GBLT


Charles Dance stars as Jack Wolfenden in this drama by Julian Mitchell which tells the human story behind the so-called Wolfenden report.

Fifty years ago, a Home Office committee chaired by Wolfenden, then vice-chancellor of Reading University, recommended the decriminalization of homosexuality. But behind the scenes of what was to become a turning point in British social history, there was an even more extraordinary story. Jack’s son Jeremy, then a brilliant undergraduate at Oxford, was himself gay, something his father could not bring himself to acknowledge.

From the corridors of power in Whitehall to the squalid public toilets of a Reading park, this is a story of fathers and sons, ambition and prejudice, gentlemen and players. Also starring Sean Biggerstaff, Samantha Bond, Haydn Gwynne and Mel Smith.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b007y9gx/Consenting_Adults/ (sadly only available to the UK, but well worth seeking out on DVD.)

Consenting Adults is a BBC Production which was made in 2007, and for some reason I’ve completely missed until yesterday. Just over an hour long, it’s an absolute must for anyone who has any interest at all in gay history.

It’s a simple enough story–pretty much based entirely on true facts–which relates the reasons for the instigation of the famous “Wolfenden Report”  (more correctly known as “Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (1957″)

You’d think that a story of a dry committee, sitting for months and discussing this subject would be incredibly dry as televisual matter, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. As often happens, truth is stranger than fiction and the work done on the report is brought into sharp focus as we discover that Jeremy Wolfenden, the son of John Wolfenden who headed up the report, is homosexual. The relationship between father and son is hugely typical of that time and place – the young  man much more confident and striding (or at least on the outside) and desperate for father’s approval and attention–and neither man able even to touch each other in friendship. Wolfenden senior tells Jeremy that he’d better stay away from home while the enquiry is on.

I learned something too–like many many people I’d been pronouncing it homo (as in go go) when it should be pronounced homo (to rhyme with dom-oh) because it’s from the greek which means “same” and not the latin which means “man.” Coo, the things you learn off the telly, eh?

The Report had been commissioned to see if any changes in the law were required, not only in homosexual cases, but in the matter of prostitution, as street prostitution was increasing, causing more people to be arrested, which hit the newspapers, creating moral outrage. With homosexuality, more and more men were being arrested for sodomy, attempted sodomy, public indecency and other acts under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 –which had not been altered since the infamous Labouchere Amendment of 1885–making every homosexual act illegal, in private or no. The Labouchere Amendment had created “A Blackmailers Charter” and because men were turning each other in through fear, or, when they were arrested themselves, their phone books were finding many other men of the same inclination.

It seemed to the public at large that homosexuality was increasing in huge leaps and bounds, whereas it was simply the law, and enthusiastic police regimes which were causing the perceived growth. More and more public figures were thrown into the spotlight, having been arrested for “public indecency.”  Oscar Wilde was famously the first, but many others followed, and in the fifties, famous cases were splattered all over the headlines.

Sir John Gielgud

In 1953, Sir John Gielgud, was arrested after trying to pick up a man in a public toilet who turned out to be an undercover policeman. He was found guilty of “persistently importuning for immoral purposes.

In 1954, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, then a 28-year-old socialite and the youngest peer in the House of Lords, was jailed for a year, on a charge he has always denied. He was convicted along with the Daily Mail journalist Peter Wildeblood and the Dorset landowner Michael Pitt-Rivers in a sensational case that made headlines around the world. It is thought today that these three arrests, following on from Geilgud’s cottaging scandal,

Peter Wildeblood

brought about the instigation of the Report.

(For additional viewing, the tale of Peter Wildeblood and Lord Montagu’s trial is told in a 2007 Channel 4 drama-documentary, A Very British Sex Scandal.)

What I found fascinating was the people who were elected to be on the Report’s Committee.  Certainly at first glance, these people seem to be the very worst of those that could have been chosen. MPs, the leader of the Girl Guides, Church leaders, psychiatrists and doctors. If you’d asked me to bet (were I to live in that time) I would certainly have said that the law would have been strengthened, not lessened, but perhaps it goes to show that even I shouldn’t take things on face value.

This committee, despite most of them being revolted by homosexuality, voted almost unanimously (James Adair, former Procurator-Fiscal for Glasgow being the only objectee) to change the law in England and Wales, that as long as homosexual behaviour was behind closed doors, between Consenting Adults (over 21 at the time, although the age of consent was eventually lowered to today’s 16) then it should not be an offence.  The law did not take into account the Merchant Navy or the Armed Forces, an oversight that has caused much grief, and one that was only righted very recently.

