Book Review: Sex and Sexuality in Georgian Britain



Content warning: This book contains frank discussion about sex and sexuality including discussion about rape, sexually transmitted diseases, prostitution, homophobia, sexism, and other sensitive subjects. I mean it’s in the title. But this book does not shy away from these subjects, reader discretion is advised.


This book goes into what it says on the tin. It’s a humorous look at sex and sexuality in mostly the 18th century but also the early 19th century. It covers the terminology of the time as well as several of the major players. It goes into what was known and still unknown in the so-called “Age of Reason.” The author has a very fun voice and I enjoyed most of the asides and the little bits of humor that slipped into the text – like one pithy remark about how according to the Bishop of London masturbation is what caused the two earthquakes it experienced.. and not… oh… plate tectonics.


I learned a lot and it’s clear that the author knows his stuff and is sympathetic to the women who were often screwed over by society – especially if they were poor. I really liked how the author treated those who were infected by sexually transmitted diseases, doing his best to destigmatize them as well as be understanding to the circumstances that led women of all walks of life to prostitution. It is a book that doesn’t flinch away from the horrors of the time – including the fact that for much of the era the age of consent for women was twelve.



Unfortunately, the book makes a major misstep when it deals with in its words “cross-dressing” and “transvestism.” That section, unfortunately, uses some very transphobic language and doesn’t respect James Barry’s insistence in life – even going so far as to direct how his remains should be handled postmortem – that he be referred to as a man. He lived his life as a man and what is included in this book minimizes that… nor does it touch upon James Barry’s achievements (which included the first-known successful C-sections where both the mother and child survived) (which should be included in a book on sex and sexuality) – only the sensationalism of what was discovered when his final wishes were not adhered to and his birth genitalia revealed. Even the brief look at the Chevalier d'Eon – a diplomat, soldier, and spy – focused more on their genitalia (and the fact that they were likely intersex) than the fact that the Chevalier chose to live as a man for almost fifty years and as a woman for over thirty, nor did it dive into any of their other accomplishments.

Look, I get it. Queer people do use the term transvestite and cross-dresser to refer to themselves. But they are not acceptable terms for people outside of the trans community. If Eddie Izzard wants to call herself a transvestite, she can. But cis people don’t get those privileges. Especially not in an educational book where word choice matters.


It was a major misstep in what was otherwise a well-researched, well-laid out, and engaging read. If that section (literally about 10 pages of the book) were handled better this would be getting five stars from me.

There’s a lot of good information in this. Information that more authors should be aware of… especially if they are writing in the Regency which…

*motions pointedly at most of the Historical Romance section* A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE!!!


The book also brings into sharp contrast the realities of the time period that most people just don’t want to know. Like oh… your rakeish rogue who’s spent a good chunk of his life whoring should by all rights have an STI. He just should. So maybe consider having your hero put a wrap on it… in fact there’s only been one book that I know of set in the Regency that used condoms and that is The Rakess. So…Yeah if people want to get on author’s cases for “historical accuracy” in not showing Black people then I want to see a whole lot more characters with STIs… because dude.


*gets off the soapbox*

But seriously, it’s an informative book and one I do recommend to authors who want to write in the time period.

As it is, for this transphobic misstep I can only in good conscience give this:


Three stars



If this is your jam, you can get it here!

I received an ARC via NetGalley. Thank you to the publisher for letting me read this book.


Like our reviews? Buy us a coffee!


#bookreview #threestarreview #mikerendell #nonfiction #triggerwarnings

roselarkpublishing@gmail.com / © 2017 by RoseLark Publishing. Created with Wix.com. Privacy Policy. RoseLark Publishing is a participant in the Amazon Affiliates Program.