The History of Sex: Venice and Florence -- Pig Ignorant Anatomy -- (Chap. IV, Pt. 2)

Of course, for women born with all their bits in the right place, this particular 'discovery' must have been an anticlimax.

But you can hardly blame Renaissance men for wanting to find a magic button that could turn women on at will—or, as the Columbus of the Nether Regions put it (no doubt with a pervy chuckle), 'even if they don't want it.'

After the official prudishness of the Middle Ages, the clitoral dispute reflected a rediscovery of the human body and the Roman maxim that 'nothing human is alien.'

Up until the Renaissance, even the most learned doctors were literally pig-ignorant about the basics of the human body. Textbooks were based on Galen's anatomies. Problem was, the Romans had banned human dissection, so he'd had to extrapolate from pigs and other animals.


It was Columbus' university mentor, Andreas Vesalius, who pioneered the use of cadavers to correct Galen's mistakes, making him the founder of modern anatomy—and a kindred spirit of artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, whose fascination with the body compelled them to dissect human corpses themselves.

Remarkably, it was only then that men began to realize the fair sex was profoundly different physiologically; previously, most great thinkers believed that women were merely males 'turned outside in.'

Columbus' reference to women's 'semen' was probably what's now called 'female ejaculate,' though in reality he was referring to the ancient theory that both men and women produced a kind of sperm that magically commingled to make babies.

Another theory as old as Aristotle was that of telegony, the idea that a woman's first pregnancy altered her womb so much that all her future offspring would resemble the father of her first child—even if they had different dads.

(Then again, Aristotle thought that men with small penises were more fertile—and more aesthetically attractive. So what did he know?)

The History of Sex: Venice and Florence -- And Man (Re)Discovered Flesh -- (Chap. IV, Pt. 1)

Chapter Four 

AND MAN (RE)DISCOVERED FLESH 

Waving Hello! to the Flesh in Venereal Venice and Syphilitic Florence 

Let's make love, my beloved,
If you adore my cock,
I love your pussy,
And the world wouldn't be worth a fuck without this.

--The 'Divine' Pietro Aretino, c1527 


The Renaissance produced not one but two great explorers named Columbus: the first, a discoverer who spread syphilis; the other, an anatomist who 'discovered' the clitoris… and died shortly thereafter. 

The latter Colombo was a professor in his forties when he published his text On Things Anatomical in Venice in 1559, claiming to have found something that everyone in the history of medicine had somehow overlooked—the very 'seat of woman's delight:' 

'It should be called the love or sweetness of Venus,' declared Renaldus Columbus. 'If you rub it vigorously with a penis, or even touch it with a little finger, the pleasure causes women's semen to fly this way and that, swifter than air, even if they don't want it to.' 

Tragically, the cocksure prof died later that year—I blame the flying female semen—and his successor at the university promptly accused him of plagiarism.

The Columbus of the Nether Regions: 
Renaldus Columbus

Gabriel Fallopius claimed he'd already had a good look under the hood years earlier; ultimately, though, he had to make do with being immortalized for his less-sexy discovery of the egg tubes connecting the uterus with the ovaries. 

It took centuries before a Dane pointed out that, like Christopher Columbus' 'discovery' of the New World, both the Italian anatomists had got it wrong: the great guru of Western medicine had caught sight of the clitoris way back in the second century AD. 

Sadly for women, though, Galen had thought the clit simply protected the vagina. 

He'd even compared it to the thingamabob at the back of the throat—nearly eighteen centuries before a porn-flick doctor informed a would-be nymph that her clitoris was lodged deep in her Deep Throat.

Would you pierce your uvula? 

The History of Sex: The Original G-Spot Article--Part 6 of 6

Other somatic factors help to sexually stimulate the female partner.

As was mentioned there is no spot in the female body, from which sexual desire could not be aroused.

Some women have greater sexual desire at the ovulation time while others at the time of the menstrual period. It may be that during menstruation the sexual tension is higher, because the danger of unwanted pregnancy is lessened.

The woman-on-top posture is more stimulating as the erotogenic parts come in contact better. The angle which is formed by the erected penis and the male abdomen has a great influence on the female orgasm. 

These mere somatic causes are often overshadowed by psychic factors, even the commonest automatic reflexes produce sexual reactions. It is possible to cause an orgasm merely by using some stimulating sentence.

Such a reaction follows the laws of the unconditioned reflexes. The erotogenic zone on the anterior wall of the vagina can be understood only from a comparison with the phylogenetic ancestry.

In the most commonly adopted position, where "the lady does lay on her back," the penis does not reach the urethral part of the vaginal wall, unless the angle of the erected male organ is very steep or if the anterior vagina is directed towards the penis as by putting the legs of the female over the shoulders of her partner.

The contact is very close, when the intercourse is performed more bestiarum or a la vache i.e. a posteriori.


LeMon Clark is right when he mentions that we were designed as quadrupeds. Therefore, intercourse from the back of the woman is the most natural one.

This can be performed either in the side-to-side posture with the male partner behind, or better still with the woman in Sims', knee-elbow or shoulder position, the husband standing in front of the bed.

The female genitals have to be higher than the other parts of her body. The stimulating effect of this kind of intercourse must not be explained away as LeMon Clark does by the melodious movements of the testicles like a knocker on the clitoris, but is merely caused by the direct thrust of the penis towards the urethral erotic zone.

Certain it is that this area in the anterior vaginal wall is a primary erotic zone, perhaps more important than the clitoris, which got its erotic supremacy only in the age of necking. The erotising effect of coitus a posteriori is very great, as only in this position the most stimulating parts of both partners are brought in closest contact i.e., clitoris and anterior vaginal wall of the wife and the sensitive parts of the glans penis.

This short paper will, I hope, show that the anterior wall of the vagina along the urethra is the seat of a distinct erotogenic zone and has to be taken into account more in the treatment of female sexual deficiency.

Reference

  • Adler, The Frigidity of the Female Sex, Berlin, 1913 
  • Elkan, The Evolution of Female Orgastic Ability -- A Biological Survey, Int. J. Sexol, Vol. II, No. 2 
  • LeMon, Clark, The Orgasm Problem in Women, Int. J. Sexol, Vol. II, No. 4 and Vol. III, No. 1 
  • Hardenberg, The Psychology of Feminine Sex Experience, Int. J. Sexol, Vol. II, No. 4 
  • Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male 
  • Bergler, Frigidity, Misconceptions and Facts, Marriage Hygiene, Vol. I, No. 1 
  • Helena Wright, A Contribution to the Orgasm Problem in Women, Marriage Hygiene, Vol. I, No. 3 
  • Lena Levine, A Criterion for Orgasm in the Female, Marriage Hygiene, Vol. I, No. 3

The History of Sex: The Original G-Spot Article--Part 5 of 6

Analogous to the male urethra, the female urethra also seems to be surrounded by erectile tissues like the corpora cavernosa.

In the course of sexual stimulation, the female urethra begins to enlarge and can be felt easily. It swells out greatly at the end of orgasm.



The most stimulating part is located at the posterior urethra, where it arises from the neck of the bladder. 

Sometimes patients of Birth Control clinics complain that their sexual feelings were impaired by the diaphragm pessary.

In such cases the orgastic capacity was restored by the use of the plastic cervical cap, which does not cover the erotogenic zone of the anterior vaginal wall. Such complaints occurred more frequently in Europe than here in the U. S. A., and was one of the reasons for giving preference to the cervical cap over the diaphragm pessary.

