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The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution
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The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  181 ratings  ·  38 reviews
A man admits that, when drunk, he tried to have sex with an eighteen-year-old girl; she is arrested and denies they had intercourse, but finally begs God's forgiveness. Then she is publicly hanged alongside her attacker. These events took place in 1644, in Boston, where today they would be viewed with horror. How--and when--did such a complete transformation of our culture ...more
Hardcover, 483 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published February 2nd 2012)
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There's a pernicious assumption visible in a lot of modern treatments of sex and gender relations, which boils down to the following idea: that men want sex, and will pursue it aggressively, while women want love and have to fend off men's sexual advances until they get it – at which point sex may be offered as a sort of reward. This nonsense underlies everything from chick flicks to Apatowesque bromantic comedies, from advertising to political debates, from song lyrics to prizewinning novels, a ...more
This book is an excellent ice-breaker on the public transport. Trust me on this one. No one will talk to you about the book you’re reading on the bus unless it says ‘sex’ on the cover. It just really does bring the teenage boy out of everyone.

The book itself is not as dirty as an average schoolboy’s mind but there are a few really juicy anecdotes to spice up its academic tone. Dabhoiwala presents us with a thesis that the first sexual revolution happened a couple of hundred years before the 1960
Let's see if we can divide that blurb into more palatable chunks.

A man admits that, when drunk, he tried to have sex with an eighteen-year-old girl; she is arrested and denies they had intercourse, but finally begs God's forgiveness. Then she is publicly hanged alongside her attacker. These events took place in 1644, in Boston, where today they would be viewed with horror. How--and when--did such a complete transformation of our culture's attitudes toward sex occur?

The Origins of Sex is full of
Dec 21, 2012 Elaine rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
I thought this book was very interesting -- although I didn't necessarily agree with all of Dabhoiwala's claims -- trying to stake out A moment when defining changes in the perception, regulation and portrayal of sex took place seems problematic to me, given the ups and downs and infinite variety of those things throughout history. Nevertheless, the portrayal of so many fascinating phenomena of the 17th and 18th centuries in England -- libertinism, nascent feminism, the cult of celebrity prostit ...more
This was an absolutely fascinating read by a historian who definitely knows his period. The sheer volume of sources, primary and secondary alike, is almost overwhelming - there are pages upon pages of notes, many referring to manuscripts and other archive material. But the book isn't just well-researched, it's also extremely well-written. I read it relatively quickly, entertained and amused as well as enlightened.

Some of the elements of this first 'sexual revolution' were familiar to me: the mov
Karan Nagarajan
"The code of Alfred the Great (c. 893) made it lawful for any man to kill another if he found him ‘with his wedded wife, within closed doors or under the same blanket, or with his legitimate daughter or his legitimate sister, or with his mother’. That of King Cnut (c. 1020-23) forbade married men even from fornicating with their own slaves, and ordered that adulteresses should be publicly disgraced, lose their goods, and have their ears and noses cut off."

"‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ was t
‘The Origins of Sex’ is an absolutely fascinating account of how British views on sex evolved during the 17th and 18th centuries, transforming sexual discussion, behaviour, and law to an incredible extent. The book synthesises a huge amount of material and picks out particular factors, relating to religion, the economy, politics, and technology, that contributed to the changes. The author sees the sexual revolution as a critical part of the Enlightenment. Prior to this, women were assumed to exp ...more
Vivek Tejuja

Sex should not be spoken about in our country or that’s what it seems. In a country like India, where most things are taboo, the one that tops the list is sex and its talk. Sex I think on a very generic level has been taboo in most countries and most places before they woke up and were so-called “liberated” by the idea of talking about it and not being ashamed or shy. At the same time, it is all about the action and ironically so as I was reading “The Origins of Sex” by Faramerz Dabhoiwala I was
The title of this one, provided by netgalley, is a bit misleading, but the subtitle is not. This is an absolutely fascinating study in sexual etiquette, power, society and, well, so much else, that it's almost too much to take in.

If you picked this one up hoping for a lascivious bit of smut-tastic "history" with lots of juicy anecdotes, then you'll probably be disappointed. This really is a serious, but accessible, study in all things sexual, and how we evolved from medieval attitudes towards mo
This book caught my eye when Nick Stibbs read and commented on it. I bought it and about 30 pages into it, asked myself, “Hey why are you reading yet another book on human sexuality? Is it really going to offer up a new idea? Come on now!’ I spent most of my time in graduate school researching and reading on this topic and recently books of this nature have helped me get to sleep at night! However, Mr. Dabhoiwala surprised me! About midway through the book he began to present new analyses regard ...more
Nick Stibbs
This book, which has an academic flavour, takes a journey through the 17th, 18th and 19th century, exploring how Enlightenment thinkers tussled with Puritan reformers, to etch out the sexual mores of post-Reformation England. Whilst we might think the battle was won by those on the more libertarian end of the spectrum, we can observe echoes of anti-prostitution campaigns in such contemporary movements such as Stop the Traffik, which share much of the fervour initiated by liberal Christian reform ...more
Oliver Brackenbury
A thorough text, this is both a strength and a weakness. About a third in I felt compelled to put it down for several weeks as there was a frustrating habit to repeat/reinforce information past the point of necessity, making reading a bit of a slog at times.

And yet, when I came back to the book I appreciated the level of detail as it helped me draw the intended lines between The Enlightenment and today, as well as adding color. So who knows, this could have just been an issue of mood on my part.
Lynne King
An excellent book. I cannot possibly write such an excellent review as Warwick did.

