Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

For these and other reasons the research necessary to produce the definitive history of sexual mores, without which no adequate interpretive history can be written, must take many years to prepare and is unlikely to be carried out in the near future. It need hardly be said that the present book makes no pretensions to constitute such a definitive work: its brevity alone makes that clear. As will be seen from the bibliography, about 250 works were consulted in preparing it; even this limited enquiry yielded material for a volume two or three times the size of this one. Within the time available, and in the circumstances I have described, all that was possible was a broad survey, in which the principal features of the landscape should be described and selected points explored. Not only is much condensed or omitted, but the story has been told almost wholly from the man’s point of view. I have not attempted to consider how far women were able to develop their distinctive attitude to sex, how far they accepted male standards, and what the consequences were for them.

Nor have I had room to draw comparisons between Western (chiefly English) attitudes and those of other cultures, neither those which have vanished nor those which anthropologists have studied in our own day.

The work is, however, more than just a history. It offers a working theory to account for the changes in sexual attitudes which it records, and attempts to show that the analysis of these changes can be used to cast new light on certain historical problems which have long been held controversial, such as the nature of the relationship between the troubadours and their “Mistresses” and the nature of Catharist heresy. It attempts also to bring into one coherent picture a number of topics which have hitherto been treated in isolation, and to establish connections between phenomena so apparently diverse as heresy and homosexuality, Christianity and dancing, phallic worship and the Abode of Love. Above all, it seeks to show the remarkable continuity of the sex attitudes which form part of Western culture: the proportions in which the elements are mixed vary widely, but the ingredients remain amazingly constant.

It has not been possible to write of sex without touching at many points on matters of religion; it is far from my wish to wound any susceptibilities, but I recognize that the barest statement of established fact is liable to prove wounding to those who have been brought up to cherish certain illusions. I should therefore like to stress that I have been careful to avoid making value judgments on moral or theological grounds. The standards on which my judgments have been based are as follows: I have regarded health — physical or mental—as better than disease; and I have regarded love and kindness as better than cruelty and hate.

It is unhappily the case that a good many outstanding figures in the history of the Church showed signs of what too day would be regarded as psychological disturbance. And it is often precisely these persons who have influenced the Church’s policy on sexual matters. It has therefore been necessary to analyse a number of such cases in the course of the book; some readers may feel, in consequence, that the picture of clerical behaviour that emerges is not a balanced one. Let me therefore emphasise here that, at all periods, there were, of course, within the Church numerous persons of more balanced characters living more normal lives and preaching less extreme views than those I describe. Numerically, I have little doubt, they outnumbered the extremists; unfortunately, their influence on history was usually less. So it should be borne in mind that when I refer to “the Church” I mean those who set the tone or determined the policies of the Church and not the entire body of persons in holy orders.