REVIEW: A Curious History of Sex, Kate Lister #BLOGTOUR

Thursday, 13 February 2020

The act of sex has not changed since people first worked out what went where, but the ways in which society dictates how sex is culturally understood and performed have varied significantly through the ages. Humans are the only creatures that stigmatise particular sexual practices, and sex remains a deeply divisive issue around the world. Attitudes will change and grow – hopefully for the better – but sex will never be free of stigma or shame unless we acknowledge where it has come from. Drawing upon extensive research from Dr Kate Lister’s Whores of Yore website and written with her distinctive humour and wit, A Curious History of Sex covers topics ranging from twentieth-century testicle thefts to Victorian doctors massaging the pelvises of their female patients, from smutty bread innuendos dating back to AD 79, to the new and controversial sex doll brothels. It is peppered with surprising and informative historical slang and illustrated by eye-opening, toe-curling and hilarious images. In this fascinating book, Lister deftly debunks myths and stereotypes and gives unusual sexual practices an historical framework, as she provides valuable context for issues facing people today, including gender, sexual shame, beauty and language.

Cast your mind back ten years: it is 2010, Twilight is at its height and your old friend Cass is more than slightly anxious at the prospect of s-e-x. Googling sexual questions inevitably and only led to porn and, without a pool of adults that were even slightly open to clarifying the new discoveries, images of sex and sexuality became more than a little jumbled in my endlessly-impressionable teenaged mind.
I was fourteen, living in one of the most sexually open countries in the entire world and yet completely and utterly clueless.
Since then, ten years and a complete world away, I have been trying to be more sex positive. But, like my wider journey into feminism and social issues, it has been a gradual and painstaking process; one defined by the difficulty in shedding more than two decades of all-encompassing social conditioning. It is difficult to lift the fog; to see the truth; to talk freely without awkwardness or judgement.
I am, therefore, always on the lookout for resources: for books and television shows that challenge my point of view and, more importantly, for people who are far more cool and open than I am, to take my hand and guide me through the scary stuff. Not to say that sex is scary but, feelings and discussion around it, especially in my earlier years, certainly edged towards that territory.
And, for me, like so many others, this book will surely be an integral tool towards the nirvana of sex without shame, taboo and embarrassment. After-all, why should any of those things accompany anything that is old and natural as time itself?
Kate Lister's A Curious History of Sex covers an extensive, painstakingly-researched list of topics relating to sex and sexuality (sex work, aphrodisiacs, abortion, hysteria, vibrators, bicycles - you name it, it is probably in here), filling her readers' minds with oodles of fascinating information without ever feeling stodgy or dry. Just be forewarned: you are going to want to read it aloud to the person in your closest vicinity so, if you're in a public place, just give them a head's up before you start, eh?
Lister is frank, honest and endlessly hilarious in a way that makes her readers feel at ease even when the topics drift towards their most squeamish (sex dolls covered in feathers and vaginal douching with carbolic acids to name some standout examples) and, with full-colour, incredibly-detailed illustrations and photographs, her readers are sure to leave its pages with far more knowledge than their high school sex education teacher ever had.
It is compulsively-readable, cackle-out-loud hilarious (the cackle, after-all, being the real test) and a book that will surely leave its readers feeling a little closer to sexual freedom. A copy belongs in every library, every sexual-health classroom; it should be signposted to as a resource for the curious, the confused, the I-have-a-couple-of-hours-to-spare-give-me-something-to-read.
Read it, love it, put it on your coffee table (I mean, if you have one, I don't) and start those conversations that you have always wanted to. Because, after-all, it is only by us being a little curious that we are ever going to get anywhere.

Thanks to Unbound and Anne Cater for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Head on over to for this book, as well as all of the others featured in my reviews, complete with the added bonuses of free worldwide shipping and bringing a little joy to my life.

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