Sadly, and Laird’s reaction was an omen of this, Scotland and Northern Ireland did not take the crime of homosexuality off their statute books until 1980 and 1982 respectively. And it has to be said – even England did not race to take on board the recommendations of the Report, and it took a good ten years for the recommendations in the Report to become law with the new Sexual Offences Act 1967.

Wolfenden’s son, Jeremy, was a startlingly intelligent young man and was approached for recruitment as a spy by the Secret Intelligence Service whilst he was doing his National Service. It is stated in the film that they knew he was “queer” – and it’s more than probable that they did. He eventually accepted their offer and went to Moscow, but his drinking eventually killed him. He was found dead in his bath at the age of 31. It is suspected that he died of suspicious causes, particularly as was playing a dangerous double game between MI6 and the KGB, that he became friends with Guy Burgess (infamous defector and fellow homosexual) whilst in Russia, and that he had been a victim of attempted blackmail after pictures were taken of him in bed with a Russian man.

What is particuarly poignant about the film is that it does not shy away from the fact that prosecutions continued vigourously up to and after the Report. Sodomy could result in life imprisonment, attempted sodomy in ten years. There are two particular stories in the film which show how sad and desperate men’s lives were in the era. Highly recommended.

China has a long history of tolerance towards homosexuality, beginning from the first references to same-sex relationships in the records of the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th centuries BC) and ending (after a rather shaky period from 1740 onwards) with the persecution of homosexuals during the Cultural Revolution. That’s over three thousand years of a society that occasionally celebrated same-sex love, occasionally denigrated it, but more often than not, just let people get on with it.

In typical elliptic style—because direct talk of sexual matters was considered unbelievably vulgar—Chinese literature referenced homosexual acts by means of phrases such as ‘cut sleeve’, ‘bitten peach’, or by name-dropping gay historical figures. The most famous stories are of Mi Zi Xia and his royal lover, Duke Ling of Wei, who shared a peach (yutao, ‘leftover peach’); and Emperor Ai, who cut off his sleeve to avoid disturbing his sleeping lover Dong Xian, which created a court trend whereby everyone went around cutting their sleeves (duanxiu, ‘breaking the sleeve’).

Qu Yuan, an admired poet of the Warring States period (340-278 BC), wrote poems to his lover, the King of Chu. Historical documents such as Sima Qian’s Memoirs of the Historian and the exhaustive dynastic records of the Han dynasty list scores of male favourites of the ruling monarchs. Throughout the Western Han dynasty (206 BC-23 AD), ten of the thirteen emperors took male lovers in addition to the necessary wives and concubines. Sima Qian wrote that the male favourites were often admired more for their skills in war, administration, or cultural pursuits than for their beauty.


My favourite of the Western Han emperors, Han WuDi (‘the Martial Emperor’)—or Liu Che, to give him his real name—was one of these ‘bisexual’ emperors. Liu Che liked to keep things within family units, too—his male lovers included an uncle and nephew, plus the famous musician Li Yan Nian and Yan Nian’s sister, Lady Li. My novella Fall of a State (available now from Dreamspinner Press) is a somewhat fluffy version of the relationship between Liu Che and his musician. Li Yan Nian is credited with writing the ‘Northern Beauty’ song (a version of which appears in the film House of Flying Daggers when Zhang ZiYi performs for Takeshi Kaneshiro), which—due to the Chinese language having no gender for its nouns and pronouns—means the Beauty could refer equally to a man or a woman. In my story, it does both.

During the period of disunion (265-589), in which six separate dynasties ruled and overlapped, the historians of the Liu Song dynasty record that homosexuality was as common as heterosexuality:

“All the gentlemen and officials esteemed it. All men in the realm followed this fashion to the extent that husbands and wives were estranged. Resentful unmarried women became jealous.”

Efforts were made during the Tang dynasty (618-907) to restore more of a ‘traditional’ moral order. Somewhat ironically, the first Crown Prince of the dynasty, Li Chen Qian, was gay. He was later removed from succession, though not for that reason.

By the time of the Song dynasty (960-1279), an increase in urbanisation and the introduction of paper money caused a growth in prostitution. A law was passed against male prostitution, but it seemed not to have been enforced with any rigour. The merchant classes, suddenly given a voice in the historical and literary records, had money to spend and lusts to fulfil. With their respectable wives raising families at home, the merchants went out partying with pretty young sing-song boys.

[Rest of the post cut because of explicit historical erotic images - NSFW!] (more…)

Posted by Erastes

I’m proud to introduce you to Last Gasp – a four novella anthology of gay historical romance published by Noble Romance.

The book is available as an ebook at the moment, but will be out in print at some point, if not this year, definitely next.

When Noble Romance approached me about collating a gay historical anthology I was a little stumped, I knew I needed a theme but wasn’t sure what. Chris Smith suggested “civilisations on the brink of change–a last gasp kind of idea” which I knew was perfect.

The stories I had submitted — particularly the three I chose to accompany mine — surprised me. I was expecting the obvious “lost civilisations” like the Incas or the Deep South pre the American Civil War, but I didn’t get those.  After all, I suppose all civilisations are lost, aren’t they?

Still, I think you will enjoy the stories–they are all from eras and places on the globe that haven’t been dealt with before: Syria in the Edwardian era, the Yukon Gold Rush in 1898, Hong Kong’s first Opium war in the 1830’s, and Italy between the two world wars.

Here’s the blurbs of the stories:

Tributary by Erastes

It’s 1936 and a generation of disaffected youth waits in the space between a war that destroyed many of their friends and family, and a war they know is bound to come. Guy Mason wanders through Italy, bored and restless for reasons he can’t even name, and stops at the Hotel Vista, high in the mountains of Lombardy. There, he meets scientist James Calloway and his secretary, Louis Chambers, and it’s there that the meandering stream of Guy’s life changes course forever.

The White Empire by Chris Smith

Edgar Vaughan sincerely believes that six-thousand miles is enough to give him a fresh start. Escaping in 1838 from the drawing rooms of Belgravia and the constraints of his landed family, he takes up missionary work in the trading post of Hong Kong. On arrival, he finds the region on the cusp of war; the Chinese Emperor has outlawed the importation of opium — the key link in the trade of the East India Company. Between Edgar’s sense of isolation, the sight of the puling opium addicts, and one memorable encounter with a man in a peacock waistcoat, Edgar finds himself embroiled in the very marrow of the British Empire’s machinations. He finds himself torn between espousing the expeditious whilst protecting his new acquaintance, and doing what is right and risking the wrath of the British Empire.

Sand by Charlie Cochrane

“Safe upon solid rock the ugly houses stand: Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand.”

People come to Syria for many reasons; tourism, archaeology, or because they need to leave Edwardian England to escape potential disgrace. Andrew Parks is one of those, burying past heartache and scandal among the tombs.

Charles Cusiter has travelled here as well, as chaperone to a friend whose fondness for the opposite sex gets him into too much trouble at home. Out in the desert there aren’t any women to turn Bernard’s head – just the ubiquitous sand.

The desert works its magic on Charles, softening his heart and drawing him towards Andrew. Not even a potentially fatal scorpion sting can overcome the power this strange land exerts.

The Ninth Language by Jordan Taylor

Thousands of outsiders descend on Canada’s Yukon Territory during the 1898 gold rush, wreaking havoc on the landscape and the indigenous people who live there. Amid the backdrop of this once pristine land, a man struggling against the destruction of his home and culture finds himself indebted to one of the men causing it. These two strangers discover solace and wholeness where they least expect it: each other.

Want to know more? All four authors will be over at the Speak Its Name yahoo group today, sharing excerpts doing giveaways, asking questions and answering any questions you may have! We’ll also be offering a giveaway of the anthology during the chat – but I’ll also offer one here, to one commenter.  All you need to do is comment and I’ll announce the winner in 24 hours.

Hope to see you at the chat later – starts at 12 noon UK time!

TOP FACTS

* Sadly not yet published by Mills and Boon.
* Covers. Started naff – getting better all the time.

* Many buttons
* Interesting lube possibilities
IN A NUTSHELL

* There’s not enough of it, for a start.
* Some Gay Historicals address the very real problems of being gay in a time when it wasn’t just unacceptable, it was reviled and illegal. (Basically after Christianity kicked in) However, there were times when man on man love wasn’t just acceptable, it was a normal part of everyday life. (Οι Έλληνες είχαν μια λέξη για το έργο)
* Thankfully, due to pronouns they are not called things like “The Mediterranean Tycoon’s Depraved Heiress” (With thanks to the Random Romance Title Generator)

THE HEROES

Not too different from the heroes in other historical romances. They are generally aristocratic (tall and handsome goes without saying – plus they are ALWAYS – always hung like horses, this is the law.)

