Sexual history, with all the funny bits

Siobhan Devaney 

Sexual intercourse began in 1963 (which was rather late for me)…

Richard Glover opened proceedings this morning with Philip Larkin’s classic quote to gales of laughter from a wet but cheerful audience who had braved Thursday’s morning rain to hear from “the Stephen Hawking of sex,” Faramerz Dabhoiwala.

Much like an awkward first sexual encounter, the audience had to reposition itself due to technical difficulties. Thankfully, the microphones came on once Faramerz started talking so everyone could hear the author’s request: “Raise your hands if you have ever had sex with another person that you weren’t married to.”  Every hand went up (although there may have been a rather miffed woman in the third row). This was swiftly followed by pleasantly embarrassed giggles.

Faramerz is the author of The Origins of Sex, a non-fiction work that explores the first sexual revolution in England during the 18th century. He went through the main themes of the revolution at Sydney Theatre, beginning in 1612 when a couple was found guilty of adulterous sex. They were stripped to the waist and tied to a cart. They were then dragged through Westminster, being whipped and heckled and then unceremoniously dumped with their backs covered in blood. Then the true punishment began – exile. This was a common occurrence, Faramerz said. Sex was a public crime in the pre-modern world.

Faramerz Dabhoiwala: Stephen Hawking of sex

Faramerz Dabhoiwala: Stephen Hawking of sex

Faramerz was animated and passionate as he worked his way through the different themes of his book. He talked of the birth of sexual freedom, gentlemen’s sex clubs and how sex went from a public crime to a private issue, as well as the oppression of female sexuality and homosexuality. He also expanded on the idea of sexual celebrity and its origin in 18th century courtesans’ memoirs. What could easily have been a history lesson was made engaging with anecdotes, pictures and his seemingly inexhaustible supply of hysterical quotes. The audience lapped it all up with rapt attention and frequent laughter.

The talk ended on a serious note as Richard raised the question of fundamentalist societies that have not yet felt the sexual revolution. In response, Faramerz referred back to the barbaric treatment of pre-modern times: “This is live for them, it’s not history at all.”  The audience left the theatre hoping there would be more revolutions to come.