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

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  343 ratings  ·  73 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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Jill Hutchinson
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
Rob Atkinson
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 c ...more
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
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")
Alison Rowell
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 sourc ...more
E. Amato
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 cobbl ...more
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
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 sexua ...more
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).
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!!!!!!!
Leslie Lindsay
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
A broad description of London's sex life throughout the ages. Great for a first-timer in the topic.
Kevin Fanning
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
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 sta ...more
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 w ...more
City of Sin is an examination of the oldest business in the world: prostitution. From brothels to Roman bath houses to modern day sex scandals and rent boys, Arnold tells the history of London through the eyes of it's sex workers. And it's a history of 'the more things change, the more they stay the same' with the same characters coming up in different guises throughout history; high class call girls, desperate working-class prostitutes, madams and aristocratic clients.

The book's main strength i
Daniel Namie
“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
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
Lauren Albert
A fairly good discussion of sexual history which does cover some of the issues of gender, class, etc. Arnold does seem to take glee in some of the explicitness of the book which makes it read more like a dirty book than a history at times. Nothing wrong with dirty books, of course, if such is your interest but if you're looking for straight history, be warned!
Elexus Jionde
Catharine Arnold wove tongue in cheek humor and a magnificent history of sex, vice, debauchery, and scandal into one pleasing book. I've re-read this book multiple times for the sheer thrill of it. Highly recommended for those who love London and its many rich historical anecdotes.
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
Niall Teasdale
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
Holly Cruise
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
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
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. Lawren ...more
Andrew Dunn
Abut twice as long as it needed to be... first section was good about the royal courts, final section was good about jack the ripper and recent history but the center portion about the prostitution trade was far to long and repetitive IMO - I skipped a lot of that.

Totally worth a loan from the library though - lots of great little anecdotes and stories.
As usual, an interesting book by Catharine Arnold. I would have never thought about prostitution as one of the world's first women run business empires if not for this book!
just finished reading City of sin: London and its vices, i enjoyed this journey through londons seedy history, although not an extensive look at the history of our attitudes towards sex and the sex trade, it is a very enjoyable and informative read. starting from the roman occupation through to modern day the book contains witty poems and diary extracts aswell as historical court cases to do with promiscuity, from memebers of parliament to oscar wilde even the krays. Not as informative as it cou ...more
Pamela Ferguson
Yippee! This was a great read about the sex industry in London from Roman times to the present day! Prostitution is the oldest profession in the world and here is a book that shows the slight variations throughout time - disorderly houses (love that term!), park girls, fancy courtesans, pimps, homosexuality, Jack The Ripper, and more! It's all here for the taking! The Victorian era is studied in detail because of it's morals and position of "respectable females". An interesting chapter or two on ...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...
Necropolis: London and its Dead Bedlam: London and Madness Underworld London: Crime and Punishment in the Capital City City of Sin: London and its Vices Lost Time

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