Frigidity after hysterectomy may happen, if the erotogenic zone of the anterior vaginal wall was removed at the time of the operation.

The vaginal wall is preserved best by the abdominal subtotal hysterectomy, less by the total hysterectomy and least by vaginal hysterectomy when always large parts of the vagina are removed.

That is the cause of vaginal frigidity after vaginal hysterectomy observed by LeMon Clark.

The uterus or the cervix uteri takes no part in producing orgasm, even though Havelock Ellis speaks of the sucking in of sperm by the cervix into the uterus.

The non-existence of the uterine suction power was proved by a simple experiment, in which a plastic cervical cap was filled with a contrast oil (radiopac) and fitted over the cervix. The cap was left in for the whole interval between two menstrual periods.

These women had frequent sexual relations with satisfying orgasm.

Repeated X-ray pictures taken during the time when the cap was covering the cervix, never showed any of the contrast medium inside the cervix or in the body of the uterus. The whole contrast medium was always in the cap.

The glands around the vaginal orifice, especially the large Bartholin glands, have a lubricating effect. Therefore they are located at the entrance of the vagina and produce their mucus at the beginning of the sexual relations and not synchronously with the orgasm.


Sometimes the mucus is produced so abundantly and makes the vulva slippery, that the female partner is inclined to compare it with the ejaculation of the male. Occasionally the production of fluids is so profuse that a large towel has to be spread under the woman to prevent the bed sheets getting soiled.

This convulsory expulsion of fluids occurs always at the acme of the orgasm and simultaneously with it. If there is the opportunity to observe the orgasm of such women, one can see that large quantities of a clear transparent fluid are expelled not from the vulva, but out of the urethra in gushes.

At first I thought that the bladder sphincter had become defective by the intensity of the orgasm. Involuntary expulsion of urine is reported in sex literature.

In the cases observed by us, the fluid was examined and it had no urinary character. I am inclined to believe that "urine" reported to be expelled during female orgasm is not urine, but only secretions of the intraurethral glands correlated with the erotogenic zone along the urethra in the anterior vaginal wall.

Moreover the profuse secretions coming out with the orgasm have no lubricating significance, otherwise they would be produced at the beginning of intercourse and not at the peak of orgasm. The intensity of the orgasm is dependent on the area from which it is elicited.

Mostly, cunnilingus leads to a more complete orgasm and (consequent) relaxation. The deeper the relaxation after intercourse the higher is the peak of the orgasm followed by depression and hence the students' joke: Post coitum omne animal triste est.

The higher the climax the quicker is the reloading of the sexual potential.

The History of Sex: The Original G-Spot Article--Part 4 of 6

Erotogenic zones in the female urethra are sometimes the cause of urethral onanism.

I have seen two girls who had stimulated themselves with hair pins in their urethra. The blunt part of the old- fashioned hair pin was introduced into the urethra and moved forwards and backwards.



During the ecstasy of the orgasm the girls lost control of the pin which went into the bladder.

Both girls felt ashamed and tried to hide the incident from their mothers until a huge bladder stone had developed around the pin as centre.

One stone was removed by supra-pubic, and the other by vaginal, cystotomy.

A third hair pin entered the bladder and before the bladder was inflamed, it was angled out via the urethra.

Since the old hairpins are no more in use, pencils are used for urethral onanism. They are longer than the hairpins and do not glide into the bladder so easily, though they cause a painful urethritis.

Urethral onanism may happen in men as well.

I saw a patient with a rifle bullet which glided into his bladder.

He had played with it while he was lonesome on duty on New Years Eve.


The History of Sex: The Original G-Spot Article--Part 3 of 6

In spite of abundant literature dealing with female orgasm, our knowledge of the mechanism and the localisation of the final climax is insufficient.

Different organs and their stimulation work as a trigger and cause an increase of the sexual "potential" up to the level where the orgasm goes off.

One could suppose that the clitoris alone is involved in causing excitation, since this organ is an erotic center even before puberty, though it is aided by other erotogenic zones.

Inflammations of the clitoris, especially below the prepuce, can make it so hypersensitive that it loses its ability to produce orgasm.

Such changes occur by masturbation in elderly women after the menopause when the external genitals shrink and become affected by hypoesterogenism. The erotogenic power of the clitoris passes then mostly to the neighborhood of the genital organs, to the inside of the small labia or to the pubic region of the abdomen.

The entrance to the rectum can also become an erotogenic center, not for anal intercourse, but for stimulation with the finger.

In one of my patients vaginal orgasm was lost completely, but orgasm could be achieved with a finger in the anus and the penis in the vagina.

Sometimes the breasts help the clitoris in producing erotization. Kissing the nipples, touching them with the penis, or inserting the penis between the two breasts lead to an orgasm.

Cunnilingus or even insertion of the penis in the external orifice of the ear are other illustrations of the variability of the erotogenic zones in females.

Some investigators of female sex behavior believe that most women cannot experience vaginal orgasm, because there are no nerves in the vaginal wall.

In contrast to this statement by Kinsey, Hardenberg mentions that nerves have been demonstrated only inside the vagina in the anterior wall, proximate to the base of the clitoris.

This I can confirm by my own experience of numerous women.

An erotic zone always could be demonstrated on the anterior wall of the vagina along the course of the urethra. Even when there was a good response in the entire vagina, this particular area was more easily stimulated by the finger than the other areas of the vagina.



Women tested this way always knew when the finger slipped from the urethra by the impairment of their sexual stimulation.

During orgasm this area is pressed downwards against the finger like a small cystocele protruding into the vaginal canal.

It looked as if the erotogenic part of the anterior vaginal wall tried to bring itself in closest contact with the finger. It could be found in all women, far more frequently than the spastic contractions of the levator muscles of the pelvic floor which are described as objective symptoms of the female orgasm by Levine.

After the orgasm was achieved a complete relaxation of the anterior vaginal wall sets in.

The History of Sex: The Original G-Spot Article--Part 2 of 6

Although female erotism has been discussed for many centuries or even thousands of years, the problems of female satisfaction are not yet solved.

Even though female doctors (Helena Wright) participate in these discussions nowadays, "the eternal woman" is still under discussion.

The solution of the problem would be better furthered, if the sexologists know exactly what they are talking about. The criteria for sexual satisfaction have first to be fixed before we make comparisons.

Numerous "frigid" women enjoy thoroughly all the different phases of "necking." Should we count out all variations of sex practices which result in complete orgasm though not vaginal orgasm?

Innumerable erotogenic spots are distributed all over the body, from where sexual satisfaction can be elicited; these are so many that we can almost say that there is no part of the female body which does not give sexual response, the partner has only to find the erotogenic zones.


It is not frigidity, if the wife does not reach orgasm in intercourse with her husband, but finds it in sexual relations with another partner.

One of my patients, who married early a very much older, rich man and had two children, pestered me persistently with questions as to why she could not experience an orgasm.

I explained that physically there was nothing wrong with her.

Bored by the repeated discussions with her, I finally asked her, if she had tried sex relations with another male partner.

No, was the answer and reflectively she left my office.

The next day in the middle of the night, I was awakened by a telephone call and a familiar voice who did not give her name asked: "Doctor are you there? You are right," and hung up the receiver with a bang!

I never had to answer any further sexual questions from her.

The History of Sex: The Original G-Spot Article--Part 1 of 6

Ever wondered what the G in G-Spot stands for?

