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  • Jon Knowles

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

This is from a seventh-century icon of Serge and Bacchus. Christ is the “best man”.

Two fourth-century soldiers, martyrs, and saints, Serge and Bacchus, were married. Catholic liturgies invoked them for same-sex marriages until the 16th century. Their feast day is October 7. But they were not the first.

Among the Hittites, one same-sex partner paid a bride price for the other. Men who married men in ancient Crete earned more social privileges than those who took women. Romans, including some emperors, married men, too. Same-sex marriage — parigraha — was also common in India and in the Muslim world of the first millennium.

Until the 13th century, marriage was a private oath. The church took it over to stop the marriage of priests. It outlawed private, “common-law” marriages. It imposed three-month banns, church services, and witnesses. Even as 17th-century cities such as Venice burned men alive for same-sex marriage, Michel de Montaigne attended a same-sex marriage in Rome. In Dalmatia, they called women who married women prosestrime. Men were probatimi. Same-sex marriage was so common in Fujian that the Chinese called it nanfeng — “southern custom”.

Caribbean pirates of the 18th century had same-sex marriages — matelots. They pledged their property and lives to one another. Some of these buccaneers took oaths to die together and some did. At the same time, scores of men in London’s molly houses married — many by the Reverend John Church. Celebrities such as Charles Darwin and Queen Charlotte thronged to Wales to visit the “Ladies of Liangollen”, two married women. (London’s “mollies” — married or not — went to the stocks, the gallows, or were driven to suicide.)

Most Americans had common-law marriages without public ritual. This led some communities to accept same-sex marriage. Lincoln knew about them. He wrote this little ditty in the 1830s:

Rueben and Charles have married two girls

But Billy has married a boy.

The girls he had tried on every side

But none could he get to agree.

All was in vain he went home again

And since he is married to Natty.

This was the time, for example, when Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake’s neighbors knew them as “husband” and “wife” in Weybridge, Vermont. They belonged to the Trinitarian Congregational Church.

But after the first national law about marriage, the anti-polygamy Morrill Act of 1890, common-law marriage began to become illegal across the country — in all but eight states and the District of Columbia.

Most of us have lived through the rest of this history: In 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act to allow states to specifically outlaw same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court overthrew the Act in 2013. And in 2015, the Court decided to protect same-sex marriage. So, the whole history is much longer than any of us have lived through.


Book One: 74, 91, 114, 176–7, 204, 265, 276, 290, 296, 340–2, 396, 430, 526, 657, 724, 726–8, 742, 800–1, Wiki

Book Two: 208–10, 609 Wiki

  • Jon Knowles

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Thanks to Jackie Rotman (NYT, June 26), vibrators are in the news again. Here’s a little history about them: Plato taught that a wandering uterus caused hysteria. Doctors began to stroke the clitoris to relieve it. By the 17th century, most believed the uterus wandered if a woman didn’t get enough sex or wasn’t pregnant often enough. But very few of them would admit they gave women orgasms when curing hysteria.

Most doctors of the 19th century believed that women could not have orgasms. But they still believed that the uterus was a “furious and insatiable animal”. So, professional stroking was necessary — for a fee. And they invented vibrators to make their work easier. In 1889, the Butler Electro-massage Machine appeared. By 1899, the vibrator was the second most used electrical appliance in the home (The sewing machine was the first.) But women knew better than to talk about the joys it gave them.

For the first 20 years of the 20th century, ads for these “Delightful Companions” ran in women’s magazines such as Home Needlework Journal, Women’s Home Companion, and the Sears and Roebuck catalog. In 1910, The American College of Mechano-Therapy ran this ad in Women and Men: “Your Hands Properly Used are all you Need to Earn $3,000 to $5,000 a Year.”

Film porn at the end of the ‘20s, such as Widows Delight, let the cat out of the bag. Ads for vibrators disappeared entirely from mainstream media. In the ‘70s, Eve’s Garden and Good Vibrations opened to sell women sex toys — for pleasure, and a lot of women still used them, but on the Q.T.

They remained a forbidden subject. In 1991, Professor Donald Silva lost his job at University of New Hampshire. He had quoted Little Egypt to describe metaphor: “Belly dancing is like Jello on a plate with a vibrator under the plate.” And in 1998, Clarkson University refused to continue its contract with Rachel Maines. She had published her landmark book, The Technology of Orgasm — “Hysteria,” the Vibrator and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction. Clarkson feared its success would interfere with alumni funding!

Today, Walmart, Amazon, and other retailers sell vibrators as part of the growing “femtech” market — worth $50 billion by 2020. But mainstream advertisers —not at all shy about erectile dysfunction — refuse to acknowledge them.

For citations see:

Book One — 40, 150, 666, 825, 828

Book Two — 14, 111, 129, 157, 314, 441–2, 513, 684, 695

  • Jon Knowles

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

A World War II U.S. government poster to get GIs to avoid sex infections (Brandt, 1987, fig. 19).

Fintan O’Toole needs to brush up on his American history. He used his review of Noelle Gallager’s Itch, Clap, Pox: Venereal Disease in the Eighteenth-Century Imagination to scold our former president for his odious views of women. It appeared in his “Vile Bodies,” in the The New York Review of Books.

He called Trump to task for his hateful belief that only women cause sex infections. Fair enough. But he further claimed that Donald’s view is unusual and ahistorical. He argues, weakly, that men gave up this belief as far back as the 19th century. But to do this he overlooks the real history. In fact, America indicted all women interested in sex as “booby traps” for infection for most of the 20th century. Men were only victims as they fell into those traps. Here are just a few brief examples:

During the First World War, the military warned GIs that all women, not only sex workers, carried sex infections. It had the government police “flappers” to keep them from spreading them. Women agents policed the streets across America on the look out for “wayward” girls. The Public Health and Research Act of 1918 allowed authorities to detain and examine any “person” they thought might carry a sex infection. They detained more than 15,000 women. They only charged one out of three as sex workers. And they only detained one guy.

By the time of World War Two, the military and government saw all women equally as “booby traps” for syphilis and gonorrhea. They arrested so many of them for being “too sexy” that there was no longer room for them in jails, and the government had to open 30 “civilian conservation camps”. It warned GIs this way:

Avoid prostitutes, Pick-Ups, Push-Overs and “Easy Women.” They are not and cannot be

made safe. Pick-Ups and other “easy women” are by all odds likely to be infected too.

Another thing to remember is that a girl, free of infection at one time, may now have VD

and can easily pass it on to you.

Men were not responsible.

Trump and a whole lot of other men still embrace this nearly universal 20th century point of view. It lasted until medicine and safer sex decreased the cases of gonorrhea and syphilis at the end of the century.

Our history is important, and we need to own it. We also need to stop seeing our former president as an uncommon man. The fact is, he is a very common man —in most all meanings of the word. That’s what makes him so dangerous.

For citations, see How Sex Got Screwed Up, Book 2, pages 296–305.

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