Sex! … and Sexuality, and Gender

Sex! … and Sexuality, and Gender

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Gale Review Team

We upload guest posts on behalf of our visiting writers and editors.

By Phil Virta, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Gale
Phil Virta has worked at Gale for more than fourteen years in various capacities, most recently as a publisher of digital primary source archives in charge of the Archives of Sexuality & Gender programme. He enjoys long walks through dusty archival collections, visiting far-flung places and frequent woolgathering. When he doesn’t have his head in the clouds, he can be found researching new archive ideas, working on his stamp collection, watching squirrels, or planning his next tropical vacation.

Please be aware that this blog post contains content that may be offensive to some readers; the decision to read the post is at your own discretion.

Mention the word ‘sex’ while you’re chatting with anyone and you’re likely to get a variety of responses from rational to emotional to visceral, depending on whom you are speaking to:

“Did you just say ‘sex’?”
[Lewd laughter]
“I’m so embarrassed right now that I’m blushing.”
“Ewwww!”
“I’m a doctor; we can have a frank discussion.”
“What about sex?”

Unless you’re Dr. Ruth Westheimer (American sex therapist, media personality and author), sex is not something most people bring up in casual conversation. Nevertheless, it is, and always has been, at the core of who we are as a species, and it is a topic we study, write about, obsess over, read about, and (some of us) frequently contemplate.

Teehan, Michael Fabian, and Stephen T. Bayles. Standard sex knowledge and health encyclopedia: by M. F. Teehan …. Standard Pub. Co., [c. 1922]. Archives of Sexuality & Gender,
Teehan, Michael Fabian, and Stephen T. Bayles. Standard sex knowledge and health encyclopedia: by M. F. Teehan …. Standard Pub. Co., [c. 1922]. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nGff7
People tend to have very specific reactions to the idea of sex based on the social and cultural attitudes with which they were raised. These attitudes differ all around the world due to a variety of factors (gender, education, religion, social norms) and are prone to change over time. Some openly embrace sex (that wasn’t meant to be a pun), some accept it for the biological function that it is, and some consider it a taboo subject, only meant to be discussed or considered with gravitas.

Thomas, William Isaac. Sex and society: studies in the social psychology of sex. University of Chicago Press, 1907. Archives of Sexuality & Gender,
Thomas, William Isaac. Sex and society: studies in the social psychology of sex. University of Chicago Press, 1907. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nb2y6

Sex, the noun, is defined as either sexual activity or a categorisation of female or male. In the latter case, the definition overlaps with that of gender. Yet sex generally focuses on the biological, while gender focuses more on identities – generally cultural and social – that don’t always correspond to the idea of female or male. In any contemplation of sex and gender, one must also consider sexuality, which can mean sexual activity, sexual orientation or preference, or sexual feelings.

Knight, Melvin Moses, et al. Taboo and genetics: a study of the biological, sociological and psychological foundation of the family, by M. M. Knight, PH. D., Iva Lowther Peters, PH. D. [and] Phyllis Blanchard …. Moffat, Yard and Company, 1920. Archives of Sexuality & Gender,
Knight, Melvin Moses, et al. Taboo and genetics: a study of the biological, sociological and psychological foundation of the family, by M. M. Knight, PH. D., Iva Lowther Peters, PH. D. [and] Phyllis Blanchard …. Moffat, Yard and Company, 1920. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nGyy4
Why are we contemplating sex in a blog post, you may be wondering? Because Gale has created an archive called Sex and Sexuality, Sixteenth to Twentieth Century, part of the Archives of Sexuality & Gender programme, and it is a collection like no other. Within the archive, you have the opportunity to access three unique collections:

  1. The Private Case from the British Library originally comprised of more than 4,000 ‘obscene’ books kept locked away in cases or cupboards in the Keeper’s room. Today, there are just over 2,500 volumes in the Private Case; a number of books were moved out of the collection over time as social mores changed. The collection primarily spans the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. Many of the books came from private bequests (some anonymously), making for some interesting research opportunities into the lives of the original owners.The sources below are from the collection of Charles Reginald Dawes (1879-1964) which is part of the ‘Collection des orties blanches’. Charles Reginald Dawes (1879-1964) was a collector of erotica, bibliographer and writer who published bibliographic studies of Restif de la Bretonne and the Marquis de Sade.
D'Icy, Jacques. Fifi l'arpète. Incursion dans les ateliers parisiens, etc. [With plates and illustrations.]. Collection Des «Orties Blanches», [1922]. Archives of Sexuality & Gender,
D’Icy, Jacques. Fifi l’arpète. Incursion dans les ateliers parisiens, etc. [With plates and illustrations.]. Collection Des «Orties Blanches», [1922]. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nbtq9

‘Private cases’ or segregated collections exist or existed in many institutions around the world. As you have been made aware, the British Library holds a famous Private Case; you, dear reader, now have the opportunity to browse it yourself. The Phi Collection at the Bodleian Library, the Delta Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress, the *** Collection at the New York Public Library, the wonderfully named Enfer (Hell) collection at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and the Giftschrank (literally, poison cabinet) at the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek in Munich are all examples of private cases. Some of these collections remain difficult to access. Others have been dispersed among the broader library collections, making it harder to see them as they were and understand why they were locked away in the first place.