This is the article that earned Dr. Ernst Graefenberg his posthumous place in history as one of the first modern doctors to notice that many (if not all) women have a particularly pleasurable spot inside their vaginas.

Dr. G was also one of the first modern sexperts to describe female ejaculation (though a few early anatomists had noticed the phenomenon, too).

Here's his original text in full, though I've divided it into parts and added links and illustrations for your reading pleasure.

JR

The Role of the Urethra in Female Orgasm 
by Dr. Ernest (Ernst) Graefenberg 
The International Journal of Sexology, 1950 


A rather high percentage of women do not reach the climax in sexual intercourse.

The frigidity figures of different authors vary from 10-80 per cent and come closer to the statistics of older sexologists. Adler (Berlin) came to the conclusion that 80 per cent of women did not reach the sexual climax. Elkan guessed that 50 per cent suffered from frigidity, while Kinsey found it to be 75 per cent. Hardenberg's figures have a very wide range from 10 to 75 per cent.

Many of these statistics cannot be compared, since the various authors use different criteria.

Edmund Bergler sees the condition of eupareunia only in vaginal orgasm and so his frigidity figures are naturally much higher than those based on any kind of sexual satisfaction.

The restriction to the vaginal orgasm, however, does not give the true picture of female sexuality. Lack of orgasm and frigidity are not identical. Frigid women can enjoy orgasm. The lesbian is frigid in her relations to a heterosexual partner, but is completely satisfied by homosexual loveplays.

A deficient orgasm need not always be associated with frigidity. Numerous women have satisfactory enjoyment in normal heterosexual intercourse, even if they do not reach the orgasm.

Genuine frigidity should be spoken of only if there is no response to any partner and in all situations. A woman with only clitoris orgasm is not frigid and sometimes is even more active sexually, because she is hunting for a male partner who would help her to achieve the fulfillment of her erotic dreams and desires.

The History of Sex: South of France -- Nazism and the Paganization of Europe -- (Chap. III, Pt. 14)

A Catholic theologian summed it up nicely for an Anglican in the 1800s: 'A priest sacrifices himself for the sake of his parishioners. He has no children of his own, in order that all the children in the parish may be his children.'

Granted, the bit about a priest having all the children in the parish sounds unfortunate nowadays, but you get the drift.

What's more, sexual self-sacrifice also exists in the secular world—from football teams that ban sex before matches to artists who forgo parenthood to concentrate on their art.

Balzac churned out nearly 100 tomes for his Human Comedy but believed he could have produced even more if it hadn't been for carnal distractions: after sex, he would sigh, 'There goes another novel!'

A SEXUAL DRAFT DODGE?


In my fallen state, I should also admit that when Father Denis mentions that his class of twenty-two priests in 1946 was the last big ordination at his (now-defunct) seminary, I immediately wonder if the war had been a big motivator.

I ask him if going to seminary was a way of dodging combat.

Au contraire, he replies. 'We were a very patriotic generation before the war. We felt that the war was caused by heathenism—a paganization of Europe—and Nazism was a symbol of that.'

The Nazi Party's 'Horoscope of the Week'

'We believed in something: France—French culture, in the broad sense of the term. We couldn't imagine happiness without faith.'

He pauses. 'Now there is no faith in anything.'

'So did you and your companions view celibacy as a sacrifice on behalf of your congregations?'

'In a way, it was simpler than that,' he admits. His classmates acted as a support network for each other, providing chaste peer pressure.

'Celibacy now is quite an individualistic problem. A young man who dedicates himself to religious celibacy is—well, in French, we call it un bloc erratique.'

In geology, an 'erratic block' is a boulder that's carried along by a glacier but left stranded after the ice recedes. Given Christ's famous quote about founding the Church on a rock, the image seems particularly poignant: with Catholicism in long-term retreat, its priests have been left behind.

I mention the former Pope's reference to celibacy as a 'stumbling block' that keeps men from joining the clergy. 

'Celibacy can exist only if you believe in something to make a sacrifice for,' Father Denis says matter-of-factly. 'For the current generation, very little is done to introduce them to any ideal worthy of the name.'

* * *

The History of Sex: South of France -- The Total Eclipse of All Values? -- (Chap. III, Pt. 13)

Serves the Church right, you may think. 

And sure enough, this massive reversal could be karmic—or even Christian, with Catholicism finally reaping what it's sown.

But if the Church dies out in France (and Europe), I can't help but wonder what will come next.

Nietzsche, the son of a Lutheran pastor, famously declared God dead (and subsequently lost his mind), but also warned that the spiritual void would lead to 'wars the likes of which have never been seen on earth' followed by 'the total eclipse of all values.'

So I've traveled to Toulouse, the hometown of the Inquisition, to meet a priest who's witnessed a bit of both in his eighty-five years on earth.

A BEAUTIFUL CONCEPT


Father Yves Denis was born after World War One and took his vow of celibacy as a priest after World War Two.

I meet him just around the corner from the cathedral, where Guirdham's past-life lover was supposedly held against her will.

For me, it's been so long since I've talked with a priest, I feel awkward, not least in asking Father Denis about his avowed lack of a love life.

Before coming here, I tried to bone up on celibacy, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I'd forgotten why Rome adopted it in the first place.

Somehow, I'd absorbed the conventional view that celibacy was the Church's way of keeping its men in check—literally holding them by the privates.



The last time I went to Mass, with Lena the Latin South African, I kept thinking of the bearded, bespectacled priest in the pulpit as a sexual misfit at best; either way, he seemed, well, less than a man. How could someone who's never had sex possibly relate to me? 

After refreshing my memory on the subject, though, I can assure you that apart from the no-sex bit, celibacy is a beautiful concept.

Apart from the no-sex bit.

The History of Sex: South of France -- Sexing up the Messiah -- (Chap. III, Pt. 12)

Of course, Catholics might have argued, just as believably, that Mrs. Smith's spirit guide was a demon deluding her about the afterlife, but she and Dr. Guirdham preferred to see her visions as proof of reincarnation. The psychiatrist subsequently became something of a neo-Cathar guru.

In his follow-up book—centered on another younger woman—Guirdham touted the idea of group reincarnation, telling the incredible tale of how he and seven other people in the West Country came to realize that they'd all known each other as Cathars in the thirteenth century.

And here's a curious coda.

Another Oxford-educated psychiatrist who reviewed Guirdham's work initially chalked it up to a bad case of 'shared delusion' and pooh-poohed his 'reincarnational soap opera.'

Several years later, though, he started having his own flashbacks and decided that he'd been a mercenary crusader who'd converted to Catharism and wound up being burnt at the stake.

In addition to clinics on regression therapy and other exotica, this reincarnated Cathar now leads 'pilgrimages' through the south of France 'in search of the Magdalene, the Black Madonna, and the Lost Goddess' charging gullibles—I mean, believers—around £2,000 a pop ('special early bird price:' £1,700—around $2,600).

And that's nothing compared to the success of books like The Da Vinci Code, which resurrected an obscure Cathar legend—namely, that Jesus had sex with Mary Magdalene—and miraculously transformed it into a popular 'school of thought.'

A still from Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ

Perhaps a sexed-up Messiah better suits our post-Freudian mindset: we simply can't imagine a leader who wouldn't try it on with his more comely disciples.

So latter-day heresy is big business.

THE LAND OF OO-LA-LA


Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is in danger of dying out in France, with doomsday reports predicting that half the country's priests will meet their Maker within a decade, while the few seminaries that are still open produce a paltry 150 or so pères a year to serve the entire country.

In a special address in 2004, Pope John Paul II commiserated with the bishops of Toulouse and Montpellier about 'the particularly alarming situation that your country is going through,' noting that 'the question of ecclesiastical celibacy and the chastity associated with it is often a stumbling block for young people.'

In the land of oo-la-la, celibacy is a tough sell.

At last count, the diocese of Carcassonne—the old stamping grounds of the Cathars and troubadours—had only seventeen priests under the age of sixty-five.

And whereas Toulouse had more than 700 priests serving 100,000 inhabitants in the 1850s, it now has less than 200 for a population of over a million.

The situation is so desperate the Church has actually started importing African priests to the French countryside.

The History of Sex: South of France -- Born-Again Buggers -- (Chap. III, Pt. 11)

If anything, though, the heretics and hedonists were way ahead of their time.

Nowadays in Languedoc, road signs and brochures welcome you to Le Pays Cathare: 'The Land of the Cathars' or—if the etymologists had their way—'Cat-Ass-Kisser Country.'

Since the early nineteenth century, the Cathars have served as all things to all men, spiritual rebels for any cause ranging from the Reformation to the French Revolution (not to mention Nazism and the French Resistance).

Modern DIY spiritualists like to romanticize the Cathars as proto-hipsters or Gallic Buddhists: pacifist vegetarians who believed in past lives, feminism, and even free love—despite the fact that they were probably more like the Puritans, only without all the sex.

THE CATHAR CRAZE


There's no shortage of 'reincarnated Cathars' in the scenic south of France these days—though curiously there's no corresponding glut of born-again Buggers in the Balkans.

Life after life, it's all about location, location, location.

'Cathar Crystals'
part of the '2010 Cathar Resonator Collection'

An Oxford-educated psychiatrist kickstarted the Cathar craze in the 1970s with a couple of books claiming he'd known one of his patients in the Biblical sense in a past life.

In The Cathars and Reincarnation (tactfully dedicated to his wife), Dr. Arthur Guirdham recounted that a thirtysomething 'Mrs. Smith' was referred to his practice in Bath: 'She was good-looking, open, communicative and smiling.'

And an excommunicated Catholic.

Miraculously, the bad dreams plaguing Mrs. Smith disappeared after she met Guirdham, and she eventually convinced him that they'd been lovers in a former life.

Aptly enough, his Cathar name was Roger.

Dr. Arthur Guirdham

With the help of a spirit guide, Mrs. Smith beguiled the doctor over the years with uncanny details about Cathar life, some of which supposedly even stumped historians.

She often dreamt about her 'Roger' (no doubt to the consternation of Mr. Smith), crying out his name in her sleep and pronouncing it 'in the French fashion.'

According to Mrs. Smith, their love had been a tale of forbidden passion. Roger had been much older than her and a highborn Cathar, whereas she was just a poor Catholic peasant named—wait for it—Puerilia.

Defying her father, she shacked up with Roger and lived in blissful simplicity until the Church got hold of them. Puerilia was locked up in Saint-Etienne Cathedral in Toulouse, while Roger died of a chest infection during interrogation.

Dr. Guirdham had always wondered why he hated Catholicism…

The History of Sex: South of France -- The Christian v. Christian Crusade -- (Chap. III, Pt. 10)

By 1209, the Church decided it had to act.

A Pope with an ironic name—Innocent III—launched the West's first Christian-v-Christian Crusade, giving his blessing to a blood-and-guts campaign by the French king and his northern allies, who were more than happy to steal the land of the lords who harbored heretics.

Cathars being driven out of Carcassonne in 1209

In one infamous episode, the town of Béziers was sacked and its 20,000 inhabitants slaughtered at the behest of a monk who reputedly ordered: 'Kill them all, God will know his own.'

The Church followed up the Albigensian Crusade by inventing an even more insidious institution that would terrorize Catholic Europe (and the New World) for centuries to come.

Based in Toulouse, the Pope entrusted the Inquisition to the rabidly loyal Dominicans, pitting the so-called 'Dogs of God' against the supposed cat kissers.

St. Dominic himself had got his start trying to win back Cathar sympathizers with open-air debates and preach-offs against the Perfects.

In this preach-off, the books of St. Dominic and the Cathars were thrown into the fire--
guess whose miraculously survived
(Pedro Berruguete, 1480)

To his credit, the Spaniard had realized that one of the Cathars' key selling points was that they lived simply, like Christ himself, so he tried to copy them, traveling throughout the south of France as a dirt-poor preacher. Even so, he didn't have much success.

His successors, in contrast, opted to use force.

HUMAN BONFIRES


In 1234, the Dominican Bishop of Toulouse had just finished saying mass in honor of the newly canonized St. Dominic when he received a tip-off that a dying woman in the city had requested the final sacrament from a Cathar.

So he and his friars responded like good, medieval Catholics: they marched to her house, had her carried to a meadow, and burned her alive on her deathbed.

They then returned to their convent, gave thanks to God and St. Dominic, and 'fell cheerfully upon the food set before them.'

The human bonfires raged for decades, but the Cathars were effectively defeated when their last major safe haven fell in 1244.

Unfortunately, the fortress of Montsegur wasn't as secure as its name implied.

After surrendering, the surviving Perfects were led to a clearing at the base of the mountain and burned en masse—all 220 of them.

By the end of the century, the Cathars had been wiped out and most of Languedoc annexed to the north, creating the forerunner of the modern French nation while destroying the culture that first linked France with romance.

The last troubadour died in 1294, lamenting that 'I have come into the world too late.'

Montsegur: the Cathars' last stand

* * *

The History of Sex: South of France -- A License to Sin -- (Chap. III, Pt. 9)

Given the Catholics' own peccadilloes, of course, it was more than a little rich for them to denounce the Cathars for their sexual hangups.

As with most good things, though, apparently it was possible to have too much celibacy.

Rome forced its priests to stay celibate to enable them to convert more children of God, but it realized that the Cathars' teachings could wipe out the human race—and long before that, the Church itself.

Like the troubadours, the Cathars spoke the language of the people rather than Latin.

More damningly, their ragged dark robes and ascetic lives showed up the materialism and debauchery of the 'Christian' clergy.

'LASCIVIOUS LOVE'


Consider this tale of courtly love gone wrong.

A young English cleric was riding through France with the Archbishop of Rheims in the 1180s when he spotted a beautiful maiden alone in a vineyard.

An Essex man at heart, Gervase of Tilbury decided to mosey over and chat her up, or as he blithely recalled, to 'speak to her at length in a courtly way about lascivious love.'

Gervase/Gervais: any relation? 

The shocked girl averted her eyes and told him solemnly, 'God preserve me, young man, from ever becoming your mistress, or anyone else's, for if I lost my virginity and my body was once corrupted, there is no doubt that nothing could save me from eternal damnation.'

Gervase took this to mean that the girl was a Cathar—as opposed to, say, a good Catholic—and denounced her to the archbishop.

For resisting the lecherous 'man of God,' she was burned at the stake.

Not surprisingly, abuses like that didn't endear the Church to the locals.

The Cathars continued to breed sympathizers, if not offspring, for a number of reasons: they practiced what they preached, they rebelled against Rome, they welcomed women as Perfects, and—most importantly—they didn't upset their protectors.

Fundamentally, Catharism was a do-your-own-thing religion, built on the precept that people wouldn't want to come back to live another miserable mortal life.

However, that didn't take into account those sinners who were more than willing to take their chances with reincarnation.

Tolerating the Cathars had to count for something in the afterlife, and even if a jaded aristo had to come back as a milkmaid, well, that would have its own novel appeal.

In a medieval version of Radical Chic, the original Perfect hostesses would invite Cathars to their castles to edify their guests during the day, followed by raunchy songs at night.

As historian Stephen O'Shea puts it in his book, The Perfect Heresy: people could go 'from the dualists' "love your neighbour" to the troubadours' "love your neighbour's wife"' in less than 24 hours.

For adulterous lords and ladies, Catharism provided a license to sin—without having to pay Rome for the privilege.

The History of Sex: South of France -- The Cult of the Cat-Arse-Kissers -- (Chap. III, Pt. 8)

What's confounded modern minstrel buffs is whether the troubadours' love for their ladies, or donnas, was consummated or unrequited.

Most likely, it depended, but Gerard says many relationships were undoubtedly sexual.

His favorite troubadour worked the court in Carcassonne around 1200, when minstrels were top of the pops.

'Raimon de Miraval wrote songs saying "I like to talk with you, I like to write songs for you, but—I like kissing and fucking you better."'

He grins. 'And he wasn't the only one—there were many others who wrote like that. They demonstrated the power of the pen not only to make war but also love.'

Raimon's big head got all the girls


For the record, Raimon had at least five loves on the go, including his wife (a songwriter in her own right), a brown-haired donna and, most significantly, a lady belonging to the sect that ultimately brought about the end of the society that kept the troubadours in love and lute strings.

These spiritual and sexual rebels styled themselves simply as 'good Christians'—an inherent rebuke to the corruption of the organized Church—but their enemies had plenty of other names for them.

Some called them Albigensians, even though their influence spread much further than the town of Albi and the south of France.

In fact, the heresy seemed to have come from the East, having been relayed across the Balkans by a sect of Bulgars who reputedly had a penchant for sodomy; given that their French counterparts also disdained procreation, their opponents assumed that they too were bougres—or 'buggers.'

NO COCK-UPS ALLOWED


However, the best-known epithet for these heretics—Cathar—comes either from the Greek for 'pure' or a German term meaning 'cat-worshipper:' the practicants supposedly paid homage to felines by kissing their backsides.

The hate campaign against this small sect of pacifist vegetarians reveals just how much of a threat their teachings posed to the Church of Rome.

Like St. Augustine's early mentors, the Cathars were Manicheans who taught that the physical world was entirely evil; only the spiritual world was good.

They believed that human souls were reincarnated until they reached perfection; rejects were sent back to Hell—the here and now—until they were ready to join the ranks of the Cathar elect, known as Perfects.

Whereas plain ol' imperfects were free to live pretty much as they pleased—having sex without marriage, for instance—the Cathar leaders were meant to live as spiritually as possible, shunning meat and intercourse as they prepared for their souls' final cosmic journey: any cock-ups, and the ascetics risked another go on bad old planet Earth.

The History of Sex: South of France -- Roma vs. Amor -- (Chap. III, Pt. 7)

I don't know if William's prayer was answered, but I was certainly smitten.

So I've come to the langue d'oc itself to meet a real, live troubadour.


Fittingly, Gerard Zuchetto hails from Carcassonne, one of the last medieval walled cities in Europe, deep in la terre du troubadour.

His parents were Italian Communists who moved to southwest France after the War.

'For us, it was easier to become integrated speaking Occitan than it was speaking French.' He smiles wistfully. 'Back then Occitan was widely spoken. Now it's mainly spoken in the market.'


As a modern-day minstrel, Gerard sings in medieval Occitan with his wife and their Troubadours Art Ensemble, having fallen in love with the music of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries at university in the 1970s. 'It was the era of Woodstock and revival, when people focused on the roots of music and poetry.'

LOVE ME DO


Sitting in a café just inside the magnificent main gate of the old town—it has a drawbridge and everything—Gerard scribbles a Latin palindrome on a piece of paper: ROMA and AMOR.

For the troubadours, love wasn't a spiritual ideal dictated from on high by Rome but a romantic—and carnal—emotion experienced by individuals.

'The troubadours didn't invent love itself, of course, but they invented the idea of writing about the emotion of love. For them, love was a feeling that existed outside of God, between two people, who could be a woman and a woman, a man and a woman, or a man and man. It was very original and revolutionary. It was the first time that artists thought as artists: they wrote as people whose work would last down the centuries.'

'When you listen to the songs of Lou Reed or Joe Cocker,'—he continues, dating his own tastes to the late twentieth century—'they're the same themes: "my love may not really love me" or "I'm not sure I love her" and so on. All of these things were written by the troubadours. In pop or punk music, the same sentiments are written about in different words, but they're the same sentiments.'

Maybe it's just me, but that sounds a bit sad.

'So you mean after all these centuries, men and women are still asking the same questions about love?'

'The music has changed—but the lyrics, not much. It seems we haven't evolved much. The sentiments are the same as they were in antiquity.'
You can sample some of Gerard's troubadour music here.

The History of Sex: South of France -- Poetry Slam Meets 'Fight Club' -- (Chap. III, Pt. 6)

Now, I've been fascinated by the troubadours ever since I found out they weren't just men in tights flouncing around and sucking up to lords and ladies.

In reality, they were musician-warmongers, eloquent hellraisers who stirred trouble with both the pen and the sword: think 'poetry slam' meets Fight Club.


At a time when the French king ruled just a miniscule splodge around Paris, the troubadours thrived in the prosperous, independent fiefdoms of the south, soaking up Moorish influences and love poetry from Spain while regarding their northern counterparts as barbarians—the marauding offspring of Viking raiders.

This north-south division was reflected in linguistic differences so basic that they boiled down to the way people said 'yes.' Southerners used oc in the affirmative, while northerners said oil and later oui.



The language of the north evolved into modern French, while the southerners sang of courtly love in the langue d'oc, or Occitan, a now-endangered language that has more in common with Catalan on the other side of the Pyrenees.

The troubadours are often called the first 'modern' poets because they wrote in everyday language rather than highfalutin Latin, spreading their songs throughout Europe and influencing later greats ranging from Dante to TS Eliot.

But the first minstrels are also the spiritual ancestors of every modern pop musician with literary aspirations, artists who can fuse music and verse in a way that makes written poems seem half finished.

The troubadours came up with the ultra-idealistic notion of fin amor, a unique union of souls that countless lonely-hearts still seek today.

But their vision of love wasn't limited to admiring from afar. The first troubadour was a seasoned womanizer—and the grandfather of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the 'Grandmother of Europe.'

When I came across this verse by William of Aquitaine, I was staggered to think it had been penned by someone born in 1067 AD:

Our love is like the hawthorn branch 

That trembles upon the tree in the night in the rain and ice 

Until the sun stretches across the green leaves and branches. 

I can still recall a morning when we put an end to warring 

And the great gift she gave to me—her love and her ring. 

God, just let me live to get my hand under her cloak again.


William of Aquitaine

The History of Sex: South of France -- How Notre Dame Got Its Name -- (Chap. III, Pt. 5)

By the eleventh century, though, the sexual indiscretions of the clergy and their sisters in Christ had become so flagrant that reformist popes tried to force priests to stop fornicating for once and for all: if necessary, with the aid of angry mobs.

The turning point occurred around 1075, when Pope Gregory VII made celibacy the rule for Western clergy (even though many of his successors were less than chaste).

