Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

As soon as the necessity for thorough first hand research is faced, the volume of material lying waiting for attention is found to be enormous. In addition to the treasure houses of judicial and ecclesiastical records, and the rich mines of biographical material, there is an enormous bibliography of printed matter which is crying for systematic examination and analysis. Gay’s “Bibliographie Des Ouvrages relatifs a l’Amour“, etc., runs to 2,500 pages in double column and is devoted primarily to works in the French language. Hayn’s “Bibliotheca germanorum erotica et curiosa” runs to eight volumes, not counting the supplements. Many of the works listed are rare or unobtainable, of course, and others are irrelevant; but even if one confined one’s attention to the 4,000 odd volumes contained in the private cases of the main British libraries, and listed in Reade’s “Registrum Librorum Eroticorum“, a useful start could be made. As a first step, it would be exceedingly helpful to arrange the titles in order of publication, and to note the frequency with which different themes appear at different periods, and whether interest in certain themes waxes and wanes simultaneously, or whether, in other cases; an inverse relationship exists. Work of this sort would help to verify, or disprove, the suggestion put forward in the present work that interest in homosexuality and in incest vary in a significant manner which can be correlated with religious and political trends, and might disclose other unsuspected variations and relationships.

Unfortunately, the practical difficulties of such research are all but insuperable. Very special backing would be required before the authorities would permit direct access to the erotica; in Britain, at least, even fully accredited enquirers are normally allowed only single volumes upon specific application, which must be countersigned by the chief librarian. One reason for these extraordinary precautions is that where books have been the subject of convictions for obscene libel, the library authorities lay themselves open to legal action if they permit them to be consulted—for, as is seldom realized, it has been ruled that the showing of a book, or even an unpublished manuscript, by one individual to another, constitutes an offence. (In 1923, Sir Archibald Bodkin told the International Conference for the Suppression of Obscene Publications at Geneva,

“I have got two people in prison now for having exchanged and lent and dealt with each other in indecencies, photographs, pictures, books, etc.”

In 1932, a sentence of six months’ imprisonment was imposed on a man who submitted translations of poems by Rabelais and Vedaine to a printer, asking him to print them.)

A further great difficulty is the extreme confusion of terminology, which often makes it difficult to know to what a writer is referring. For instance, in an otherwise admirable book on Jewish sexual law, the writer states at one point that prostitution was forbidden, and a few lines later that harlotry was permitted—whereas the Oxford Dictionary defines a harlot as a prostitute. This confusion becomes inextricable when we come to more delicate subjects, especially homosexuality. One writer speaks of homosexuality being forbidden but sodomy permitted, and one begins to wonder what the sin of Sodom really was. The term buggery is usually defined as meaning unnatural intercourse” between men, or between a man and an animal (things which, psychologically, are rather different), while in British law the term appears to cover anal intercourse between a man and his wife, which is Psychologically different again. When, therefore, the Manichaean sects in the Middle Ages were accused of buggery, what were they actually being accused of? As I attempt to show, the point is quite an important one. In the same way, the term bestiality, which on the face of it should mean intercourse with an animal, seems frequently to be used to mean intercourse between men — though I have not come across it being applied to a similar offence between women.