So, create your character: Rich? check. Commanding? check. Handsome? check. Cock of unusual size?  Check and double check.
OK, you can stop checking now. Hello! Stop checking!

THE, er,  OTHER HEROES

Now here you can play around a little. You can either make your other hero a match for your arrogant alpha in every sense of the word (and sit back and watch those sparks fly and those buttons go flying (gotta have flying buttons, more later) OR you can create a sensitive little soul. A downtrodden artist, perhaps, or an impoverished tutor. A kidnapped sex slave or an abused and rescued young man. As long as you get a vast gulf between your alpha and your omega, it doesn’t really matter. Any excuse to make that boy cry his little heart out because the rough tough alpha doesn’t know how to handle him. Or rather – he doesn’t know how to handle his feelings – he knows how to handle him all right. (hur hur)

The important thing is the desecration of innocence™ – but don’t worry. No matter how nasty the alpha is, your sensitive soul will fall in love with him as he tops from the bottom.

THE BEST THING ABOUT WRITING GAY HISTORICALS
* Buttons. Oh GOD the buttons. I’ve coined the term breeches ripper before, but for me waistcoat ripping is far more exciting. Also cravats. You can have a LOT of fun with cravats.
* UST. (No, no, not there, Unresolved Sexual Tension. Buckets and buckets of it. “I’m homosexual!++ Argh! God he’s pretty. I wonder if he’s homosexual too? How can I let him know? What if he’s not? All right… so he is – he’s sleeping with Lord [Whossit] – how can I get him?”A writer of gay historicals have immense fun torturing her characters – making every glance count, and when one’s passing the port (to the left, of course) at dinner, fingertips are just bound to brush against each other.
* It’s much easier to get men together on a day-to-day basis. Whereas a hetero historical writer will have to write about dances, and chaperones and perhaps elopements men can simply hang out with each other, ride in each other’s carriages (and no, that’s not a euphemism!) without anyone fainting or ruining anyone’s reputation. Of course it’s pretty difficult to get them into sexual situation, but that’s another post…
*I think I may have already mentioned buttons…
THE BEST THING ABOUT READING GAY HISTORICALS

* Buttons! Ok, Is it just me and the buttons?
* Appreciating that the author knows exactly what the difference is between a sailor’s whipping and a double fisherman but that you don’t need to know anything as silly as long as the hero gets tied up.
* Sponge baths.
* Cocks! (sorry, but it did have to be said.) Lots of ‘em. Members, yards, rods, poles, perches, arbor vitae, gaying instrument. (yes, really.)

TOP TIP: beige…biscuit…blasé bleeding anachronisms

Check check check. You may think that it’s all right to say your hero’s breeches are beige but it wasn’t so and any eagle eyed reader will Mock You. They will, however realise if you are trying and make a small slip-up, but they won’t appreciate sloppy (or no) research, modern day speech patterns and contemporary men in fancy dress.

WHAT NOT TO SAY

* “Where’s the lube?”
* He climaxed, spunk spurting over his fingers.
* “I want to fuck his sweet hairy ass.”

WHAT TO SAY

* “Spit, and have done, man.” (other lubricants are available…)
* GOOD LORD, SHAG HIM ALREADY!
* I’m learning something! Oooo… cocks….

Over to you…

* What gay historicals would you like to see?
* What cliches are you sick of?
* Do you want better covers?
* Anything else?



++homosexual is also anachronistic until the early 20th century, too.

(Previously published on Lust Bites)

I don’t mean the kind of fanfic that many of us have written in our time, the sort of fanfic in ‘zines and online where we aren’t making any money.

But the rash of fanfic that seems to be sprouting like mushrooms, particularly in the historical novel sections of bookshops.

Following successful sequels and prequels such as Scarlett and Wide Sargasso Sea, and the courts allowing sequels of Les Miserables,  a bandwagon has been cobbled together, people have leapt on it, and now we have derivative works/pastiches/call them what you will, all over the place.

Just look at this list of Austen “inspired” fiction. It’s staggering.  Now I know that Austen lovers hoover this kind of thing up, but what what do you think?