Around the same time, the image of women in the West received a long-overdue makeover.

The Turks' conquest of the Holy Land triggered the Crusades, and many knights who made it back to Europe returned with a newfound admiration for the Virgin Mary.

(from Ominous Ellipses)

The Mother of God had long been venerated in the East, while the Western Church tended to portray her as merely the lowly female vessel for the male God's Immaculate Conception.

However, the newly imported cult of Our Lady helped put all of womankind on a pedestal—Paris even named its new cathedral after Notre Dame.

Whether a renewable virgin was the best role model for women is debatable, but at least it made a change from being judged guilty by association with Eve.

The Virgin's ascendancy also raised the profile of a less-than-virginal Mary, who may or may not have been a fallen woman but was definitely close to Christ.

According to Gallic legend, Mary Magdalene fled Jerusalem after Jesus' death and settled in the south of France (carrying the Holy Grail with her, if you believe the likes of The Da Vinci Code).

Centuries later, this sensual, fractious corner of Europe served as the crucible for the West's first modern love poetry—courtesy of the troubadours—and a sexual rebellion that spawned the Inquisition.

* * *

The History of Sex: South of France -- The Ultimate STD -- (Chap. III, Pt. 4)

At the time, you see, the future saint was living in sin with a concubine who'd even given him a son.

Eventually, Augustine's mother convinced him to come back to the fold and get married, so he rather un-Christianly dumped his lover of fourteen years and got engaged to a more respectable prospect—a ten-year-old virgin.

Unlike the founder of Islam, though, the 'Father of Christian Psychology' (God help us) never deflowered his prepubescent fiancée: unable to wait the two years until she came of age, Augustine took another mistress.

And before he could get married at the age of thirty-three, he miraculously got religion.

The new convert embraced celibacy and spent the rest of his life telling Christians to do as he said, not as he'd done.

RE-ENACTING THE FALL


Tormented by fantasies and wet dreams (not to mention his early Manichean leanings), Augustine pinpointed lust as the manifestation of original sin—and its means of transmission. Sin became the ultimate sexually transmitted disease.

According to the newly chaste Augustine, copulation was necessary to produce more Christians, but it should be a passionless, lust-free affair: you could have sex; you just couldn't enjoy it. The truly Christian couple should 'descend with a certain sadness' into intercourse, as if re-enacting the Fall from grace.


Old-fashioned nightshirts:
note the strategically-placed slits

Not surprisingly, it took nearly a thousand years for the Church's take on chastity and celibacy to bed down.

In denying the flesh, though, the first Christian theologians inadvertently made it all the more desirable. By forbidding sensuality, they helped fetishize it, inspiring generations of monks, nuns and other ascetics to make the earth move by flagellating and mortifying themselves into ecstasy.

The first attempt to impose a sex ban on the clergy came around 306 AD at a church council in Spain near Granada.

The same meeting also instituted a female 'pact of virginity' that involved a bishop cloaking a woman's head and pronouncing her 'a chaste virgin to Christ.'

The veiled woman was then locked away—an odd parallel with the Islamic harem—to become what we now know as a nun.

St. Augustine and Monica (his mother)
by Ary Scheffer

The History of Sex: South of France -- A Fundamental Itch -- (Chap. III, Pt. 3)

Whether it's ancient pagans or modern eco-puritans trying to purge the planet of humanity, virtually every social system has tried to control people's bedroom behavior in one way or another.

Conspiracy theorists argue that this is a plot by The Man to harness the Life Force, but I reckon the urge to regulate sexuality is a fundamental itch.

By definition, intercourse is one area of life where the private affects the public: sexual unions and the children they produce (or don't) inevitably have an impact on their communities.

THE STICKING POINT


As a high-concept religion with the celibate son of a virgin as its role model, Christianity was always going to have a hard time reconciling the physical and the spiritual.

And all too often sex was the literal sticking point.

A zealot could give up all his earthly possessions and go live in the desert for fifteen years just like the founder of Christian monasticism (and possibly the first eco-warrior) but, being a social animal, he would still crave carnal companionship: 'He who wishes to live in solitude is delivered from three conflicts: hearing, speech and sight,' concluded St. Anthony of the Desert after his years in the wilderness.

'There is only one conflict for him, and that is with fornication.'

The reclusive Father of All Monks diligently battled 'the itch of youth' and 'the demon of fornication' for decades; for his troubles, he somehow wound up being named the patron saint of infectious diseases. 

The Temptation of St. Anthony by Hieronymous Bosch...

... and Salvador Dali's take on the theme

However, St. Anthony's ascetic example did spread to other young men; most notably, a wild child who, for better or worse, became one of Christianity's most influential thinkers on sex.

Though he was always religiously inclined, the early years of St. Augustine were anything but saintly.

Born into a Christian family in North Africa during the decline of the Roman Empire, the young scholar fell in with the Manicheans, members of an Eastern sect who believed that the human body and the material world were innately evil, having been created by a god of darkness to imprison the spiritual god of light.

For the Manichean Elect, celibacy was the way to salvation—the idea being that they would abstain from condemning other unborn souls to flesh-and-blood prisons.

As much as he liked what he heard, though, Augustine couldn't bring himself to practice what they preached: 'Lord, give me chastity and continence,' he prayed, 'but not yet.'

The History of Sex: South of France -- St. Paul and the Pagan Kill-Joys -- (Chap. III, Pt. 2)

Precisely why the Church fathers confused sex with original sin is a mystery: it seems to have had more to do with their own personal failings than the Bible itself.

In the Garden of Eden, for instance, Adam and Eve sinned simply because they disobeyed God; it's not as if Eve actually shagged the serpent.

Adam and Eve in Kentucky's Creation Museum
(Zachary Lynn)

And it's fascinating to think how different the world would be if the Church had decided to abide by Paul's admonition that 'the love of money is the root of all evil' rather than obsess about his views on love and marriage.

Plagued by his own unspecified 'thorn in the flesh,' the great popularizer of Christianity recommended that men and women stay single like him, freeing them up to serve God without the distractions of a spouse and family: 'But if they cannot contain themselves,' he added, 'let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.'

That's 'burn with desire' or 'in the fires of hell'—take your pick.

STOIC SEX


Either way, after plenty of convoluted philosophizing, the early theologians boiled this down to a dualistic view of sex that was as easy to comprehend as it was hard to follow: to be monogamous was human, but to be celibate was divine.

Although latter-day heathens commonly blame Christianity for sucking the joy out of sex, the truth is the Catholic Church inherited much of its kill-joyism from ancient pagans.

Four centuries before Christ, Plato exhorted his fellow pederasts to take the high road of platonic love (as opposed to the usual back passage to passion), and Rome's Stoic heterosexuals later made a similarly dualistic distinction between 'natural' and 'unnatural' sex, depending on whether the goal was reproduction or pleasure.

'Nothing is fouler than to love a wife like an adulteress,' intoned Seneca, almost an exact contemporary of Christ. 'A wise man ought to love his wife with judgement, not affection. Let him control his impulses and not be borne headlong into copulation.'

So it's safe to say that cunnilingus was off the menu for Mrs. Seneca.


The History of Sex: South of France -- A (Relatively) Chaste Interlude (Chap. III, Pt. 1)

Chapter Three 

A (RELATIVELY) CHASTE INTERLUDE Romance and Celibacy in the South of France 


'To be always with a woman and not have intercourse is more difficult than to raise the dead.'
--St. Bernard of Clairvaux, persecutor of the Cathars and venerator of the Virgin Mary, c1100 AD 


So where do we in the West get our notions of romance from?