Bear in mind that not all of these books were shut behind closed doors; many were collected purposefully to create a corpus of sex and sexuality (perhaps that was a bit tongue-in-cheek). Pioneers like Magnus Hirschfeld, Alfred Kinsey, Havelock Ellis, and many others created libraries of materials in order to study human sexual behaviour. Learned societies, academic institutions, libraries and museums established collections on aspects of sex and sexuality for the preservation of knowledge and to promote serious study. Within Sex and Sexuality, Sixteenth to Twentieth Century, the Kinsey Institute and New York Academy of Medicine materials are representative of purpose-built collections for academic study.

2. Special Subject Units from Sex Research: Early Literature from Statistics to Erotica is a collection from the Alfred C. Kinsey Institute for Sex Research dating primarily from the eighteen to nineteenth centuries, with some books from the seventeenth and twentieth centuries as well. Dr. Kinsey founded the Institute for Sex Research in order to study human sexual behavior as well as to promote the serious study of sex, gender and sexuality. This collection represents some of the first materials Dr. Kinsey acquired to further his research.

The Frisky songster is described as a ‘Select Choice of Such Songs, as Are Distinguished for Their Jolity, High Taste and Humor, and above Two Hundred Toasts and Sentiments of the Most Delicious Order.’

The Frisky songster. 9th ed., Printed, and sold by all the booksellers and newscarriers in England, Ireland, and Scotland, 1802. Archives of Sexuality & Gender,
The Frisky songster. 9th ed., Printed, and sold by all the booksellers and newscarriers in England, Ireland, and Scotland, 1802. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8g9jb5

3. Established in 1847, the New York Academy of Medicine continues to promote its vision that everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy life. More than 1,500 books on sex, sexuality, and gender studies, some from the sixteenth century, are presented from the Academy Library collection, bridging the history of medicine, the humanities and the arts.

Below is a vernacular manual on women’s health. In addition to examining the four humours and their relation to the health of both men and women, this ‘Dutch folk book’ also deals with herbal remedies, sex, the frequency of sex and its consequences, ways to facilitate and prevent conception, and pregnancy. The book is primarily directed at men rather than women.

T. p. woodcut; A reprint of Jan van Ghelen edition of between 1550-1570; Binding: old vellum manuscript leaf wrappers
T. p. woodcut; A reprint of Jan van Ghelen edition of between 1550-1570; Binding: old vellum manuscript leaf wrappers
De Natuere ende complexie der vrouwen …. Jacob Bosselaer, 1599. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nb8tX

Overall, Sex and Sexuality, Sixteenth to Twentieth Century is made up of more than 5,500 rare and unique books covering topics across the sciences and humanities, and throughout history. It is the variety of titles and subjects covered in this archive that make it intriguing.

A quote from Dr. Alfred Kinsey is representative of what the archive encompasses:

“A sex library, unlike a library in any other subject, must draw material from a diversity of fields. Not only must biology, medicine, psychology, psychiatry, and other sciences be represented, but also material from purely literary sources, from the Classics, from modern fiction, from poetry, from art, from law, from religious literature, and from many other fields.”

It is thus that you can read a scientific work on sexual instinct:

Féré, Charles Samson. The evolution and dissolution of the sexual instinct. 2nd ed., C. Carrington, 1904. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nKSH4

And here, a beautifully (and erotically) illustrated work that is possibly a fictitious sexual autobiography. The imprint is also fictitious. Published in Paris, the author is anonymous:

Ma vie secrète. [s.n.], 1885. Archives of Sexuality & Gender,
Ma vie secrète. [s.n.], 1885. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8mn2z3
And here, a book on marriage and procreation:

Fowler, Orson Squire. Love and parentage: applied to the improvement of offspring: including important directions and suggestions to lovers and the married concerning the strongest ties and the most sacred and momentous relations of life. 13th ed., Fowlers and Wells, 1847. Archives of Sexuality & Gender,
Fowler, Orson Squire. Love and parentage: applied to the improvement of offspring: including important directions and suggestions to lovers and the married concerning the strongest ties and the most sacred and momentous relations of life. 13th ed., Fowlers and Wells, 1847. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nLFK0

And a book on the consequences of adultery:

Gill, R. A new collection of trials for adultery: or, General history of modern gallantry and divorces. … By R. Gill, Esq. and a civilian of Doctors' Commons, etc.). Vol. 2, Printed for the Proprietors, Sold by J. Gill, 1802. Archives of Sexuality & Gender,
Gill, R. A new collection of trials for adultery: or, General history of modern gallantry and divorces. … By R. Gill, Esq. and a civilian of Doctors’ Commons, etc.). Vol. 2, Printed for the Proprietors, Sold by J. Gill, 1802. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nLvZ9

By presenting materials across a range of topical areas and time periods, readers have the opportunity to explore the fascinating subjects of sex and sexuality from a variety of perspectives. For the forbidden fruits, one can certainly find erotica in the archive, but the collections go far beyond simply titillation and pornography. You will also find books on reproduction; love; marriage and extramarital sex; the status of women; homosexuality; health and hygiene; sex offenses; mythology; poetry; and my personal favourite, the immoral effects of music, theatre and dancing. The archive presents a history of society and culture as seen through a lens of sexuality. Readers can discover for themselves how views on sexuality and gender roles evolved over time and ascertain the many ways sex, sexuality and gender in its historical context impacts our lives today.

