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Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  496 Ratings  ·  81 Reviews
The "raging frenzy" of the sex drive, to use Plato's phrase, has always defied control. However, that's not to say that the Sumerians, Victorians, and every civilization in between and beyond have not tried, wielding their most formidable weapon: the law. At any given point in time, some forms of sex were condoned while others were punished mercilessly. Jump forward or ...more
Hardcover, 436 pages
Published May 8th 2012 by Counterpoint (first published April 10th 2012)
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Aug 31, 2013 Warwick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, sex, law
In March 1320, eleven-year-old Joan Seler was playing outside her father's house in central London when she was grabbed by a passing French merchant. The assailant dragged her back to his place, where, according to trial testimony, he

raised the clothes of the same Joan…to her navel, she being clothed in a blue coat and a shift of light cloth and feloniously…with both his hands separated the legs and thighs of this same Joan, and with his right hand took his male organ of such and such a length a
I'll admit it...this book had me in stitches. Just imagining a cuckolded husband publicly and legally pounding scorpion fish and radishes up the rectum of his wife's paramour had me practically in tears. I couldn't help but picture the people sitting around the boardroom table drawing up a list of items that could be legally breech-loaded into an adulterer. Radishes? Please spare me! And the fellow who confessed to having carnal knowledge of a cow, a goat, and a...deer!?!! He should take his ...more
Emma Sea
This was a dnf for me at page 68. I don't like the tone of the writing, and there's no analysis of the content, but I'm already familiar with the content itself, so there feels like no reason to continue.

Maybe a good book for someone just out of high school, who has no idea that sexual mores were different in other eras.
Scott Rhee
Aug 01, 2015 Scott Rhee rated it really liked it
It pretty much all started with Adam and Eve and that damn apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Life was perfect until then, but humans had to go f*** things up by discovering---well, you know: SEX. For millenia and since the dawn of time, sex has been a four-letter word, having been the cause of so much joy and misery. Mostly misery. That's why humans created laws. No, seriously: the first recorded law (Sumerian, circa 2100 B.C.) was a law that stated that married women caught ...more
Jul 02, 2013 Doreen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013, history
For those who need to know exactly what the mores of a particular time was, this is a good source book.

It also confirms my long-held opinion that it was rarely a good time to be female.
Oct 02, 2012 Book rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire by Eric Berkowitz

“Sex and Punishment” is the fascinating four-thousand year history of mainly western society’s attempt to control sexuality through the law. This eye-opening book covers a wide spectrum of societal sexual manifestations up until the end of the 19th century. Writer, lawyer and journalist, Eric Berkowitz takes the reader on a voyeuristic ride into humankind’s obsession to control sex via the law. With countless in-depth cas
Sep 05, 2012 Kharah rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
It's sort of ironic that there are three naked women on the cover when pretty much all of the book's material is about historical white-male sexual insecurities and the laws that arose to keep them "on top." A giant phallus would probably have been more a propos but, ironic again, that likely would not have gone over well given current obscenity sensibilities.

Well worth the read, although you can tell by the material's treatment that this was definitely written by a lawyer. Other books go over
Jun 11, 2012 Caroline rated it really liked it
This book traces the ways in which society has judged and controlled sexual behaviour, beginning over four thousand years ago in ancient Egypt and closing with Oscar Wilde's trial in 1895. As the author himself states in his opening, to attempt to investigate the twentieth and twenty-first centuries would have required another book.

It's a fascinating book, looking at changing attitudes and responses towards all manner of sexual behaviour - masturbation, necrophilia, adultery, abortion, prostitut
Alex Sarll
A history of sex laws from the pre-Hammurabi legal codes of the Middle East to the Wilde trial, written by a lawyer with ample experience in the field. As well as being on the side of the angels (or rather, not - religion is, inevitably, one of the chief villains here) he's also a writer with style and verve. There are moments of repetition, but I suspect they mainly serve to make individual segments worth reading even for students or specialists who aren't going to attempt the whole book. ...more
Nov 25, 2015 Deirdre rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting look at Sex and the control of it over the years. Starts with ancient history and moves to the late 19th early 20th century. It concentrates on western culture and the effect Christianity had on pre-existing European culture after looking at Classical Greek and Roman society. A mess was made of various societies by the attempt to control people and their reactions to people they are attracted to.

Sex and sexuality is complicated and we still haven't resolved a lot of our issues with i
Ana Maria Rînceanu
I really liked the author's writing style. It made the law parts easy to understand and infused the sex parts (pun) with humor. The book tackles how sex, marriage and depictions of sex were regulated from ancient times to Oscar Wilde's trial.
May 22, 2012 Samantha rated it really liked it
Very good, though you want to make sure you've assessed the crowd before showing off your newly gained trivia. It's not for work meetings or brunch with mom.
Apr 12, 2015 coconutcake rated it it was amazing
This book was very enlightening. It helped me understand the majority of world population have been ignorant assholes over the last 4000 years and pretty much nothing has changed until the 90's and the blessed decade I was born in ― the 2000's. And %95 of the world still live in old times due to lack of education. Taboos and intolerance has taken over them. And that damned religion.

