Although many think the 17th century was extremely puritanical, there were some really bawdy books that sparked the dirtiest passions, like this manual that took the word racy to the next level.
The Restoration period in English History is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting ones, not only due to the political changes it brought, but because of the shift in society’s understanding of morals. Imagine that for 18 years you’re forced to lead a tight and ultra-conservative life. Theater was banned because the Puritans thought it was immoral since it only encouraged people to engage in indecent and obscene activities. So, this group of prudish people managed to overthrow King Charles I and start a protectorate with Oliver Cromwell as head of the state. However, when the Lord Protector died, Parliament found no one who could really follow his steps, so King Charles’ son became the new monarch, Charles II.
Puritanism was over (at least as the leading group of the country) and licentiousness took over, so this was the time of the libertines and the racy comedy of the Restoration. Theaters were reopened, and Charles’ government encouraged all these new anti-prudish attitudes to rule hand in hand with him. Although this period gave us many characters that adopted the rake lifestyle, Samuel Pepys is the most fascinating and creepy of them all. This was a guy who thought it was a great idea to take a telescope to church to peep on women, but at the same time, the one who put a lot of effort to the spreading of culture and literature. And all this is basically what shaped Charles II’s reign. But let’s go back to Pepys and the story of the bawdy and poignant sex manual I bet you’re dying to learn about.
From 1660 to 1669 Pepys documented all his life and what was going on in England in a very detailed diary. His very straightforward language has made of this text not only the best and most honest historical account of the Restoration period, but also an excellent example of everyday life under this libertine regime. The disgusting story of the telescope tells us, among other not so pretty events, what kind of character Mister Pepys was. And the fact that he thought his manual was extremely sick and vulgar is proof enough of how raunchy it really was.
Originally named L’escholle des filles, this French book tells the story of Katherine, a pure and innocent girl who longs to become the wife of Roger, her suitor, and Frances, her open-minded and quite experimented relative. Divided into two parts, the first half of the book is about Frances showing Katherine all the earthly pleasures she’s been missing because of her prudish morals. And little by little the reader sees how persuasive Frances is, because by the second half Katherine explicitly narrates everything she’s done with Roger.
The book was translated and published in England under the name The School of Venus: or the Ladies Delight, and although it wasn’t really popular and was censored, it’s believed that it came to Pepys’ hands disguised under a different cover. Now, Pepys wasn’t the one who actually brought it into England nor the one who promoted it. In fact, after reading it, he burned it out of disgust. However, it became famous after this tale, so during the twentieth-century scholars and people in general got really excited to read the famous book that made one of the most promiscuous and lascivious characters in history cringe.
Also known as The Misterie of Fucking, many scholars thought it was a great book to allow women to learn and explore their own sexuality. Of course, as the perception of female sexuality has changed and advanced, academics like Annamarie Jagose (notable LGBT scholar) and James Turner (Professor at Berkeley University) believe that this was, in fact, a written male fantasy of what men wanted women to learn about sex. But if we think about sexuality in terms of history, this was definitely a game-changing and innovative book.
This book explains in full detail the male and female anatomy, focusing mainly on their reproductive systems, and it also includes very informative guidelines to female masturbation, an illustrated list of the best and most pleasurable sex positions, and even contraceptive tips to explore their sexuality without the strings of marriage. This is, by far, one of the most liberal sex manuals in history.
You can take a look at this book here: The School of Venus
If you want to see other fascinating historical manuals that have shaped the way we understand sexuality, take a look at these: