A mid-18th-century edition of a much-maligned sexy, sexy sex book that first appeared in 1680 will probably fetch a tidy little sum of money when it goes on sale at the Edinburgh auction house Lyon and Turnbull. That's because, thanks to the squeamish, patriarchal printing authorities clutching their pearls in 18th century England, the book was banned for supposedly lewd illustrations of babies turned into hairy apes by their parents' adulterous activities, or pictures of pregnant women whose fetuses have torn through their bellies Alien-style in order to show the faithful reader what the inside of a uterus actually looks like.
According to the Guardian, the book — Aristotle's Compleat Master-Piece — remained forbidden ancient (more on that in a moment) literature until the 1960s, about the time when warnings that adultery would turn infants into capuchins had started to sound thoroughly ridiculous to all but the most superstitious of Britons. Cathy Marsden, a book specialist at Lyon and Turnbull, told the Guardian that when it first appeared in about 1680, the Compleat Master-Piece was super popular, rapidly becoming "the most printed text of its kind" and going through lots of editions. For contemporary readers, however, the book doesn't hold much value except as source of amusement at the superstitious whimsies of the 17th century sexpert:
There's nothing in it that would really be considered dirty in our society now. It's funny more than anything. There are various things which warn parents about what could happen to their children if they sinned whilst conceiving them, perhaps by having sex outside marriage. It would say that your baby would be born all hairy or it would suggest that conjoined twins were the result of the parents' sins.
For all of its physiological inaccuracies, the book interestingly subscribes to the 17th notion that "it was considered beneficial for a woman to enjoy sexual intercourse in order to conceive. It suggests that both men and women should enjoy sex." It was only many decades later, explained Marsden, when dudes so mortified with the human body that they shivered at the thought of having a bowel movement realized that women didn't need to climax in order to conceive, that this idea of mutual pleasure vanished like a too-pleasant dream:
That's interesting because much later on, when they realised 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 believes that the illustrations in the book — which might seem more at home in an Urban Outfitters coffee table volume entitled, The Unintentional Hilarity of Humans: A Historical Survey — were one of the primary reasons that Compleat Master-Piece remained on the forbidden books list for so long in the U.K., despite its august, Aristotelian provenance. Which brings us to the book's authorship — Aristotle, Marsden told the Guardian, probably had nothing to do with the book. There may not be so much as an ounce of Aristotle's lurid imagination in a book that bears his name. Most likely, some aspiring sex columnist just stamped Aristotle's name on the Compleat Master-Piece (just like I slipped Aristotle's name into the title, made you look), the better to make the volume sell like genital-shaped hotcakes embellished with strategic dollops of whipped cream.