In the past, many of these materials would have been locked away, hidden from the public and general readership, only available to certain learned professionals, or part of someone’s private library. Some of the books were labelled obscene, lewd, pornographic, or scandalous, and some actually were (depending on your point of view). One famous case is Fanny Hill, also known as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, which was banned in the UK up until the 1960s. A search in the archive will yield copies in English, French, German, Dutch, Hungarian and Italian.

Cleland, John. Mémoires de Fanny Hill, femme de plaisir. Compositions en couleurs de Edouard Chimot. [A prospectus.]. N.p., [1954]. Archives of Sexuality & Gender,
Cleland, John. Mémoires de Fanny Hill, femme de plaisir. Compositions en couleurs de Edouard Chimot. [A prospectus.]. N.p., [1954]. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nSbY1
Cleland, John, and Erich Feldhammer. [Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.] Die Memoiren der Fanny Hill. [Translated by Erich Feldhammer. With plates by Franz von Bayros.]. Vol. 1, n.p., 1906. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.
Cleland, John, and Erich Feldhammer. [Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.] Die Memoiren der Fanny Hill. [Translated by Erich Feldhammer. With plates by Franz von Bayros.]. Vol. 1, n.p., 1906. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nST94 Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.
Yet some of the books were locked away as much for their own protection as that of the public. Librarians, archivists and curators saw the value in keeping these books safe, whether from those who might wish to steal them, those who might wish to destroy them, or those who might wish to suppress them, all while making them available for research purposes. The New York Academy of Medicine notes that The Sex Side of Life by Mary Ware Dennett, c1919, a sexual education pamphlet for young people, was deemed obscene by the U.S. Post Office in 1922. Dennett was tried by a federal court in 1928 and found guilty of distributing obscene materials through the mail. You can read The Sex Side of Life for yourself here to see what all the fuss was about. You can also read New Ideas that Challenged Old Convictions: Banned Books at the Academy web site for more information and to adopt a banned book.

Dennett, Mary Ware. The sex side of life. N.p., [c. 1919]. Archives of Sexuality & Gender,
Dennett, Mary Ware. The sex side of life. N.p., [c. 1919]. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nS5t7
Regardless of the reason a book was locked away or made somewhat difficult to access, the keepers of the forbidden books did us a great favour; they preserved a valuable historical record that helps us better understand ourselves, our culture and society.

Now is your chance to explore this wonderful ‘sex library’. Archives of Sexuality & Gender: Sex and Sexuality, Sixteenth to Twentieth Century offers a fascinating collection of historical material providing multiple perspectives on the study of sex, sexuality and gender. Don’t be afraid to peek beneath the book covers and have a look around!

Oh, and on the subject of book covers, check out the Private Case and New York Academy of Medicine collections for some gorgeous examples of marbled book covers. Here are a few for your viewing pleasure:

1.Beverland, Adrian, and Francis David Byrne. The law concerning draped virginity: an academical study: by Adrian Beverland; translated for the first time with philological and other explanatory notes by Francis D. Byrne. C. Carrington, 1905. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nSsz7. Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.
1. Beverland, Adrian, and Francis David Byrne. The law concerning draped virginity: an academical study: by Adrian Beverland; translated for the first time with philological and other explanatory notes by Francis D. Byrne. C. Carrington, 1905. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nSsz7. Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.
2. Taruffi, Cesare. Storia della teratologia. Vol. 6, Regia tip, 1891. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nT6u0. Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.
3. Chansonnier du bordel …, Nouvelle édition, revue, corrigée, augmentée de 12 chansons. N.p., 1833. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nTBP0. Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.
4. De Voisenon, Claude Henri Fusée, and Anne Gabriel Meusnier De Querlon. Les Exercices de devotion de M. Henri Roch avec Madame la duchesse de Condor … Edition revue sur l’edition originale … et sur l’edition de Vaucluse, 1786. F. P. N.p., [1875]. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nTEM3. Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.
5. Pheuquewell, Roger, and Thomas Stretser. A new description of Merryland … The fifth edition. [The author identified in the editor’s preface as Roger Pheuquewell.]. Printed and sold by J. Leake There; and by E. Curll, 1741. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nTJU4. Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.
6. Merdiana, ou Manuel des chieurs … Quatrième édition. 4th ed., Au Bureau Des Vidangeurs, 1814. Archives of Sexuality & Gender, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8nTQg8. Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.

Further interesting titles you’ll find within the archive include:

 

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