This long, cool, consistently entertaining look at sexual attitudes, customs and practices in all the world’s major civilizations (past and present) is less a successor to Reay Tannahill’s Food in History (1973), than its other half. This time, drawing on art, architecture, literature and theology, as well as a whole alphabet of scientific disciplines, the author places the second of humanity’s great imperatives, the sex drive, in its widest historical perspective.

The range of information contained in this book is immense, from prehistoric polygamy to Greek dildos, Egyptian contraceptives, Taoist sex manuals, Turkish eunuchs, Panamanian sodomites, Victorian methods of reconstructing virgins, and the sex role revolution of the 1970s. Much of the material appears here for the first time in a general work. Until recently, European erotica was kept in locked rooms, Chinese texts remained untranslated, and Tantric art was to be seen in private collections. The freer atmosphere of the last decade, however, has changed all that, making it possible to deal matter of factly with detail that was formerly taboo.

Sex in History is more than a history of sex alone. It is also a history of relationships between the sexes, and a history of how sex and sexuality have influenced the whole course of human development. It shows, in effect, just how the sexual past still affects the sexual, moral and social present. Reviewers and readers welcomed Food in History as fascinating, unique, astounding and perspective changing, and the same is true of this even more remarkable book.


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Authored by Reay Tannahill and published by Hamish Hamilton Ltd of London in 1980. This First Edition copy, hard cover bound, is in Fine condition, with a Fine dust jacket and covered in plastic. The size of the book is 240x162x35mm. ISBN 0241102006. Dust jacket is very slightly scuffed at head & tail. Book has 2 x 2mm insect damage.