Nowadays we believe that consenting adults have the freedom to do what they like with their own bodies. We publicise and celebrate sex; we discuss it endlessly; we are obsessed with the sex lives of celebrities. We think it wrong that in other cultures people suffer for their sexual orientation, that women are treated as second-class citizens, or that adulterers are put to death. Yet until quite recently our own society was like this too. For most of western history, all sex outside marriage was illegal, and the church, the state, and ordinary people all devoted huge efforts to suppressing and punishing it. This was a central feature of Christian civilization, one that had steadily grown in importance since the early middle ages.
In this brilliant, ground-breaking book, Faramerz Dabhoiwala describes in dramatic detail how, between 1600 and 1800, this entire world view was shattered by revolutionary new ideas - that sex is a private matter; that morality cannot be imposed by force; that men are more lustful than women. Henceforth, the private lives of both sexes were to be endlessly broadcast and debated, in a rapidly expanding universe of public media: newspapers, pamphlets, journals, novels, poems, and prints.
The Origins of Sex shows that the creation of this modern culture of sex was a central part of the Enlightenment, intertwined with the era's major social, political and intellectual trends. It helped create a new model of Western civilization, whose principles of privacy, equality, and freedom of the individual remain distinctive to this day.
Path-breaking ... touching ... This is a marvellously rich and thought-provoking book, written with clarity and humanity, and drawing on a huge range of materials, from sermons to pornography to social statistics -- Noel Malcolm * Sunday Telegraph * The Origins of Sex overturns the conventional wisdom that the sexual revolution began in the Sixties ... baby boomers will be shocked and, I suspect, a little upset -- Cosmo Landesman * Sunday Times * A revelation ... The book is not simply a finely crafted work of history, but a study that will reshape the way its readers understand the most intimate level of their lives.It may even bring some sanity to modern debates about sexuality -- Diarmaid MacCulloch [A] sumptuously rich, learned and enlightening debut ... What makes Dabhoiwala's book so gloriously enjoyable is its happy blend of provocative ideas with splendidly rich historical anecdotes ... [a] lucidly written, densely researched and thoroughly persuasive book -- Dominic Sandbrook * Sunday Times * An extraordinary kind of sex book [from] one of Oxford's brightest stars. His fat tome, The Orgins of Sex, took 20 years of historical research and is garnering the kind of magisterial reviews that cast Dabhoiwala in the role of the younger, cuter, Simon Schama -- Helen Rumbelow * The Times * Faramerz Dabhoiwala's The Origins of Sex, an enthralling history of changing ideas about sexual freedom and desire from 1600 to 1800, interestingly blends progressivist and circular approaches. He shows us a Western world (mainly England) emerging from medieval sexual morality and enjoying 200 years of relative freedom, but he also shows it sliding back into repression and denial in the 19th century. The future remains a question mark... his book [is] inspiring as well as provocative -- Sarah Bakewell * The Independent * In The Origins of Sex, Faramerz Dabhoiwala does for the history of sexual attitudes what Lawrence Stone did for the history of sex and the family. Rigorously academic in his approach, Dabhoiwala focuses on intellectual and social currents to trace the grand sweep of sexual attitudes between 1600 and 1800. His aim is not primarily to enter into the bedrooms and between the sheets of the past , but to examine sex as a public, rather than private, preoccupation. It needed a writer as erudite as Faramerz Dabhoiwala to knit together established theories of changes in the Enlightenment and weave in the primary sources to show how sex figures in the bigger picture. The book is packed with information and peppered with fascinating examples. It will delight students of social and sexual history, and anyone interested in the history of ideas -- Times Literary Supplement * Julie Peakman *