I never quite understood exactly when and why those with penises started seeing those with vaginas inferior. It dr
Eric Stone
Jul 23, 2012 Eric Stone rated it really liked it
A lot of great research went into this. It's always remarkable to me how much we know about ancient societies and their daily lives, sexual habits, etc. People have been reporting on themselves since just about the beginning. I was a bit disappointed that the book didn't really bring us up to date - ending somewhere around the the turn of the 19th-20th century. And I was also disappointed that it completely ignored the same subject outside of what we think of as the Western World. Then again, it ...more
Erman Cagiral
Mar 08, 2015 Erman Cagiral rated it liked it
Kitap antik dünyadaki ilk hukuk yasalarından 20. yy başına kadar geçen sürede insanoğlunun cinsel ilişkiye bakış açısını inceliyor. Yasalar ve dava sonuçlarından anlaşılır örnekler vererek ilerlediği için oldukça anlaşılır bir inceleme diyebilirim.
Sadece yıllar ilerledikçe insanların benzer cinsel yönelimlere benzer cezaları verdiğini bilmek kitabin akıcılığını zedelemiş.
Cinsel ilişkinin sami dinler ile birlikte bastırılmaya başlaması ve sonrasında bu baskının kültüre ve yasalara etkisini (özell
Interesting book. As a law student I appreciated the legal research. I could have given it 4 stars but the way the author tries soooooo hard to make us sympathize with Polanski just made me mad as hell. He keeps bringing up the case over and over again and EVERY TIME trying to justify Polanski's conduct. No thanks.
Nov 15, 2016 spacenaiads rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, cover-art
It was fun and stuff but some of the sources used (especially in the ancient section) were a bit questionable, which is FINE, it's just that if you want to use Herodotus or Suetonius you HAVE to add a disclaimer that you can trust them only about as far as you can throw the Oxford Latin Dictionary. The full edition in the "reference only" section which is A3 size and as thick as a brick and lists 23 different types of "ut". That one.

Also there was an introduction but no concluding chapter! It's
Nov 28, 2016 Maureen rated it it was amazing
Five stars for being one of the most readable and wide-spanning history books I've read and one that I'm likely to return to. It's also given me plenty of filthy tidbits to throw into conversation.
Holly Cruise
Jan 27, 2014 Holly Cruise rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
As an easy to read primer on the history of European and American legislation of sex and sexuality, this succeeds in offering a good overview, clearly written and packed with colourful examples.

In this vein it was an interesting, if not always enjoyable read, although that wasn't the fault of Berkowitz, more the fact that being horrific to women, non-heterosexuals and non-whites is pretty much the done thing in most areas of white European/American history. And yes, I did get rather annoyed at
Feb 16, 2013 Yupa rated it it was ok
Divulgativo, molto divulgativo, forse troppo divulgativo.
Disordinato e zibaldonesco, spesso anche ripetitivo.
L'autore, a quanto pare avvocato e giornalista, affronta una materia complessa che meriterebbe ben altre conoscenze, possibilmente approfondite, in primis di antropologia, sociologia, psicologia e biologia evolutiva; come se non bastasse ambisce a percorrere in poco più di quattrocento pagine ben quattromila anni di Storia...
Inevitabilmente la parte che soffre di più è la storia antica, c
Jan 11, 2013 Elizabeth rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 25, 2013 Orion rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library-book
Disputes over sexual behavior are not new, nor is our attempt to use the legal system to resolve differences involving sex. But Eric Berkowitz has looked at the legal disputes involving sex and has found that the behavior considered a crime and the punishments administered to those found guilty have varied quite a lot. Not only over time, and he has decided to look at a 4,000 year time period, but also between different cultures of the same time, what is considered criminal sexual behavior can ...more
Paul Cook
May 09, 2013 Paul Cook rated it really liked it
Eric Berkowitz, an attorney, mines many centuries of legal records to explore how various societies in the West have controlled, or attempted to control, the myriad expressions of human sexuality. The story is told mostly by way of examples that range across categories of the repugnant, cruel, hilarious, and surprising. In colonial New England, bestiality laws required severe punishment not only of the human perpetrators--the violated animals had to be killed. One particular violator couldn't ...more
Feb 25, 2014 Maxie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Now this books sounds like it should be really kinky or really boring but it's neither. It's a big ol' look at the way that attitudes towards sex have changed, at least since we humans started to record and regulate ourselves. Much of the ways our sensibilities have evolved are going to be common knowledge to you, really. It's a sad open secret that often other humans have been property and that they've had to suffer for that.
I thought that this book would give a sense of about when in time sex
Matt Fimbulwinter
Jan 20, 2016 Matt Fimbulwinter rated it really liked it
Shelves: srs, sexuality

Over four thousand years, the one constant seems to be: the law really, really hates women and wants to punish them for having sex. A lot of the time is also hates homosexuality, but even when that's considered not a big deal, female sexual freedom is locked down.