A friend of mine has a theory. 'Jack' is a good decade older than me, and he was confessing how he'd put an entire continent (and ocean) between him and his wife.

But somehow, it wasn't enough. They've been married for over twenty years, plenty of time for their love to ferment into a sour mash of kids, bills and mutual recrimination.

Divorce is out of the question, partly because Jack can't afford it, but mainly because his wife is Irish Catholic.

'D'y'know why ye-olde poets used to write all that crap about romance?' he slurred into his beer. 'It's because the average age back then was 25. Most men didn't live long enough to see what love looks like when it has liver spots and cellulite.'

'They didn't have to put up with wives moaning "What about my needs? What about my Botox? What about the SUV to drive to the supermarket to buy food I can't even cook?" They didn't have to deal with that, did they? Lucky bastards.'

You'll have gathered that Jack was having a midlife crisis.

Buffoon Playing a Lute by Frans Hals

Anachronisms aside, though, I wondered if he didn't have a point.

Whereas the Islamic East enjoyed polygamy—at least the men did—the Christian West begrudgingly sanctioned sex as a reproductive necessity.

A Muslim man might have four wives and a slew of 'favorites,' but a Christian was meant to have just one spouse his entire life: ideally, his soulmate.

The History of Sex: Istanbul -- 'It's Not Like That in Gay Clubs' -- (Chap. II, Pt. 23)

'No, it's too expensive,' he explains. 'Here the average monthly wage is something like $325—actually, $275 with the devaluation. That's four hours of sex.'

But worth every penny, I'm sure.

Later, on the web, I learn that you can bargain the girls down to $50 for two hours or $100 for a whole night, according to this posting from a Turkish john on a sex forum:
Don't give 150-200 $ to bit*hes!
Do not spoil the morals of the wh*res and the market!
You may tip the owner of the tail, if you are really over-satisfied.
But please be thoughtful. Not every other soul has a wallet as thick as yourselves. 

And they say chivalry is dead.

Mehmet's practically gnawing his knuckles by now, so I decide to put him out of his misery.

Florentina is curling her finger toward me to come back, but we're ready to go. And she can't breach the invisible barrier to pursue me. I'm the man. I'm the boss.

Having approached her in the first place, though, I never counted on the flicker of despair in her face as she watches us leave.

Everybody faces rejection in life—God knows writers do—but it must be keenly humiliating to offer your body to a stranger and then be knocked back without knowing why.

Of course, it could be that I'm a sucker, and she's just sorry to see me go. She may be playing me right to the end. But I feel vaguely disgusted with myself for not having anticipated the consequences.

For his part, Mehmet's feeling full-blown relief. 'It's like coming out of a prison!!!' he gasps as we emerge onto the dead-end street.

The Mother Mosque is glowing in the distance, and the balmy air is laced with rotting rubbish, but Mehmet breathes it in gratefully.

'I was so nervous, my legs were shaking! It was depressing—the women just standing there for sale.' He shakes his head. 'It's not like that in gay clubs.'

Alas, maybe next time.


* * *

The History of Sex: Istanbul -- Consorting With a Lady of the Night -- (Chap. II, Pt. 22)

'Are you going to ask the price so we can leave or what?' Mehmet asks.

He's chawed his way through the popcorn, the olives and the pickles—and he's starting on the mixed nuts. I think he's worried about his waistline.

As I leave the table, I'm absurdly self-conscious about approaching the prostitutes, not only because I look like a seedy sex tourist but because it's akin to standing up and declaring, 'I'm JR, and I have to pay women to sleep with me.'

Not like anybody in here would care, of course. I'd probably win a round of supportive, AA-style applause from my fellow losers.

The blonde is beckoning me to cross the threshold out of the darkness into the disco lights. For some reason, it reminds me of a vampire inviting a victim into its lair.

Turns out I'm not far wrong: 'Florentina' is Romanian.



'Hi, um, my friend likes you, but he's shy,' I say, thinking 'How lame is that?'

Aside from the fact that I've just made Mehmet heterosexual, it's like I'm back in school, only the message I'm supposedly relaying has a decidedly adult edge: My friend thinks you're, like, really cute, and, um, he wants to know if he can screw you for money. 

'One hour, $100. Two hours, $150,' she shouts over the din.

Grinning inanely to cover my embarrassment—I wasn't consorting with a lady of the night, I was simply asking her the time of day!—I report back to Mehmet. 

'No wonder they don't do any business,' he scoffs.

I take that to mean it's not enough to turn a profit. Call me a sucker, but 150 bucks doesn't seem much for letting a stranger ram his anatomy in you for two hours.

And that's without factoring in the risk of being locked in a room with a hardcore deviant or serial killer.

The History of Sex: Istanbul -- A Cunning Stunt -- (Chap. II, Pt. 21)

If anyone here is more uncomfortable than me, though, it's my gay companion.

He's literally keeping his head down, sucking on his beer and snuffling through the cocktail snacks, clearly unimpressed by the crudest of hetero meat markets.

First, there's the music.

Whoever picked the soundtrack must be an arch ironist, mixing in tracks like "I'm Lookin' For a New Love" and "Somebody's Watchin' Me."



'Low-class music,' Mehmet mutters.

Then there's the men, a smattering of males sporting spectacles, bald heads, stooped shoulders, man boobs and body hair galore.

A couple of shy guys are shuffling on the dancefloor, pretending to enjoy the music while working up the courage to hit on the prostitutes.

One of them is pumping his fist like a one-handed drummer. I'm tempted to sidle up and ask what he'd charge for the night.

'EVERYTHING HERE IS ILLEGAL'


The girl I keep staring at is dancing up front, a blonde with crisp curls and a tight dress slashed across her thighs. She must be in her mid-twenties, with man-killing curves and breasts perfectly proportioned to her backside—even Mehmet reckons she's the sexiest.

She's been flirting at me all night—of course, we all probably think that—so I think of a cunning stunt.

'Do you think it would be possible for me to pay one of the girls, then take her up to a room and tell her I just want to talk?'

Mehmet stops nibbling long enough to keep me from getting killed.

'No. That might cause big problems. She might not like it and tell the management. And if they find out you want to write something about it, they wouldn't like it. Everything in here is illegal. Everything.'

But at the very least I should find out the going rate. Not being a veteran whoremonger, I'm surprisingly nervous about approaching the women.

The two guys on the dancefloor have overcome their shyness by snapping into haggling mode, bargaining for booty.

Maybe the girlie images on the wall work like the brothel in PompeiiHow much to truss you up like a plucked chicken?

The History of Sex: Istanbul -- The Hookers' Corral -- (Chap. II, Pt. 20)

For I'm bewitched by the spectacle onstage.

The disco square is a kind of hookers' corral, with the girls lining up on the sides to entice pay-for-play suitors.

At least two dozen women are on the dancefloor: blondes and brunettes, Asians and Caucasians, all tarted up in their sexiest clubgear, whether it's perms or ponytails, tube tops or bikini tops, miniskirts or maxiskirts, all with an eyecatching array of slits, straps, stripes and colors.

'Do the girls come to your table?'

'No, that's not the way it works here.'

If a man is interested, it's up to him to approach her; the hookers can't hassle the clientele. So even here, in a hotel de whore, the sexes are separated and the men very much in control.

