a co-worker recommended! I wanted to read more about London during Roman times, and we all know the Romans knew how to throw a party. So why not a little sexual history? This book is dense, but very readable, and packed with info on the history of sex and prostitution in London, England. There's
This was a nice bit of fluff that painted an overall rather rosy picture of the world's oldest profession. Most of the whores the author mentioned were successful whores--mistresses to powerful men, high-dollar call girls, industrious types who saved their money so they could retire and open coffee shops, and the like. Women who entered the game more or less willingly and played it to their advantage. Well, more power to those women, but what about the drug-addicted teen-aged street worker who ...more
johnny dangerously
Ultimately a strong work, though the historical errors in the first chapter made me suspicious of the factual accuracy for the rest of it. I strongly suspect that a great deal of the wild tales this book retells are better labeled as 'apocryphal' and 'alleged'. I was also a bit bothered-- or maybe confused-- by the continued habit of calling prostitutes 'whores' when it wasn't strictly necessary-- for example, in the actual prose written by the author and no one else. However, all of these ...more
Leslie Lindsay
Sep 24, 2014 Leslie Lindsay rated it really liked it
It seems strange and fetish-ish to say I "really liked" a book about sex in England, but I did. Having just read Catharine Arnold's BEDLAM, I wasn't quite sure what to expect with THE SEXUAL HISTORY OF LONDON, but let's just say, sex, death, and the mad are certainly intriguing topics and Arnold does a bang-up (pun not intended) job of presenting a comprehensive history of the subjects.

What begins in Roman London (Londonium), way back in the 1200s, we get a glimpse of the world's oldest profess
May 17, 2016 Sarah rated it liked it
This was an interesting book and read easily, but it focuses a LOT on the middle ages of London. Roman times and the last century get only a passing glance. I was especially interested in the Roman history, so it was a little disappointing. I also went back and re-read the title after I finished, because the author picks out all of the most lurid tales from each time period (for shock value?), but doesn't spend any time at all on regular sex, rituals etc. Nothing significant on the history of ...more
Jan 25, 2012 Lana rated it liked it
Good! Lots of factoids in my brain that weren't there before. Such as: when the Romans left London and the Christian movement took hold, for a few hundred years there was a golden age of prostitution. Laws were put in place that once a week a doctor would visit brothels to make sure the women or men were in good health, had pleasant furnishings, and were in generally decent care. When the doctor came prostitutes could state if they were in the brothel of their own free will or not. Also, the ...more
Daniel Namie
Jun 28, 2012 Daniel Namie rated it really liked it
“Church operated on the principle that prostitution fell into the category of ‘necessary evils’. Saint Thomas Aquinas himself compared prostitution ‘like unto a cesspool in the palace; take away the cesspool and the palace becomes an unclean evil-smelling place’.

--Catherine Arnold, “The Sexual History of London”

Catherine Arnold book entitled “The Sexual History of London” is predominantly illustrates the history of prostitution in London. The narrative starts as early as the 1400’s and goes br
Aug 14, 2014 J rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I was a proud winner of this book through the GoodReads First Reads Giveaway. I tend to enjoy historical works, especially when they focus on relevant subject matter such as food and sex.
The first several chapters were rather entertaining. The detail of Roman influence on the sexual environs of London were shocking and I could have seen just that portion making a solid book. I was equally impressed in learning about Buggery Laws and how the Monarchy used them to maintain control. I felt that the
Sandra Lawson
A very entertaining, enjoyable and easily read account of the sexual history of London from Roman times to the present day. I think it's a little too ambitious in its remit as it tries to cover everything from trafficked and pimped prostitutes, through prostitution by choice, homosexuality, lesbianism and venereal disease. Arnold examines the way that different ages have viewed, and dealt with, sex and its deviations and leaves you with the impression that there is nothing new under the sun.

I t
Niall Teasdale
Dec 18, 2011 Niall Teasdale rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I started reading this as research material for a story I'm plotting out and writing, but it has been an enjoyable read as well as being rather informative. For my plotting purposes, I'd have liked more material on more recent history, but I got some interesting ancient history which was thought provoking, so swings and roundabouts there.

You're likely to find parts of this book hilarious, and you should find parts of it shocking. The author does a good job of narrating the tale of London's sex i
Apr 30, 2012 Samantha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's not often that I voluntarily read historical narratives, but when I saw this book at the bookstore a few weeks ago, I couldn't resist taking a look. Arnold's writing is sassy and intriguing, detailing the lives of important whores and homosexuals, among others, of London's long and sordid past. It was fascinating to read about changing attitudes and piece together some of the knowledge I have about other aspects of London society and history with the sexual exploits described herein.

A great
Holly Cruise
Oct 14, 2014 Holly Cruise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Another of Catharine Arnold's irreverent, informative tours through the history of London, this time taking in the gays, the lezzas, the bis, the transvestites and the sex workers. Arnold's breezy style means the leaps from tragedy to hilarity via politics, science and social change are fascinating and always readable. Even more than her other books, Arnold's writing is filled with glee and empathy. Some of her sardonic asides are also pleasingly upfront about historical facts which other, more ...more
Jul 03, 2012 Karol.holden rated it liked it
This is a very academic, scholarly look at the history of sex in London (and especially of the sex trade in London), and in many chapters can be more pedantic than enticing and stimulating. The earlier parts of the book, about the thoroughly disgusting sex of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance Era, were downright tedious. My interest peaked as the author approached the late Victorian era and the 20th century. I was fascinated by the trials of Oscar Wilde and the legal indictment of D.H. ...more
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Found it an Interesting Read. 1 9 Jan 01, 2012 06:09PM  
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Catharine Arnold read English at Cambridge and holds a further degree in psychology. A journalist, academic and popular historian, Catharine's previous books include the novel "Lost Time", winner of a Betty Trask award. Her London trilogy for Simon & Schuster comprises of "Necropolis: London and Its Dead", "Bedlam: London and Its Mad" and "City of Sin: London and Its Vices".
More about Catharine Arnold...

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