As a history of sexual repression, it's pretty interesting. Among other things, what is recognizable as modern expectations of marriage and fidelity/propriety showed up much later than I would have thought. I was also somewhat bemused b
Slim Khezri
Sep 05, 2013 Slim Khezri rated it really liked it
Interesting book!!! In Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire, writer and lawyer Eric Berkowitz explores the millennia-long quest to regulate and mandate one of the strongest drivers of human behavior, and the tragic deformities that result from the dictatorship of external authority over the most intimate of inner realities. Tracing how we went from the male bonding ceremonies commonly performed in medieval Mediterranean churches to the lesbian executions in 18th-century ...more
May 28, 2014 Tiffany rated it liked it
I was pleasantly surprised with this book after reading some not-so-awesome reviews that argued Berkowitz was essentially a rapist-defender and ignorant fool (to paraphrase).

Berkowitz's information was obviously historically accurate as evidenced by the extensive bibliography and notes. However, there is also the feeling that the reader should take the specifics and sensationalism of the stories with a grain of salt to some extent. Overall I found the book much more entertaining and interesting
Endlessly fascinating and through exploration of sexuality and law, useful and worth an in-depth read. The author sometimes wanders from explicitly sexual subjects to analyze other aspects of historical society, such as slavery and citizenship, but the inclusion of Native Americans, colonized Asians, and lesbians (among others) sets this book apart. The author is forthcoming in his attempt to be an entirely objective/amoral observer of sexual phenomena, but this leads to a sometimes disturbingly ...more
Can Küçükyılmaz
Yer yer havada kalan durumlar -bekaret sadece bir mülkiyet ya da otorite sorunu muydu? gibi- olsa da, genel olarak çok güzel bir kitap.

Günümüzde Türkiye'de doğum kontrolü, kürtaj gibi tartışmalar sıcaklığını korurken, bunların bize özgü değil, daha önce hristiyan toplumlar tarafından deneyimlenmiş sorunlar olduğunu ve ortaçağ papazları ile günümüz, papaz-siyasetçilerinin ne kadar benzeştiğini görmek ilginç.

İkinci bir nokta, Türkiye toplumunda hristiyanlık ahlaksızlıkla ilişkilendirilirken -ki
Jeffrey Cavanaugh
Apr 12, 2016 Jeffrey Cavanaugh rated it it was amazing
A rather eye-opening exploration of the ways human sexuality has been judged, from a legal perspective, over the centuries. To summarize, ancient societies were much more 'liberal' in what they permitted, but gave all power in any sexual encounter to rich, powerful men who sexually exploited / raped anything that moved. The Judeo-Christian tradition led in turn to severe oppression of both sexes by church and state as sexual sin was invented and persecuted, culminating in the nightmarish, ...more
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  • The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction
  • Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America
  • Straight: The Surprisingly Short History Of Heterosexuality
  • A History Of Celibacy
  • Sex, Time, and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution
  • History of the Breast
  • Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation
  • The Sexual History of London: From Roman Londinium to the Swinging City---Lust, Vice, and Desire Across the Ages
  • Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan
  • Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex
  • Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to the Extremes of Human Sexuality (and Everything in Between)
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  • The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People
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  • Playing Well with Others: Your Field Guide to Discovering, Exploring and Navigating the Kink, Leather and Bdsm Communities
  • Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage
  • The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture
Eric Berkowitz is a writer, lawyer and journalist. He is the author of Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire. He has a degree in print journalism from University of Southern California and has published in The Los Angeles Times and The Los Angeles Weekly, and for the Associated Press. He was an editor of the West Coast's premier daily legal publication, The Los Angeles Daily ...more
More about Eric Berkowitz...

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“From the earliest times, female domestic servants have been viewed as snacks for the sexual appetites of their masters.” 1 likes
“büyük olasılıkla, erkeklerin kadınları kontrol edip hakimiyet altına almalarının bir yoluydu. Bakire bir gelin almak, kocası için güç göstergesiydi ve onu evlilik öncesinde bozulmamış halde korumak, babalar ve erkek kardeşler için bir kontrol testiydi.[” 1 likes
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