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'The Mysteries of Conjugal Love Revealed'

1712 was not a very good year for sex, as shown in Nicolas Venette's 'The Mysteries of Conjugal Love Revealed.'

I have heard it said (most recently at the He's Not Here Lounge in Bayonne) that the 17th century was the span of transition from the medieval to the modern world. Indeed, it is lamentable that many of the heroic minds of that great and forth-beaming age have been forgotten. We are familiar with the names of Galileo, Descartes, and Newton, but I doubt that many, even among those of us who guess all the answers on The Joker's Wild, recognize the name of Venette, who was to sex what Newton was to apples.

Nicolas Venette, doctor of medicine, dean of the Royal College at La Rochelle, was a man of varied learning and interests. His writings included treatises on subjects as diverse as mathematics, mineralogy, and the art of pruning fruit trees. His most momentous work, however, was Tableau de l'amour consideré dans l'etat de mariage, published in 1687. There had been other books about sex, but they were either coy and honeymoonish, such as the anonymous Aristotle's Masterpiece (circa 1684), or done in Latin and beyond the grasp of the common fucker, such as the Geneanthropeiae of J.B. Sinibaldus (1642). Venette's was the first true sex manual, treating in the course of its more than 500 pages almost all aspects of "the two great works of copulation and generation" and "the pleasures of the nuptial sheets." Nothing was shied away from, including matters such as "whether the Devil is able to preserve a man's seed that he has stolen" and whether "there is greater trouble and inconvenience in kissing an ugly woman than a pretty one." The book was so popular in France that it was published in numerous editions, the eighth of which was translated into English, in 1703, under the title of The Mysteries of Conjugal Love Revealed. Though no copies of that first English edition have survived, several libraries and scholarly smut hounds possess copies of the third, 1712 edition, which allows us to view the enigmatic world of sex through the eyes of our noble forebears, and to count our blessings.

Sexual Misconceptions

It might seem to some modern readers that both sexes were not treated with equal esteem. At the outset, we find that the "testicles are shut up in a purse, as something very precious," while the vagina is "the cause of most of our sorrows... and I dare say that all disorders that ever happen'd in the world, or do happen in this our time, spring from the same source." Most of us shall be pleased to hear that the penis "ought not, generally speaking, to be above 6 or 7 inches." It is confirmed that "men with big noses have also stout members," but it is unfortunate for them that "well-hung men are the greatest blockheads, and the most stupid of mankind."

Ladies who have difficulty locating theirs may be baffled to read that the clitoris, which "lascivious women often abuse," is "longer more or less than half a finger." Furthermore, some women are "taken to be men, by reason of the length and bigness of their clitoris." (It must be kept in mind that Dr. Venette also claims to have witnessed one Mlle. L—lay "about 200 balls or little white eggs without shells.")

As concerns the deed itself, we are told that, though the "mouth to mouth" posture is most popular, "the most natural position" is that in which milady "is upon all fours." We are advised not to let her get on top, for "man, according to the laws of nature, ought to have the empire over the woman." We are also warned that when a woman conceives lying on her side, her "children become dwarfs, cripples, hunch-back'd, squint-ey'd, and stupid blockheads." (Similarly, "Children engendered in the month of May are for the most part fools and blockheads.")

Women are apprised of helpful hints to improve their love lives. "The vapour of vinegar, wherein a piece of red-hot iron, or a well-baked brick is quenched," will do wonders to tighten a well-traveled pussy. "Take forty sheep's-feet, two drachms of spermaceti, two ounces of fresh hog's-lard," begins the recipe for an ointment to remove stretch marks. A method of feigning virginity is even shared: "Might it not be allowable for a woman," the doctor slyly muses, "to secure her husband's good opinion on the wedding night by taking some blood (which she may have treasured up before) and putting it into her privities?" 

The Travails of Sex

A man, of course, encounters his greatest problem when "his privy parts refuse him that obedience they owe." Women are seen as both a cause and a cure, for just as "a woman's ugliness" or the "execrable stink that comes from her body... may render a man impotent," so may "the hand of a pretty woman" do more to stiffen his staff than pulverized crocodile kidneys, tarantula ashes, or other popular remedies.

The doctor discounts many common beliefs—that the begetting of a male can be insured by astrological means; that male eggs issue from the right ovary, female eggs from the left; that leaving a long navel string on a male infant will result in his having a big dick; that impotence can be effected by witchcraft-but he agrees with most men of the 17th century that "women are by far more lascivious and more amorous than men." We are reminded that "the womb of woman is in the number of the insatiable things mention'd in the scriptures; and I cannot tell whether there is anything in the world its greediness may be compar'd unto; neither hell-fire nor the earth being so devouring as the privy parts of a lascivious woman." Indeed, women become so horny at the onset of their monthly flows that "they would in that moment seek out means of satisfying themselves, did not the law of the Old Testament punish those with death that touch them in this condition."

The travails of sex seem to well outnumber the joys. In his final pages, the doctor recalls the case of the boor who, fed up with it all, "cut his instrument clear off with a scythe as he came from field, and flung his privities in his wife's face, to spite and be revenged on her." We modern blockheads can be thankful, plagued though we are by the latter-day witchery of herpes, G spots, and Women Against Cock, that the scythe no longer tempts us as a solution to the mysteries of conjugal love.

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