The Joy of Sexus: Lust, Love, and Longing in the Ancient World

The Joy of Sexus: Lust, Love, and Longing in the Ancient World - Vicki León

I previously read León’s 4000 Years of Uppity Women and was disappointed with the layout and how brief the biographies actually were, so when The Joy of Sexusstarted with actual chapters, detailed descriptions, and a cohesive narrative, I was very excited. If Sexus was 200 pages instead of 320, I’d be writing a very different review.

Unfortunately, there just didn’t seem to be enough material to cover an entire book. 45 pages in, loved it. 150 pages and it started to feel repetitive. 280 pages and I was actively wishing for a reprieve. Maybe it needed to stretch into love and sex in the medieval time periods. Maybe it could have elaborated more on the stories it presented. Regardless, by the time section VII - For the Love of it - Pure Passions took an interlude into how awesome dolphins are, it was obvious the source material just wasn’t there. (The sections are very odd and arbitrary. Section VII covers empresses who became goddesses and section VIII - Demon Lovers & Gods Dark & Light, where you would expect that chapter, instead covers Amazons.)

Some of the facts were common knowledge, but much of the book was new to me and it did cover an interesting array of topics. It was presented in a fun, lively way that kept the book from feeling too textbook-y, but I did feel that much of the dialogue was too spiced up, such as this excerpt regarding Teiresias the Seer’s blinding at the hands of the gods:

Zeus hung his head. “I feel terrible,” he said.
Grimacing, Teiresias said, “You feel terrible? Try getting your eyes gouged out, and then get back to me.”
“I’m going to give you the gift of prophecy,” Zeus said. “It’s the least I can do. Oh, and instead of one lifetime, you can have seven.”
“What about my eyesight?” Teiresias asked.
“No can undo,” Zeus said, looking nervously over his shoulder for Hera.

First, the dialogue is presented like quotes, which rubbed me the wrong way in a nonfiction account, but worse, it’s poorly written and reads to me like a YA fantasy novel. It’s a stylistic choice that actually took me out of the book instead of making history relatable, as I suspect it was intended.

I did really enjoy learning about Hymen, god of maidenheads and marriage ceremonies, and the Erotes. I highlighted and made a lot of notes about the interesting facts and etymology of words. I wish the section on transsexuality had presented it better, as it seemed the book was confusing it with crossdressing or homosexuality. And the author did take a very odd detour on why sperm donation causes inbreeding in modern society, but most of the topics were handled very sensitively with a definite focus on women’s history and rights. In the end, it was a promising, engaging beginning that didn’t know where to cut off. It may be more successful as something to refer to, rather than read straight through.