History Stories

For Valentine’s Day, go under the covers with history's favorite vice in this week’s featured collection, Let’s Talk About Sex.

Vatasyayana, an ascetic (and most likely celibate) scholar who lived in classical India around the 5th century A.D. was an unlikely candidate to have written history’s best-known book on erotic love. Little is known about Vatsyayana’s life, but in the “Kama Sutra”—actually a collection of notes on hundreds of years of spiritual wisdom passed down by the ancient sages—he wrote that he intended the book to be the ultimate love manual and a tribute to Kama, the Indian god of love. Though it has become famous for its sections on sexual instruction, the book actually deals much more with the pursuit of fulfilling relationships, and provided a blueprint for courtship and marriage in upper-class Indian society at that time. The “Kama Sutra” has been translated into hundreds of languages and has won millions of devotees around the world. Get the racy story in Superheroes of Sex.

Painted sometime in the Ramesside Period, approximately around 1150 B.C., the “Turin Erotic Papyrus” is the oldest depiction of sex on record. Measuring 8.5 feet by 10 inches, the papyrus is divided into two parts. The first part depicts 12 various acrobatic and “unnervingly ambitious” sexual positions, and encompasses not only fertility symbols but also satirical humor. The second section continues to play up this humorous aspect, depicting animals preforming various human tasks as musicians, soldiers and artisans. The papyrus wasn’t made public until the 1970s. Discover more about the “Turin Erotic Papyrus” in Sex in the Ancient World: Egypt.

Benjamin Franklin was not only a founding father and inventor, he was also the owner and publisher of a colonial newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette. By the 1730s, The Gazette had become the most popular newspaper in the colony in part due to the content Franklin contributed. Often writing under pseudonyms, Franklin contributed fake letters to the editor asking for advice on infidelity and made-up town gossip. Explore more of this story in America’s Sex Pioneers.

Take a peek at a few more episodes from this week’s featured collection, Let’s Talk About Sex:

  • These are the surprisingly true stories about how the sex lives of the powerful have shaken up history, from Warren G. Harding’s days as a playboy to one woman’s time in a prince’s modern-day harem, explore Sex and Power.
  • Many people have tried to harness the power of sex for their own gain, but sometimes these basic instincts backfire. Get the story in Sex Gone Wrong.
  • In Sex for Sale, see how the world’s oldest profession turns up where you’d least expect it; as a major source of revenue for the Catholic Church and as the driving force behind America’s first racially integrated neighborhood.

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