The Poisoned Embrace: A Brief History of Sexual Pessimism

Lawrence Osborne, Author Pantheon Books $21 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-42723-0
Defining sexual pessimism as the ``equation of sexual love outside the prerequisites of reproduction with death,'' and musing that it may be ``Catholicism's most eccentric trait,'' Osborne ( Paris Dreambook ) offers a thoughtful, sometimes elegant and somewhat selective history of this theological tenet. Exploring folklore, church writings and history, he traces the source of sex hatred to the cult of Gnosticism. Osborne examines the role of sexual pessimism in the development of the Virgin myth, witch hatred during the Inquisition, 19th-century images of the Jew as sexual predator and archetypes involving lepers, Don Juans, Orientals and Androgynes. He concludes with a look at examples of modern ``sexual optimism'' in early Soviet communism's promotion of free love and the veneration of fertility in German Nazism, both of which degenerated into blends of promiscuity and puritanism. He does not extend his analysis into the effect of AIDS on views of sex today. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/04/1993
Release date: 10/01/1993
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