On the internet, there are seemingly endless resources for information about sex -- for better and for worse. But where did Americans get their sex education way, way back in the day? It turns out they read Aristotle's Complete Master-Piece, In Three Parts; Displaying the Secrets of Nature in the Generation of Man, a sex manual published in Boston in 1766.
via Internet Archive
This "sexy" book was originally published in England in 1684 and then reprinted in Massachusetts 82 years later. A copy of the guide, which Open Culture reports was written by William Salmon (not, in fact, Aristotle), a self-proclaimed English "Professor of Physk," was put up for auction in January of this year after a 200-year-long ban in England.
According to Open Source, the book was one of the most widely circulated publications regarding sex and reproduction in North America at the time, but it certainly lacked scientific basis for many of its claims. For instance, Edinburgh auction house Lyon & Turnbull's book specialist, Cathy Marsden, told HuffPost UK in April that the book warned readers that if a woman became pregnant out of wedlock, she might give birth to an infant covered in hair or Siamese twins.
via Internet Archive
The manual's stance on topics like virginity and marriage also reflects the Puritanical era in which it was written. According to Booktryst, Aristotle's Complete Master-Piece contends that virginity is, "the boast and pride of the fair sex," that marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman, and that any sex outside of this context fills "the world with confusion and debauchery, has brought diseases on the body, consumptions on estates, and eternal ruin to the soul, if not repented of."
Interestingly, some parts of the book are shockingly progressive. Marsden told Open Culture:
There are ... 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. That’s interesting because much later on, when they realized that a woman didn’t have to climax in order to conceive, the idea of a woman enjoying sex was considered far less important.
Women do in fact enjoy sex. At least the first sex manual published in the United States got something right.
Clarification: Language has been amended to reflect that the United States had not yet been constituted as a political entity at the time of the book's publication.
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