On a purely personal level, it gets me rather hot under the collar.  Most of the writers I know are slaving away with their books, sweating over plot, screaming when their own original characters misbehave, tearing their hair out over locations.  And then there’s THIS stuff.  Which is a bit of a cheat, imho.  Having written fanfic, I know how much easier it is.  I used to write Harry Potter fanfic and compared with original fiction it’s so much easier.  Want to know what your characters are wearing? No problems, JK Rowling has already given you the styles that were around.  Want to know what your characters look like?  No problems – the description is already there.  Want your character to travel from A to B? No worries, there are many devices. Just choose one. Floo, broomstick, apparating, and so on.  The writer doesn’t have to work a fraction as hard as the original writer because they are simply piggybacking on what’s already in place.

Now we have the Austen-horror sub-genre, which seemed to have started as a bit of a giggle, and now we have everyone writing it as fast as they can.

I can’t help but feel, why do I bother?

What inspired this rant?

THIS.  James Fairfax by Jane Austen!!!  and Adam Campan which is (as far as I know) the first gay Austen inspired novel.

Apparently, it has caused a bit of a flurry in the Austen plagiarist inspired writers’ camp because NO NO NO we can’t have homos in Austen-Land.  I don’t know where this kerfuffle is occurring however. Hayden Thorne pointed the book out to me and said that there has been an adverse reaction to it.  If it portrays gay marriage, then I’m not surprised, though.

I find myself very conflicted.  On one hand of course I’m pleased that there’s another gay historical, but on the other (and this hand is weightier) I feel that – gah! – if you are going to the trouble of writing it – make it original.

Lots of people write fanfic of original works, and the classics are very popular. Here’s a few figures (courtesy of Tracey Pennington) to show how popular they are on FanFiction Net.

Jane Eyre 166.
Wuthering Heights– 59
Les Miserables –1,771
Count of Monte Cristo–24
Of Mice and Men–66
Hunchback of Notre Dame–239.

Fanfic is fine. Fanfic is great!  I loved writing it.  I’m not saying for one minute that fanfic can’t be creative, but the one tenet that was dinned into my head was “you don’t make a profit from fanfic. You do not make a profit from OTHER PEOPLE’S WORK.” The best place for fanfic is in fanfic forums. Not on Amazon.

For me, whether it’s in copyright or not doesn’t come into it.  I had a great idea for one of Shakespeare’s plays and I really really wanted to write it, but I can’t now.  I just can’t.

After all – Lord of the Rings is out of copyright in a year or two. There are over 40,000 stories on FFN for that fandom.  What will we see in a couple of years?  Aragorn, Legolas and the Zombies?  The Haunted Hobbits?

Where does it end?

Join us starting Tuesday at Speak Its Name http://groups. yahoo.com/ group/SpeakItsN ame/ for a celebration of the relaunch of some popular m/m historical titles and a sneak preview of a new m/m historical anthology. We’ll have interviews, chats, excerpts, and prizes!

covers

Cheyenne Publications, a small GLBT-oriented press helmed by publisher and author Mark Probst, will be publishing the print versions of Erastes’ Frost Fair, Lee Rowan’s own Royal Navy series (formerly the Articles of War series), and Speak its Name, a trilogy that includes Charlie Cochrane’s first published work, Aftermath, Erastes’ Hard and Fast and Lee Rowan’s Gentleman’s Gentleman.

Leslie Nichol, head of Bristlecone Pine Press, will handle the e-book editions.  Frost Fair, Ransom and Winds of Change are available as ebook versions in all the normal places. Both publishers will be on hand to answer questions, so if you have questions about the nuts-and-bolts, here’s your chance!

Tuesday: Publisher interviews, Author chats with Erastes and Lee Rowan and excerpts from the three releases: Frost Fair, Ransom, and Winds of Change.

Wednesday:
Spotlights on Eye of the Storm and Speak Its Name Trilogy, coming September 14 and October 26.

Friday: What else is coming from Cheyenne Publishing and Bristlecone Pine Press — Hidden Conflict: Tales of Lost Voices from Battle.

* * * *

The lineup from Cheyenne and BCPP (and yes, print and e-books on the same schedule!)

August 1, 2009: Frost Fair, Ransom and Winds of Change (Royal Navy series)

September 14, 2009 Eye of the Storm (Royal Navy series)

October 26 2009 Speak Its Name Trilogy

November 11: Hidden Conflict: Tales of Lost Voices from Battle

December 7, 2009 Walking Wounded

January 1, 2010 Home is the Sailor (NEW Royal Navy novel!)

