Think you know sex? The Victorians were even better at it

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Forget modern pornography — the Victorians had the good stuff.

“Contemporary pornography is kind of boring,” said Deborah Lutz, an English professor at Long Island University who specializes in erotica. “There’s something about Victorian pornography, it’s kind of unusual to us. I like to talk and write about sexuality when it’s historical.”

In her new book, “Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism,” the Greenpoint-based writer dispels well-worn myths about prudish Victorians by revealing 19th-century erotic writings, paintings and the people who made them.

“I was surprised at how open the London homosexual activities were,” said Lutz. “There were gay brothels, street cruising, public bathrooms, gay pornography.”

There were, of course, still some prudes — sodomy was illegal, and dressing in drag could get you arrested for indecency (paging Mr. Wilde!). But Lutz still had plenty of material to work with in her research, including personal letters, published erotica, art and poems.

There were Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s sensual paintings, Algernon Charles Swinburne’s tales of visiting flagellation brothels, explorer Richard Burton’s how-to manuals on sex positions. Our very own Walt Whitman was a particular fascination of the Victorian set, thanks to his “Calamus” poems in “Leaves of Grass” about “the manly love of comrades.”

These people figure prominently in Lutz’s book, which is a highly seductive and equally informative discourse on the art, literary and taboo-breaking bohemian scene of the time.

“I really wanted to paint a picture of what it was like to be a sexual radical in Victorian London,” said Lutz. “I wanted to bring the time period alive.”

Lutz will repaint that picture at Greenlight Bookstore on Feb. 23, when she talks with noted sex writer Susan Crain Bakos about issues in “Pleasure Bound” and connect them to present-day practices.

“Deborah’s book is a titillating look at Victorian erotica, as well as a serious exploration of the influence of the wild 19th century underworld on the great cultural creations of the era,” said Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, co-owner of Greenlight. “We think it’s a great post-Valentine’s Day event — a little naughty, a little sexy, and very smart.”

Deborah Lutz at Greenlight Bookstore [686 Fulton St. between S. Elliott Place and S. Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 246-0200], Feb. 23 at 7:30 pm. Free. For info, visit

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Reader Feedback

Joey from Clinton Hills says:
dude, you should try your hand at some Star Wars fan fiction.
Feb. 17, 2011, 10:53 am

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