Sex & Punishment, By Eric Berkowitz
The high cost of loving oneself, or one's horse, and other sex crimes
The invasive prurience of sex rules at US universities (such as Gettysburg College, where, if you're sleeping with a fellow student, you have to wake him or her up and ask permission before fondling), is nothing new according to Eric Berkowitz, a San Francisco lawyer and journalist.
In the ancient Middle East, he notes, "sex was evidently more micromanaged than even now." Deuteronomy asserts that if a wife seizes the testicles of a man struggling with her husband, "you shall cut off her hand". Since this is similar to a law in Assyria (where women only lost a finger), Berkowitz suggests there was "a regional testicle fixation".
Subtitled 4,000 Years of Judging Desire, this entertaining, angry and deeply fascinating study shows how legislators over the centuries have carefully calibrated punishments for erratic sexual behaviour. In medieval Europe, "a lonely monk who took a cow as his lover would be punished twice as severely as a lay owner of the beast".
A man who used "mechanical help" for masturbation was punished by 40 days of penance but it was a year for a woman who used a dildo (three years if she shared it with a chum). A Scot who was spotted copulating with his horse in 1654 was strangled then burned at the stake. So was the mare.
It is no great source of national pride that the British occupy a disproportionate number of pages. Our Obscenity Laws date from the drunken japes of Sir Charles Sedley MP, who, according to a contemporary account from 1663, "excrementised in the street…and with eloquence preached blasphemy". Given a hefty fine, Sir Charles observed that he was "the first man that paid for shitting".
Gratifyingly, a British jury took just 53 minutes to boot out the case of two young men charged in 1871 "with the intent to commit a felony" because they happened to be wearing "a cherry-coloured evening dress" and "a dark green satin dress". A savagely punitive sentence two decades later continues to reverberate. As Berkowitz notes, "The suddenness and depth of Wilde's fall from grace is still a stunning thing."
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Al Pacino on suffering from depression: 'It can last and it's terrifying'
- 2 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 3 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 4 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 5 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
Scottish independence referendum: Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and Frightened Rabbit to play in support of Yes campaign
Jessica Chastain demands Scarlett Johansson superhero movie from Marvel: 'To me it's a no brainer. Why is it taking so long?'
Downton Abbey series 5 start date revealed: Drama returns in late September
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
How to read Will Self: Unlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage