The purpose of this book is to place the human sex drive and its social and moral consequences in their widest historical perspective, taking in the whole panorama of sexual attitudes, customs, and practices in all the world's major civilizations from earliest times until the present day. In effect, it is at once a history of sex, a history of relationships between the sexes, and a history of how sex and sexuality have influenced the whole course of human development.
I've had the book since the 1980s and have read parts of it over the years. I can now say that I have read it almost in its entirety (I did skim a few sections). This rather long tome gives a history of sex from prehistoric times up through the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s. It was written in 1980 so it definitely is somewhat dated and probably does not include a lot of scientific information that has come to light in recent years but it does provide tons of information that I was unaware of. It includes sections on ancient worlds such as Egypt, Greece, Rome, Babylonia, and the early Hebrews and Christian Church. This included some fascinating details on how sex became perceived in religion as sinful except within marriage and only then as a means of procreation. The book then goes on to discuss Asia and the Middle East and how sex was treated there. And then on to Europe and America and discussions of rationalizations for conquering Native Americans by the Spanish because of supposed transgressions including sodomy and cannibalism. There are also interesting sections discussing prostitution, homosexuality, and venereal disease in both Europe and America.
All of this is told from a woman's perspective and the author emphasizes how women have been mistreated throughout the ages. This leads up to the women's suffrage movement and finally obtaining the right to vote in the early 20th century. And then on to the use of birth control and the feminism of the 1960s.
Overall, I found most of this to be fascinating. The book gives a very wide overview of sex through the ages and it also provides a lot of history from around the world and a look at family life and various class structures throughout history. Unfortunately, the book is dated and if the author had not died in 2007, it would probably be worth updating with a new edition.