Fun Facts from a Vintage Sex Book

Over the past several years, I’ve amassed quite a collection of vintage/antique sex books. I keep meaning to share all the hilarious tidbits with MSP readers, but haven’t yet gotten around to it. So when Kate announced that this week’s theme was ‘Sex in History,’ I finally had a reason to share!

My most recent trip to the Montague Book Mill (if you’re near Western Mass and haven’t checked this out, I highly recommend it) was a success. I walked out with two books: one on the history of the flapper, and the other on the history of, you guessed it, sex! A History of Sexual Customs by Richard Lewinsohn was originally published in 1956, making it a perfect addition to my vintage sex book collection. It’s always important to keep in mind the publication date when perusing vintage sex books, especially since so many of these tidbits and pieces of advice seem incredibly out of date. Not to mention all of the blatant sexism. But hey, it’s fun to read!

I’ll spare you all the monotonous details and jump straight to the juicy stuff. Did you know…

- The objectification (literally) of women is no new feat…researchers have stumbled upon figurines dating back 2,000 years that depict women as highly sexualized beings. These figurines were often faceless, instead drawing the viewer’s attention to the “large lactatory glands, prominent belly, and full hips and thighs…the whole figure shows that the artist possessed an excellent artistic command of the human form, but that he deliberately overemphasized those parts concerned with the reproductive function” (Lewinsohn, 1956:5).

Wonder Woman, image courtesy of

Ancient Venus figurine, image courtesy of

Anybody else see the resemblance?

- Feeling cranky? Blame it on the sex…or lack thereof. Sex starvation was once a perfectly legitimate excuse for bad behavior. In his chapter on polygamy, Lewinsohn delves into the history of Muhammad and his wives and the culture of polygamy. While the harem model is often portrayed as glamorous and lustful, Lewinsohn points out several flaws in the custom, most notably sex starvation. The head of the harem was usually an aging man, far from his sexual prime. This “lack of sexual satisfaction warps the character even of naturally good-hearted women: some grow dull and apathetic, others develop extreme irritability, a morbid jealousy of other women who appear to be favored above them, or a nymphomania which not frequently finds an outlet in sadistic excesses” (Lewinsohn, 1956:118). Wouldn’t it be nice to blame irritability on a lack of sex?

Chastity Girdle, image courtesy of wikipedia

- Though chastity belts became popular during the Middle Ages, they were actually first seen in Homer’s Odyssey. As the story goes, the goddess Aphrodite is unfaithful to her husband, Hephaestus, and sleeps with his brother. As a result, Hephaestus builds Aphrodite a thick girdle to prevent any further sexual infidelities. The Greeks saw this story as simply a fable and it wasn’t until 2,000 years later that the chastity belt became a popular device. These uncomfortable devices were made of metal, with only a small opening for a woman’s “necessary non-sexual functions” (Lewinsohn, 142). These belts were not only a sign of the husband’s control over his wife, but also a sign of wealth.

More fun sex facts to come as I continue reading!

About Michaela


Michaela is a recent Seven Sisters graduate with a self-designed degree in Sexuality Studies. When she's not blogging, you'll find her teaching Health and Wellness and A Cappella to high school students, helping women find properly fitting bras, and working as an editor on a documentary. She hopes to continue her education one day with a PhD in Feminist Anthropology.