March 1, 2010 Sail Away (anthology, Royal Navy series)

If you’re not a member of Speak Its Name, all you have to do is request membership —  it’s invite-only to keep out the porno spammers.  (And hey, how many of us really want or need to enhance our male members or look at grainy pictures of ‘slutty housewives’? )

See you there!

by: Leslie H. Nicoll

We live in the age of safer sex. Men who are sexually active are encouraged to wear condoms to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS. Contemporary erotic authors, in an effort to respond to current social and sexual mores, generally have their characters use condoms appropriately or if they don’t, include an explanation as to why not and comment on the risk they are taking by not doing so. But stories that take place prior to the emergence and identification of the human immunodeficiency virus generally do not include condom use. If the author of a historical fiction story wanted to include characters using condoms, would it be anachronistic? Based on my recent research, probably not.

There is evidence that condoms were used by early Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. While some speculate that Egyptian men wore a type of penis sheath or sack to prevent against sunburn and bug bites, others have found artifacts of sheaths made from animal intestines or bladders. They were so small and covered such a small portion of the penis that they could not have been used for protection from sweat and sun and thus must have been used during sex.

Hippocrates, the Greek father of modern medicine, had some understanding that conception involved both the man and the woman. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that the man’s semen was what produced an embryo; the woman was just a receptacle. Even so, both men wrote that birth control was the woman’s responsibility. Despite their advice, there were Greek men who chose to practice birth control on their own. Ancient writings discuss intercourse “not according to custom,” which might mean coitus interuptus or anal intercourse. But there is also evidence that men used animal intestine condoms, similar to the Egyptians, as a birth control device, too. Given that Greek society was sexually permissive, it makes sense that men would take some responsibility for contraception – especially those men who chose to consort with women of lower ranks or slaves.

The Romans also used condoms for contraception but it is in their writings that the notion of sexually transmitted disease prevention comes up for the first time. Soldiers recognized different types of infections and realized they were likely getting them from the prostitutes and “comfort women” (usually captives) who traveled with the legions. Soldiers lumped all such diseases together under the term Mount Vesuvius’s Rash. Legions kept herds of goats for milk and meat and the soldiers used the bladders and intestines as penis sheaths – a technique they might have learned from their enemies, the Greeks.

Except for the one little blip with the Romans, condoms were used primarily for birth control for the next 1800 years or so – and in agrarian societies that valued large families with children as workers, birth control wasn’t particularly desired, period. Much of the knowledge about condom materials and use that had been passed around among the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans was forgotten during the dark and middle ages.

Figure 1. An ancient condom, oldest in the world. This reusable condom is from 1640 and is completely intact, as is its original users' manual, written in Latin. The manual suggests that users immerse the condom in warm milk prior to its use to avoid diseases. The antique, found in Lund in Sweden, is made of pig intestine.

Figure 1. An ancient condom, oldest in the world. This reusable condom is from 1640 and is completely intact, as is its original users' manual, written in Latin. The manual suggests that users immerse the condom in warm milk prior to its use to avoid diseases. The antique, found in Lund in Sweden, is made of pig intestine.

Then, in 1495, the first widespread epidemic of a sexually transmitted disease occurred. Called at first “the Great pox,” to differentiate it from smallpox, syphilis was named by Girolamo Fracastoro in his epic poem, written in Latin, entitled Syphilis sive morbus gallicus (Latin for “Syphilis or The French Disease”) in 1530. Until that time, as Fracastoro notes, syphilis had been called the “French disease” in Italy and Germany, and the “Italian disease” in France. It is not clear where Fracastoro got the name of his main character, the afflicted shepherd, Syphylus, from which the name syphilis emerged. Some think he borrowed it from Sipylus, a character in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, while others think he made it up. Whatever the source, the name seems to have caught on because it did not identify any one group, country, or culture as being the source of the scourge.

Figure 1. A page from De Morbo Gallico (The French Disease), Gabriele Fallopio's treatise on syphilis. Published in 1564, it describes what is possibly the first use of condoms for disease prevention in modern times.

Figure 2. A page from De Morbo Gallico (The French Disease), Gabriele Fallopio's treatise on syphilis. Published in 1564, it describes what is possibly the first use of condoms for disease prevention in modern times.

