Written in the Flesh

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Title: Written in the Flesh: A History of Desire
Published by: University of Toronto Press
Release Date: September 30, 2006
Pages: 300
ISBN13: 978-0802094520


Written in the Flesh is a history of sexual desire – a startling and provocative history of what people yearn to do sexually. It is the story of the whole body's need for sexual attention rather than simply the genitalia and their procreational function.

The desire for sexual pleasure and total body sex – that is, the expansion of sexuality from a limited focus on the face and genitals to include the entire body – is certainly not a new phenomenon: the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Chinese, amongst others, were quite familiar with eroticism that went beyond the strictly heterosexual and procreational. In the long centuries of Christian Europe, when miserable conditions of life and religious repression conspired to minimize the expression of sexual longing, desire was driven underground. Yet in the late nineteenth century, increasing privacy, prosperity, and good health again permitted the underlying biological urge for total body sex to express itself, and encouraged a shift of erotic pleasure toward new and unexplored body zones: the mouth, nipples, anus, and further.

This new work by renowned medical historian Edward Shorter demonstrates that desire is hard-wired into the brain, expressing itself in remarkably similar ways in men and women, adolescent and adult, and in gays, lesbians, and straights alike. Drawing from a wide array of sources, including memoirs, novels, collections of letters, diaries, and indeed a large pornographic corpus, Shorter explores the widening of Western society's sexual repertoire.

Written in the Flesh is a history of what people like to do in bed and how that has changed. The change is relentless: human sexuality continually seeks new means of liberation in its expression of pleasure.


"A good argument is one of the joys of life, especially if it includes wine or dessert. Edward Shorter is the sort of intelligent, entertaining writer with whom it is pleasure to argue."
Wendy McElroy, Globe and Mail

"Written in the Flesh is a remarkable survey of the history of sexual desire. Edward Shorter is recognized as a scholar with no reluctance to tackle important and contentious subjects, and in this book he provides a clear picture of how sexual desire has changed in its expression over the centuries."
Jock Murray, Medical Humanities Program, Dalhousie University

"Written in the Flesh is bold, important, and maddeningly fun to argue with. Everyone interested in the history of sexuality and of desire will need to engage, if not agree with it."
Thomas W. Laqueur, Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley, author of Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation

"Written in the Flesh is a fabulous book, but perhaps it should really be called Beyond Tits and Ass, because that’s exactly where it takes us. I loved it. Edward Shorter provides great insight into the evolution and revolution of human sexual behaviour."
Sue Johanson, C.M., R.N., sex educator and host of Sunday Night Sex Show and Talk Sex for Americans

"Written in the Flesh offers a fascinating and refreshing take on the evolution of our relationship with sex and desire. An excellent antidote to the rising panic about our increasingly sexualized culture. Turns out it's not all MTV’s fault."
Josey Vogels, sex columnist and author