How Sex Got Screwed Up: The Ghosts that Haunt Our Sexual Pleasure - Book One

From the Stone Age to the Enlightenment

by Jon Knowles

Purchase this book

$ 127
Availability: Available through resellers
currency displayed based on your location
(click here to change currency)

"How Sex Got Screwed Up: The Ghosts That Haunt Our Sexual Pleasure (Book 1.)" by Jon Knowles is a remarkable achievement: an engaging and readable masterpiece about the history of sexuality. It covers a lot of ground beginning with the Stone Age to Victoria to Our Own Time, exploring sexual myths and laws from sources including anthropology, sociology, and philosophy, to reveal the tyranny of religion and politics. Knowles is a gifted storyteller with the unique ability to bring the reader along on his journey “to better understand what makes us so uncomfortable about sex.” Overall, he demonstrates evidence to prove his main theme: despite the eons of oppression, sex in all of its glory “is a positive force with many physical and emotional benefits.”
You may get disconcerted from time to time reading about the overwhelming, punitive powers of those obsessed with making sex a negative and sinful expression of human nature, but I guarantee you will never be bored. Knowles’ keen sense of observation and straightforward prose is often humorous and you are likely to find yourself chuckling at the missteps of those who (still) try to restrain the forces of sexual desire. I highly recommend this book. It is an essential reading for professionals in the field of sexology and the many related fields of cultural anthropology, and social and political science. Knowles research is solid with informative footnotes, appendices, and an extensive bibliography. Actually, it has great appeal to anyone intrigued by the meaning of sexuality and curious to learn more about why we feel and act the way we do about sex.

Carol Cassell Ph.D.
Former president, The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) and health scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The ghosts that haunt our sexual pleasure were born in the Stone Age. Sex and gender taboos were used by tribes to differentiate themselves from one another. These taboos filtered into the lives of Bronze and Iron Age men and women who lived in city-states and empires. For the early Christians, all sex play was turned into sin, instilled with guilt, and punished severely. With the invention of sin came the construction of women as subordinate beings to men.
Despite the birth of romance in the late middle ages, Renaissance churches held inquisitions to seek out and destroy sex sinners, all of whom it saw as heretics. The Age of Reason saw the demise of these inquisitions. But, it was doctors who would take over the roles of priests and ministers as sex became defined by discourses of crime, degeneracy, and sickness.
The middle of the 20th century saw these medical and religious teachings challenged for the first time as activists, such as Alfred Kinsey and Margaret Sanger, sought to carve out a place for sexual freedom in society. However, strong opposition to their beliefs and the growing exploitation of sex by the media at the close of the century would ultimately shape 21st century sexual ambivalence.
Book One of this two-part publication traces the history of sex from the Stone Age to the Enlightenment. Interspersed with ‘personal hauntings’ from his own life and the lives of friends and relatives, Knowles reveals how historical discourses of sex continue to haunt us today. This book is a page-turner in simple and plain language about ‘how sex got screwed up’ for millennia. For Knowles, if we know the history of sex, we can get over it.

Foreword by Beverly Whipple, Rutgers University
Chapter 1 In the Beginning Was the Sex Drive (3,600,000,000 Years Ago – Today)
Chapter 2 The Rise of the Sexual Taboo (Sex from the Stone Age to Today)
Chapter 3 Ziggurats, Pyramids, and the Pentateuch (Monuments to Sexual Slavery in the Near East: 12,000–1,200 BCE)
Chapter 4 The Great Wall (Sex in India and China: 12,000 BCE–1911)
Chapter 5 The Boys Club on the Acropolis (Sex in Greece: 800–310 BCE)
Chapter 6 With the Hearts of Gladiators (Sex in Rome and Its Empire: 500 BCE–100 CE)
Chapter 7 The Anti-Sex Junta that Took Over the World (The Early Christian Opposition to Sex: 1–400)
Chapter 8 Celestial Sex, Terrestrial Sin (Hindu and Christian Views of Sex: 400–750)
Chapter 9 Romance on the Rise (Courtly Love in Europe: 750–1200)
Chapter 10 Déjà Vu All Over Again (Sex as Heresy in Europe: 1100–1600)
Chapter 11 Déjà Vu All Over Again — Part Two (Sex Life in Europe: 1200–1600)
Chapter 12 Beyond the Shadow of the Cross (Sex before Columbus in the New World: 1492–1850)
Chapter 13 Desexing the New World (The Junta Takes Over the Americas: 1500–1830)
Chapter 14 From Sin to Sickness to Going Straight (Gender Transformations in the Old World: 1600–1830)
Chapter 15 Voices of Resistance
(Women Cope with the “Age of Reason”: 1600–1830)
Chapter 16 Getting It On in the Enlightenment (Sex Lives: 1600–1830)

Jon Knowles’s interest in sex and society was crystallized in 1981 with the onset of the AIDS pandemic. Knowles formed part of the initial group of people trained by Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) to care for people living with AIDs in New York City. For 13 years Knowles witnessed first-hand the pain and suffering caused by individual and societal fears of sex and sexuality.
In 1983, he got a position as a temp with Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). Owing to his invaluable experience and knowledge of AIDs, he was later offered a full-time position as PPFA’s sexual health writer. During his 30 years at PPFA, Knowles contributed greatly to its print and online media presence.
In 1994, Knowles joined the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) to supplement his knowledge about sex and sexuality. Through GMHC, PPFA, and SSSS, he heard thousands of stories about how people cope with their sexuality and their sex lives. In his research, Knowles looked to find answers to the questions: Why health professionals saw sexuality mostly as a risk behavior? Why most people seemed ambiguous about their sex lives? And why the increasingly powerful, conservative right was so negative about human sexuality? After 22 years of research, his answers are in this book.

beauty / body image: fashion, hygiene; child sexuality: adolescence, child sex abuse, child sex play, incest, pedophilia; custom: advertising, censorship, crusades, inquisitions, law, media, religion, sexual rights, tribe; family: parenting, primogeniture, sex education; family planning: abandonment, abortion, birth control, castration, eugenics, infanticide; fantasy: porn / erotica, myth, sexual desire, spells, wet dreams; going without sex: inquisitions, monasticism, virginity; gender / gender role: cross-dressing, hijra, intersex, intimate partner violence, men, patriarchy, transgender, transsexuals, transvestites, women, women’s rights; pair bonding: concubines, courting / dating / hooking up, courtly love, jealousy, love, marriage / divorce, legitimacy, monogamy, passionate friendship / spiritual love, polyamory, polyandry, polygyny, romance, same-sex marriage; race: mixed-race sex, slavery reproduction: childbirth, fertility, menstruation; sex crime: conformity / nonconformity, bestiality, guilt / penance, rape, recovered memory, satanic ritual abuse, sex panics, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, shame, witchcraft / heresy; sex play: anal sex, aphrodisiacs, B & D, coitus, cybersex, double standard, kink, oral sex, orgasm, mixed-sex sex, paraphilia, same-sex sex, S & M, sex toys, sexual pleasure, solo sex; sex work: B-girls, burlesque, call girls, courtesans, hetairai, children, men, sex tourism, stripping, temple harlots, women; sexual health: safer sex, sex infections, sexual function / dysfunction, plagues; sexual orientation: gay, bisexual, lesbian, rights, straight

Bibliographic Information

Book Title

How Sex Got Screwed Up: The Ghosts that Haunt Our Sexual Pleasure - Book One

Book Subtitle

From the Stone Age to the Enlightenment





Number of pages


Physical size



54 B&W

Publication date

June 2019