Review: 'The Pleasure’s All Mine: A History of Perverse Sex', By Julie Peakman (Reaktion, £25)

 

"The Pleasure’s All Mine" is an odd title for an academic study of perversity: it sounds as though perverse sex is greedy, self-indulgent and possibly non-consensual. I picture Boy George in his flat in Shoreditch in April 2007, with a male escort chained to the wall. But there is a bigger question raised by the title – by whose definitions are these practices perversions?

“The Pleasure’s All Ours” would have been better, except possibly unfair on the dog assaulted by a woman in the chapter about bestiality or the families of the grave-robbing necrophiles. Julie Peakman wants all deviant behavior between consenting parties to be tolerated. This sounds eminently reasonable. And society is almost with her: if the male escort in Boy George’s flat had consented to being beaten and restrained as part of a sex game, it wouldn’t have attracted any attention.

Peakman thinks the law is still an ass when it comes to sex. She recounts the case of the cannibal who was prosecuted for manslaughter after eating a man who had entered into a contractual arrangement with him. Controversially, Peakman suggests that we should be able to consent to being devoured piece by piece for someones else’s gratification, assuming we are of sound mind, without worrying that the Hannibal Lecter-like gormand will be prosecuted. The issues raised by the cannibalism case are the same as with euthanasia, Peakman suggests. People should have the right to act on their self-destructive impulses without fear of censure. That seems quite radical. Unlike the escort, the young German cannibal Bernd Brandes did consent to being tortured; consuming his own penis before being stabbed to death.

This plea is complicated by the issue of consent. Sometimes consent is wrongly assumed, or in the case of the dead the lack of consent is the point. Like many readers I thought I knew quite a bit about this subject! The first few chapters were familiar accounts of sex in the Greco-Roman era. I knew Roman men were allowed several women – one for procreation, one for sex/alluring conversation, and another one for luck. I knew that buggering young boys was regarded as a form of “mentorship”. But later chapters were revelatory. I didn’t understand the physiognomy behind auto-asphyxiation but now certainly do. And who knew that there used to be a paeodophile’s liberation movement, that demanded rights for this oppressed minority. The Paedophile’s Information Exchange, founded in 1974, published a number of pamphlets which presented paedophilia as a social good. The authors asserted that the child is often a “willing” partner.

Today, such material would be relegated to the dark web, if you could find it at all. Peakman’s claim that there’s nothing new under the sun (just a shift of emphasis from one era to the next) is undermined by the current wave of sexual repression. Our hypersexualised society is also hyper repressive; we’ve never been more conflicted about sex and our confused sexual morays reflect that.

In the Jimmy Savile era, it is not possible to think of our children as sexual beings given that “child love” was the paedophile’s alibi. A related fear about the sexualisation of children – high heels for seven-year-olds, for example – has led to a denial about the thing one instinctively knows as a parent. This is a shame. I’m worried that our children will experience their own sexuality as a predatory stranger. A friend of mine wrote a play about childhood sexuality and was shocked when none of the reviews mentioned this issue: amazingly in our hypersexualised world some things are still taboo.

Charlotte Raven is editor of ‘Feminist Times’

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?