THEY MAY NOT BE VIRGINS


Initially, this seems like a straight man's dream: a club where all the women want you, and if you want one (or more) of them, all you have to do is ask. No need to chat them up, buy them a drink, or pretend they're interesting. Just 'how much?' and you're in.

Or if you're not in the mood, you can just drink with your friends and ogle the girls for free.

Some are sexier than others, and some look downright bored, but most are smiling and making goo-goo eyes at you—yes, you!—blowing you kisses while grinding their hips and shaking their cleavage.

They may not be virgins, but they're a verisimilitude of paradise. It's like having your own harem.

And at first, I can't stop grinning—albeit nervously.

Soon enough, though, all the staring starts to get to me. The hookers have obviously clocked me as a foreigner (ka-ching!), so they gravitate over to my side of the floor, and having that many women pouting at you all at once is more than a little off-putting.


The History of Sex: Istanbul -- The Me-So-Horny Hotel -- (Chap. II, Pt. 19)

Worryingly, the three-star 'Otel' where we're headed reminds me of the sort of dive I might have booked unsuspectingly due to price, location or last-minute availability.

I'd like to think I would've been put off by its website, with its cascading stars and rendition of 'New York, New York' by somebody's Uncle Iqbal on his portable organ.

However, the hotel's brochure looks decent enough. It even advertises itself as a venue for business conferences and wedding receptions. Okay, so the woman in the photo at reception doesn't look like she's got anything on under her fur coat.

But there's no mention in the literature of the metal detector on the front door—and there's certainly no indication of what happens in the 'American Bar' at night.



Mehmet and I pay the entrance fee (30 lira with a free drink), and we're escorted through the darkness to a table near the dancefloor.

Naturally, our chairs are black and the column next to us is mirrored, but the lights in the bar have an odd shape.

They're clam shells—the bulbs are pearls—and they're synchronized to flash red, green and blue, changing color with the lights on the dancefloor and the decorations on the wall: backlit images of naked women in me-so-horny poses—gloved, booted, bent over, spread-eagled and in one case even washed up on a beach.

Bizarrely, a couple of these adorn the ceiling—why up there?—but the one I'm staring at shows a glamour girl with her hands tied behind her back, a rope around her ankles and leather straps around her bare breasts.

And I suddenly imagine myself newly arrived in Istanbul, coming down here to breakfast the morning after a late flight, thinking, That would explain all the thumping next door last night.

And as these nudie images wink and blink around us in synch with the clamshell lights, illuminating the Turkish talisman on the far wall that protects against the evil eye, my mind free-associates to what I've read in Sexuality in Islam—'an unshaven vagina is readily compared with an evil eye'—and I can't help but wonder about the girls on the dancefloor.

The History of Sex: Istanbul -- Was the Father of Turks the Gay Son of a Prostitute? -- (Chap. II, Pt. 18)

'Are many imams gay?'

'It's not as common as gay priests. Imams have to marry and have children. If not, they set a bad example.'

Mehmet delivers all this with soft-spoken good grace. To use a crude term, he's straight-acting, and nothing in his appearance marks him out as being different from his countrymen. It's only when we move on to our final topic that he starts to dish the dirt.

So far, we've freely discussed sex, sodomy and honor killings in the open air at a public café, despite my misgivings.

THE BATTY BOYS OF DOLMABAHCE


But when he starts talking about the sex life of the Father of the Turks, Mehmet lowers his voice, as if the palm trees might have ears, and uses a codename: '"Osman" was the son of a prostitute.'

Now, most Kurds don't like Atatürk—he killed scores of them in forging the Republic—but to claim he's the son of a whore is, well, highly controversial.

It was Atatürk who defended the rump of the Ottoman Empire and saved the Turks from being well and truly buggered after World War One.

The Harem suite where he died in Dolmabahce Palace is a shrine, and you can be locked up for three years just for insulting his memory.


'But many of the sultans were sons of concubines,' I counter.

'Yes, but "Osman" did not have any royal blood. He was a commoner.'

Mehmet lowers his eyes and glances around furtively. '"Osman" was also homosexual. Many people say they made up the stories of him being a womanizer.'

But even I know 'Osman' was married. 'You mean he was bisexual?'

'No, he was only one way,' Mehmet whispers. 'He would make party all the time with boys in Dolmabahce.' 


Aside from the tempting alliteration of 'batty boys' and 'Dolmabahce,' I have to confess there's a mischievous appeal to the idea of the Father Turk being the gay son of a whore who chose to die in the pink-walled harem of a palace confected by the Frenchman who designed the Paris Opera.

And a private ability to swing both ways would go a long way toward explaining his uncanny knack for keeping the Soviets and Americans off his back, so to speak.

Then there was his advanced approach to women's liberation, which can't be entirely explained by economic motives: Turkey needed women to work, but there was nothing forcing him to give them the vote.

Throw in the dandified dress sense and matinee-idol poses, and well, I can see Mehmet's point.


For me, of course, it doesn't matter. But for many Turks, it would be reprehensible to paint their founding father as a political Liberace.

Out of respect for Turkishness, then, I suggest we move on.

The History of Sex: Istanbul -- 'The Most Horrible Thing Happened in My Family' -- (Chap. II, Pt. 17)

Mehmet notes that most of the 'tradition killings' you read about in Turkey and the rest of Europe are by Kurds, but they're also common among Turks from the countryside.

'In traditional culture, women are the men's honor, and the men will even call them that in conversation.' Instead of calling a sibling 'my sister,' in other words, a man may refer to her as 'my honor.'

And then he tells me: 'The most horrible thing happened in my family.'

Mehmet was in Germany at the time, but he heard the details from his relatives later.

One of his female cousins was having an affair with another cousin who was also married. Both lovers were first cousins, though that wasn't the problem.

'YOU WOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME THING'


The controversy started when the woman began threatening that if her lover didn't make good on his promise to divorce his spouse, she would set up home in his house and effectively force him to take her on as another wife. 'That would have been a big scandal. It would not have been seen as a respectable marriage.'

Likewise, divorce wasn't an honorable option. 'In the area where I was born, only three or four women have been divorced.'

So the adulterer did the 'honorable' thing: he killed her—apparently by strangling her with a wire.

Mehmet says the man's mother then helped him dispose of the corpse. 'They burned her body in an industrial furnace.'

The man was arrested and jailed for two days, but without a body as evidence, the authorities ruled that the woman had run off or disappeared.

Within Mehmet's extended family, though, the cousin's murder is an open secret. The killer's mother has even goaded the victim's parents, saying: 'If you were in my position, you would have done the same thing.'

Mehmet still sees the man at family functions. 'He's a killer, but he lives like a respectable man.'

Muzzammil Hassan, founder of Bridges TV, a US network aimed at portraying Muslims in a more positive light;
in 2009, he beheaded his wife in upstate New York after she filed for divorce

Conversely, Mehmet can't tell his family he's gay because 'it would be like being a murderer.' Many homosexuals have been victims of 'honor killings:' their families have them shot dead, usually by a younger brother because he'll get a lighter sentence.

Even so, it's not uncommon for married men to take advantage of sexual segregation to have gay affairs.

Mehmet says he had an older lover who tried to get him to marry his daughter, just so the two of them—father- and son-in-law—could be together.

As a camp comedian used to say, my flabber is gasted. That seems so wrong, I can't even think of the term for condemning it. It wouldn't be incest—maybe just plain old fraud?

My guide's merely bemused. 'And the strange thing was, he was a fundamentalist, a very religious man.'

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