“Treatments,” none of which were very effective, abounded but it wasn’t until 1564 that anyone put forth the notion of disease prevention. Gabriello Fallopio wrote a treatise on syphilis and in it, he described the first modern condom. He claimed to have invented it which is understandable, given the fact that all prior condom knowledge was buried in ancient texts that Fallopio likely did not have access to. As an aside, if Fallopio’s name looks familiar, that is because he was an anatomist and is credited with identifying and naming the Fallopian tube.

Fallopio’s condom was linen, tied to the glans of the penis with a pink ribbon. His instructions were precise: prior to intercourse, a man should wash his genitals, then tie the linen over the glans, drawing the prepuce forward. He should then moisten the linen with saliva or lotion. Fallopio claimed to have tested his condom with 1100 men, not one of whom became infected with syphilis. To further prevent infection, Fallopio soaked the condom in a chemical solution which also acted as a spermicide. Thus his invention had a dual role: disease prevention and contraception.

From Fallopio’s writing, condom use spread. In addition to linen, condoms during the Renaissance were made out of intestines and bladder, same as in ancient times. In the late 15th century, Dutch traders introduced condoms made from “fine leather” to Japan. Unlike the horn condoms used previously, these leather condoms covered the entire penis.

Figure 2. Casanova entertained his women by blowing up his "English overcoats" like balloons.

Figure 3. Casanova entertained his women by blowing up his "English overcoats" like balloons.

From at least the 18th century, condom use has been opposed in legal, religious, and medical circles for essentially the same reasons that are given today: condoms reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, which some believe is immoral or undesirable; they do not provide full protection against sexually transmitted infections, but at the same time, belief in their protective powers was thought to encourage sexual promiscuity; and they are not used consistently due to inconvenience, expense, or loss of sensation.

Despite this opposition, the condom market grew rapidly. In the 18th century, condoms were available in a variety of qualities and sizes, made from either linen treated with chemicals, or “skin” (bladder or intestine softened by treatment with sulphur and lye). They were sold at pubs, barbershops, chemist shops, open-air markets, and at theaters throughout Europe and Russia. They later spread to America, although in every place they were generally used only by the middle and upper classes, due to both expense and lack of sexual education. In the US, fine “French letters” and other imported condoms were always preferred, even after “the rubber” was invented by Goodyear in the 1850s. In London, “condon hawkers” were a common sight, especially in St. James’s Park, Spring Garden, and the Pall Mall, all known spots for illicit assignations between men and women, and men and prostitutes, both male and female.

What about men who were having sex with men? Were they using condoms? Present day experts contend that they were not used by gay men until the 1950s and then only as a sex toy; however, poetry from the past contradicts this. Besides, if people understood that sexual intimacy led to infection, it wasn’t much of leap for men to realize that if they could infect their female partners, they could just as easily infect their male partners, too. As an example, the following excerpt is from the poem, Almonds for Parrots, written anonymously in 1708. While it was meant to be a satire about sex, it does give a hint about condom use by men having homosexual relations:

But Art surpasses Nature; and we find
Men may be transform’d into Woman-kind.
O happy Change! But far more wond’rous Skill!
That curse’s Loves Wounds, without the Doctor’s Pill:
Anticipates ev’n Condon’s secret Art,
At first invented to secure the Part.

Writing a sex scene that includes condom use can be a challenge for an author; putting one on is a somewhat clinical act that can interrupt the flow and passion of the moment. (People make the same argument about using them in real life but to that, the best advice is: figure it out.) Historical authors have more free rein to ignore and skip the issue altogether. But if a daring author wanted to have a male character cover his “lovely manhood” with a linen sheath and tie it with a pink ribbon, as a way to protect his lover from disease, evidence suggests this would not be an unheard of action and in fact, may be more common than previously thought.

Leslie H. Nicoll is the owner of Maine Desk LLC, an editorial writing and consulting business located in Portland, Maine. She is also the Publisher for Bristlecone Pine Press, an ebook publishing imprint and subsidiary of her business. While she desires to write fiction, she seems to have more success in the non-fiction world. Her latest books (both 2008) are The Editor’s Handbook, co-authored with Margaret Freda and published by Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins and The Amazon Kindle FAQ, co-authored with Joshua Tallent and DeLancey Nicoll and published by Bristlecone. For more, please visit http://www.mainedesk.com and http://www.bcpinepress.com.

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