Digging History

Banned 18-century sex manual goes to auction

"Aristotles Complete Master-Piece," an 18th-century sex manual being auctioned off in England.

"Aristotles Complete Master-Piece," an 18th-century sex manual being auctioned off in England.  (Lyon & Turnbull)

A 18th century sex manual is going to be auctioned in Edinburgh nearly 200 years after it was banned from sale in Britain.

Known as Aristotle’s Complete Master-Piece, the book has little to do with Greek philosophy.

"It has very little at all to do with Aristotle. In fact, first published in 1684, the book is an early manual of sex and pregnancy," Cathy Marsden, a book specialist at the auction house Lyon and Turnbull in Edinburgh, where the copy is set to be auctioned, said in a statement.


Drawing from the works of Nicholas Culpepper, an English herbalist, physician, and astrologer, and Albertus Magnus, the German bishop and scientist, with a good dose of old wives' tale, the manual became hugely popular in Britain, and continued to be a best-seller on the black market after it was banned for being considered "highly distasteful and lewd."

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"There were more editions of this work published in the 18th century than any other medical text," Marsden said.

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The book, whose author is unknown, remained forbidden reading until the 1960s, when the ban was finally lifted.

By today’s standards, the manual is more amusing than graphic.

Emphasizing late 17th-century ideas surrounding female sexuality, the book described female and male anatomy, offering "advice to both sexes on the act of copulation."

Interestingly, the manual stressed that it was beneficial for a woman to experience sexual desire in order to conceive.

"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," Marsden told reporters.

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The manual is also peppered with urban myths, warning on the "risks of having sex outside marriage" and the impact that such an action "could have on the birth of the child."

Indeed, the book is illustrated with strange images of hairy children and other "monstrous births."

According to the manual, such deformities were "a curse laid upon the child for the incontinency of the parents."

The edition going under the hammer dates from the 1760s. It will be sold at Lyon and Turnbull on January 16th at an auction of rare books, manuscripts and maps.