See link:

and go and buy the book!
Very interesting history of how Western/English speaking parts of the world's attitudes have changed towards sex during the Enlightenment. It was a very packed history book that took a while for me to finish, because there was so much to uncover.
Joseph Sverker
I must say that this is historical writing at its best. Dabhoiwala takes a concept, such as the sexual revolution, that we think is very recent and shows that it has a long history, even back to the 17th century. He argues very convincingly that sexual liberty was in a strange way linked with the call out for religious liberty. Sometimes they were directly connected, but only rarely. It was more a way of thinking that came with the Enlightenment - the growing trust in reason as guide and the ind ...more
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
No matter how fascinating the topic, I always approach nonfiction skeptically. While some is well-written and engaging, it sometimes seems the authors are intentionally trying to put their readers, mostly luckless students, directly to sleep. Much as I love sleep, I can generally manage it just fine on my own, so I have no interest in such tomes. Thankfully, the writing of The Origins of Sex, while highly scholarly, is also pretty readable so far as serious scholarship goes.

What strikes me perha
Lynette Twaddle
This always seems a bit of an odd book to have read: to be honest title doesn't help, especially when you borrow it from the library. However, once you have mastered your blushes and borrowed/brought your copy be prepared for an interesting read.

While the book p reports from its title to look at sex through time, it begins with recorded time, with the middle ages and other earlier periods opening the main argument of the book, lumped into the same period. Here we see the small mindedness of reli
Jonathan Jeckell
This book was richly scattered with historical quotes and footnotes that demonstrated the author did a lot of work researching this book. Unfortunately, at times it read like reading the notes pages. These quotes and the context he added illuminated the varying attitudes by people (in England) throughout history, albeit heavily skewed towards elites.

A couple of insights I got from this book: At some point during the 1700's the blame of promiscuity flipped from women to men, with the popular bel
Steve Scott
This was a well researched book that digs into the history of the first sexual revolution.

Dabhoiwala makes a good argument that the Enlightenment and the decline of religious power, along with the spread of print media in its various forms, brought huge changes in how society looked at sex. He outlines the 16th and 17th century traditions of state and church imposed sexual discipline. These mandated punishments for fornication, adultery, prostitution, and sodomy. Within a hundred years the stan
Henk-Jan van der Klis
In The Origins of Sex, dr. Faramerz Dabhoiwala (fellow & tutor in history, Exeter College Oxford) provides a thorough study on the origins of sexuality in our modern Western culture. For millennia, sex had been strictly regulated by the Church, the state, and society. Until the 17th century harsh punishments were given to men and women that had sex outside of marriage. But by the 19th century everything had changed. And for us, 21st century westerners sexuality is so woven into our culture, ...more
Jan 03, 2013 Brian rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Brian by: the economist
(4.0) The 'sexual revolution' from 17th century up to Victorian England

Reviews and description seemed to suggest a more broad treatment of sexuality in society, but turns out it's almost exclusively about England. That's fine, but should've been able to see that earlier. The book tackles a few perspectives on sexuality and trace them through the transition from the 17th century through mid-19th century (at times touching on 20th).

We see how marriage begins as completely controlled by the church,
By turns intriguing and disturbing. How did society's (read English society) attitude towards sex change so much in 200 years? When did public and private switch? How did women change from being perceived as sexual predators to sexual prey?
I found the section dealing with seduction the most difficult to read. Extracts from Samuel Pepy's diary detailing his pursuit of a business partner's wife is difficult to read through a 21st century woman's eyes. This is not seduction. She is not a willing pa
Brian Watson
this is a good introductory work for a non academic or someone new to the field. it offers a good overview a d rehashes some of the most common ideas in history of sexialiyy, specifically, British sexuality. however, for someone who has read a lot in this field, its a bit lacking, but entertaining nonetheless.
Seán Ó Séaghdha
A fascinating look at the radical change in attitudes to sex in England from the late 17th century onwards.

A good mix of anecdote and thesis, though at times it did feel there could have been more of the thesis in there. It's good to be reminded what a radical change widespread printing produced and the parallels with the rise of the Internet are so obvious that they don't need to be (and aren't) stated. The obsession with celebrity is also startlingly modern. I'll bet many people in early 18th
I'm still reading it. In one way it's interesting, in other a bit boring written.
Adam Foley
Excellent overview, well researched text.
Jun 10, 2013 Richard is currently reading it
I just started this book a few days ago. The author, Faramerz Dabhoiwala, focuses on 17th century societal changes in attitude and law calling it the 'first sexual revolution.' The writing is clear, concise and has a compelling narrative style.

The book is published by the Oxford University Press, which offers a webpage on the book with three short YouTube interviews with the author here:

I bought the e-book from Barnes & Noble.
Jennifer Boyce
This book was very lengthy and in-depth. The author definitely knows a lot about the topic- and is obviously very knowledgeable of European history in general.

At times, mostly at the beginning, this book was a little dry and intimidating but it definitely gets easier to read as the book progresses.

I enjoyed this book- it took me a little bit to read but was definitely worth it. I feel like I learned a lot!
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kind of disappointing in that it was totally confined to 17th and 18th century England. The epilogue at the end was very good but the time of the English Revolution and Charles II is just really not that interesting as far as a Sexual Revolution is concerned. I think there was a whole bunch of stuff going on in France, Europe, and the US at the time.
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Faramerz Dabhoiwala is a professor of history at Oxford University and writes about the social, cultural, and intellectual history of the English-speaking world since 1500. He is the author of The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution (Penguin).
More about Faramerz Dabhoiwala...
Lust und Freiheit: Die Geschichte der ersten sexuellen Revolution

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