Written in the Flesh

Written in the Flesh: A History of Desire

EDWARD SHORTER
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 300
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt1287svh
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  • Book Info
    Written in the Flesh
    Book Description:

    Written in the Fleshis a history of what people like to do in bed and how that has changed. The change is relentless: human sexuality continually seeks new means of liberation in its expression of pleasure.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2811-3
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
    Edward Shorter
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-17)

    This book is a history not of sex but of sexual desire. A history of sex would include what was thought about it, media attitudes, and its role in marriage and the family. These are all worthy subjects, but none of them is in this book. It is a history of desire, of longing, of what people yearn to do in their heart of hearts. This is the first book of this nature ever written. Yes, it is audacious to take on the whole ball of wax, desire from the ancients to the present. But it is only in the...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Sex, a Baseline
    (pp. 18-51)

    Is sex like music? There are no new notes, but it’s all in the arrangement? Or are there new notes? It’s evident that new notes in the history of sexuality do indeed sound, and in our own time some of these new notes are heard with great resonance. But evolution from what? What was sex like before? To gauge the evolution of sensuality, we require a baseline, a description of what sort of sexual behaviour has always been practised. One might think of a baseline as a minimal level of erotic pleasure required for human reproduction.

    Part of the assignment...

  6. CHAPTER THREE A Baseline for Gays and Lesbians
    (pp. 52-79)

    In September 1923, Julien Green, a young Parisian who had just finished an undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia and was now back home, wrote to his former student friend Malcolm, with whom he had fallen somewhat in love, ‘I am horribly sensual. I have done everything that the human brain can imagine and the flesh can undertake. Don’t think that I can’t resist temptation. I can do so very well. In fact,’ said Green, who was a devout Catholic, ‘I am much more strongly drawn to good rather than to evil. I have chosen evil because I think...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Hindrances
    (pp. 80-97)

    The low priority attached to sexual pleasure by people who lived in distant times is inexplicable unless one considers the hindrances that existed in those days. Hindrances to pleasure – such physical distractions as chronic itching or chronic pain, the lack of privacy in family life, an antisensual culture, and fear of pregnancy in women – all inhibited the mind’s ability to act on whatever hedonic urging it received from the brain. The antisexual messages from the village community, from the church, from life itself screamed so loudly that the neural signals were deafened. In a profoundly antisexual culture, biology does not...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. CHAPTER FIVE Why Not the Romantics?
    (pp. 98-108)

    The year was 1830. The young French poet Alfred de Musset, age nineteen, was attending ‘a grand dinner party after a masked ball. My friends about me were richly costumed, on every side young men and women sparkling with beauty and joy.’ The wine began to rise in his veins. ‘People spontaneously embraced everyone who smiled at them. I felt myself the brother of everyone present.’

    He planned to meet with his girlfriend, a widow, later that night. But before the evening was through he had caught her holding hands and rubbing feet with, and caressing, another young man at...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Great Breakout
    (pp. 109-147)

    In July 1912 English writer D.H. Lawrence had just stolen away with his German girlfriend, Frieda von Richthofen, who was then married to another Englishman, to ‘the little top floor of the Bavarian peasant-house in Isartal.’ It was a secluded chalet next to a stream. From the balcony, Lawrence looked down on Frieda. ‘She swims finely, and looks fearfully voluptuous, rolling in the pale green water,’ he told a friend. She was swimming naked.¹

    ‘What a life!’ said Frieda. ‘We had lost all ordinary sense of time and place.’ She and Lawrence concentrated on the physicality of their existence. He...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Great Breakout for Gays and Lesbians
    (pp. 148-166)

    By 1900, gays and lesbians had begun the same sexual breakout from a single restricted focus that straights experienced as they left the missionary position behind. The same sense of sensual excitement that D.H. Lawrence felt on the balcony in Bavaria looking at Frieda’s naked body churning in the water infused homosexuals as well, creating a note that is as unlike the brutish sodomy of previous times as the lyre is from clogs on a wooden floor.

    ‘Live!’ Lord Henry Wotton apostrophizes Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde’s famous 1890 novel. ‘Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Towards Total Body Sex
    (pp. 167-199)

    At some point in the year 2000, Professor Elaine Hatfield asked the students in her human sexuality class at the University of Hawaii about their sex behaviour during the last month. Of the 191 who were currently dating, 89 per cent did French kissing. That is up from the 63 per cent of the college grads in the Kinsey survey fifty years earlier who had French kissedin their entire lives

    Eighty-six per cent sucked their partners’ nipples – presumably the men doing the women. It remains rare today for sex surveys to ask about men’s nipples.

    Seventy per cent of...

  14. CHAPTER NINE SM and Fetish
    (pp. 200-236)

    This penultimate chapter is really a bit of an aside, but an interesting one in the history of desire. What is now called role playing, formerly sadomasochism, has never been more than a sidebar in the history of sexuality, but it is a theme whose parallelism to the main narrative is arresting. The SM story begins with a kind of monochrome flogging comparable to the missionary position or buggery as the single main sexual outlet. Then towards 1900 new sources of sexual expression arrive in the SM world, namely fetish – though fetish also has a life of its own unrelated...

  15. CHAPTER TEN Epilogue
    (pp. 237-242)

    ‘Soul and body, body and soul – how mysterious they were!’ says Lord Henry in Oscar Wilde’sPicture of Dorian Gray. ‘There was animalism in the soul, and the body had its moments of spirituality ... Who could say where the fleshy impulse ceased, or the psychical impulse began?’¹

    That was in 1890. A century later we know the outcome of the story. This book describes the victory of the fleshy impulse, of desire. But if desire has won, what has really been achieved? Is there a price that we as a society have had to pay for elevating total body...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 243-298)
  17. Index
    (pp. 299-321)