Sex in Culture, Law & History

by Scott Vieira

Bering, Jesse. Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?: And Other Reflections on Being Human. Scientific American, dist. by W.H. Freeman. Jul. 2012. c.320p. index.ISBN 9780374532925. pap. $16. PSYCH

Drawn from his Scientific American blog, Bering in Mind, and Slate, this collection of essays by columnist and psychologist Bering (director, Inst. of Cognition & Culture, Queen’s Univ., Belfast, Ireland; The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life) for the most part addresses issues related to sexuality, though some pieces also discuss cannibalism, suicide, and religious belief. Bering tackles interesting questions about the biology and psychology of human sexuality from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. He reflects on the virtues of semen, elucidates the connection between sex and sleepwalking, questions why humans masturbate so much, and more. VERDICT Similar to Olivia Judson’s Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex, this humancentric book leaves no topic off the table for consideration. Anyone interested in reading about the latest developments in sex research told with a generous dose of self-deprecating humor will enjoy this essay collection.

Berkowitz, Eric. Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire. Counterpoint. Apr. 2012. c.352p. illus. ISBN 9781582437965. $26. hist

Journalist and lawyer Berkowitz leads readers on a journey through the history of sex as it has been viewed by the law. Starting in Babylon with Hammurabi’s Code and ending at the turn of the 19th century with the trial of Oscar Wilde, the book covers the urge in Western culture to regulate, police, judge, condemn, and punish sex. Berkowitz presents thought-provoking glimpses into this past, from bestiality laws in ancient Greece that cited species involved to the legislative difficulties faced by Victorian reformers in England advocating to increase the age of consent from 12 to 13. VERDICT Even though this readable history raises interesting questions about the relationship between sex and the law, it focuses more on relating events rather than explaining why they happened. For readers who want a broad overview of the sexual obsessions and mores of the West.

Best Sex Writing 2012: The State of Today’s Sexual Culture. Cleis Pr. 2012. 242p. ed. by Rachel Kramer Bussel & Susie Bright. ISBN 9781573447591. pap. $15.95. PSYCH

Aiming to collect the best writing about sex published during 2011, sex columnist and editor Bussel and author and performer Bright (Big Sex Little Death: A Memoir) cull these articles from a variety of print and online sources including Playboy, Reason, Salon, the Village Voice, and others. Featuring writers such as Greta Christina (editor, Best Erotic Comics series) and Marty Klein (Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want from Sex and How To Get It) and covering issues such as the criminalization of circumcision of minors, dating and STDs, politics and sex, child porn and statutory rape, religious belief and sex, and homosexuality in the military, this book highlights not only the diversity of sexual issues prevalent in the public discourse but likewise the importance of all things sexual to human culture. VERDICT Readers interested in sexuality and its role in politics and culture will find something of interest in this eclectic volume. A great opportunity to discover new voices, new sources, and new information on the subject of sex.

Dabhoiwala, Faramerz. The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution. Oxford Univ. May 2012. c.496p. index. ISBN 9780199892419. $34.95. PSYCH

Dabhoiwala (modern history, Exeter Coll., Oxford Univ.) here argues for the importance of what he calls the first sexual revolution. He locates an apex of civil and religious enforcement against sexual behavior in 16th-century England, where adultery was a capital crime. He works meticulously through the historical records of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries to show how English culture evolved intellectually, politically, and socially to arrive at modern ideas of sexual liberty, gender equality, and the privatization of sex‚ ideas that continued to evolve and transform culture during the 20th century. VERDICT While no consideration is given to non-English history (e.g., developments in France and Holland, though surely there was a cross-fertilization of ideas), this book is highly recommended to readers interested in English history and the history of sexuality.

Horstman, Judith. The Scientific American Book of Love, Sex, and the Brain: The Neuroscience of How, When, Why, and Who We Love. Jossey-Bass. (Scientific American Mind.) 2012. 264p. illus. index. ISBN 9780470647783. $25.95. PSYCH

In her third neuroscience book based on material originally presented in Scientific American, science journalist Horstman (The Scientific American Day in the Life of Your Brain) popularizes the latest research on the role the brain plays in love and sex. She expounds on subjects like the chemistry of love, parental influences on their children’s love life, the brain and friendship, marriage and staying in love, and love for God. In addition, Horstman addresses more biological topics, such as what she calls the five genders of the brain (e.g., heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, and asexual), the senses and sex, hormones and sex, and more. VERDICT This basic introduction to the neuroscience of love and sex is a good starting place for readers new to the subject. While the book trades on some simplistic novelties of pop psychology, one hopes it will whet readers’ appetites for more nuanced explorations of this area of research.

Mundy, Liza. The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love, and Family. S. & S. 2012. c.320p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781439197714. $27. soc sci

Mundy (staff writer, Washington Post; Everything Conceivable: How Assisted Reproduction Is Changing Our World) tells the story of a social change revolutionizing the postindustrial world: women are becoming the primary breadwinners. Through hundreds of interviews, Mundy shows how families are evolving in response to this development. She discusses shifting gender roles as men decide to quit their jobs, become homemakers, and raise children. She considers the challenges new couples face in developing relationships while navigating these changes and examines the side effects of this societal shift (Japan’s plummeting birthrate is a good example). VERDICT Mundy succeeds in capturing the perspectives of both genders. Her view is ultimately optimistic, and this book offers a rewarding look at the possibilities and challenges that come with these developments. Highly recommended to readers interested in gender and family; also relevant to those in fields such as counseling/psychology, economics, education, sociology, and politics.‚ Scott Vieira, Sam Houston State Univ. Lib., Huntsville, TX

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