18th century sex manual sells for £550

A copy of a book that was ‘banned’ for hundreds of years because of its graphic descriptions of sex has been sold at auction for £550.

Known as Aristotle’s Compleat Master-Piece, it was expected to sell for about £400 earlier this week when it was listed among a collection of rare books being auctioned off by Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh. The buyer was an English book dealer.

Aristotle’s Compleat Master-Piece was written around 1684 and was a sex manual and guide to midwifery. In part, it sets out “to show at what age young men and virgins are capable of the marriage bed, which, because so many desire before they attend to it, it will be likewise necessary to show the causes of their impetuous desires.”

The copy that was sold was printed in the 1760s, around the same time that it was banned in England. The ban was not lifted until the 1960s.

Cathy Marsden, a book specialist at the auctioneers, explained “It was very popular. It was probably the most printed text of its kind and it went through a lot of editions. It was very popular whilst it was banned. You could certainly buy it under the counter.

“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 Siamese twins were the result of the parents’ sins.

“There are also interesting bits about the 17th century 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. 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.”

The book was attributed to Aristotle probably as a marketing ploy. Click here to visit the Lyon & Turnbull website.

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