One of the oldest surviving copies of a sex manual first published in 1684, but outlawed in the 18th century, is to be auctioned in Edinburgh next week.
Described as the earliest known published sex guide, ‘Aristotle’s Masterpiece’ first appeared as a pamphlet published by a Dutch theologist, but it’s original author is unknown. It is totally unconnected to the classical Greek philosopher – just adding his name to the title is thought to have helped boost sales.
When English language versions of the began to widely circulate in Britain in the 18th century, it was banned for being too “lewd and distasteful.” However, it continued to be an under-the-counter best seller well into the 19th century; it was still widely available, largely unchanged, in Soho sex shops in the 1930s. It was also popular in America; in 1744 a church minister in Massachusetts discovered that the young people in his parish had been reading and talking about it – or indulging in “lascivious and obscene discourse,” as he put it.
Very tame by today’s standards, the book offered a mix of practical advice and old wives’ tales on sex and pregnancy aimed at young married couples – though it’s illustrations also made it extremely popular with teenage boys. The book covers topics such as virginity: “what it is” and “by what means it may be lost”, how women should “govern themselves” during pregnancy, and how a woman should “order herself” to conceive. It also includes sections on “monstrous births and the reasons thereof” and “directions for midwives”
Cathy Marsden of the Lyon and Turnbull auction house, said: “It’s fascinating reading. It tells an amazing story about the changing perspectives on sex. There’s nothing in it that would really be considered dirty in our society now. There are things which warn parents about what could happen to their children if they sinned whilst conceiving them, perhaps by having sex outside marriage. It would say that your baby would be born all hairy or it would suggest that conjoined twins were the result of the parents’ sins. There are also interesting bits about the 17th century notion that it was considered beneficial for a woman to enjoy sexual intercourse in order to conceive. It suggests that both men and women should enjoy sex.”
The edition of Aristotle’s Masterpiece going under the hammer at Lyon and Turnbull dates from 1766 and is expected to fetch more than £400 (US$ 650).
Read the full text of Aristotle’s Masterpiece by clicking on the image: