5 Historical Figures Who Wrote — Often Graphically — About Their Sex Lives
In case there was any question in your mind: no, the urge to document our sex lives did not begin with dick pics, LiveJournals, or even that book where Madonna got naked and ate a slice of pizza. Human beings have been making sexually explicit art for basically as long as we've been making things, period — archaeologists believe that the oldest visual depictions of sex, which are more than 3,000 years old, can be found in the Xinjiang region of China. We've been storytelling and writing about sex as long as we've been storytelling and writing, too — ancient Greco-Roman mythology can be politely described as a "bang-fest," and the biographical 11th century Japanese novel The Tale of the Genji is considered one of the earliest works of sex writing.
So even though mainstream historical texts often encourage us to view our forefathers as sexless, they were actually as obsessed with humpage as we are today. And many of our most revered cultural figures were not immune to this impulse. Plenty of people whom we grew up believing to be bland and uncontroversial achievers were, in reality, dedicated to detailing their own extramarital affairs, sexual techniques, and intense love of butts. Why did these famous people feel compelled to write about their sex lives? Maybe it was so future generations could see them as complex, messy people who were more than just creators of esteemed cultural works. Or maybe it was just got them off. Either way, the archived sexual writings of these five famous historical figures should give you some comfort the next time you accidentally send a sext to your dermatologist. You could still win a Nobel Prize, damn it!
1. Albert Einstein
A man whose name is literally synonymous with intellect, Einstein did more with his life than just work on the theory of relativity and pose for freewheeling photos that would later become popular college dorm posters. He was also well known for his love of banging. In his youth, peers described Einstein not as the Santa Claus-looking, grandfatherly type we're familiar with, but as a hunk who possessed "the kind of male beauty that, especially at the beginning of the century, caused such a havoc." He was known by his peers for his sexual appetites, which remained in full force throughout both his marriages.
Though his first wife was not interested in sharing Al sexually, his second wife, Elsa, at the very least put up with it — whether they had a polyamorous relationship, or just some other thing going on, appears to be lost to the sands of time. But according to a cache of Einstein's personal correspondence, made public by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2006, he spoke openly about his relationships with other women to Elsa and his children. In a 1931 letter to his daughter, 52-year-old Einstein discussed some of the recent problems he was having with his over-amorous suitors:
"It is true that M. followed me and her chasing after me is getting out of control...I will tell her that she should vanish immediately. Out of all the dames I am in fact attached only to Mrs L. who is absolutely harmless and decent. I don't care what people are saying about me, but for mother and Mrs M. it is better that not every Tom, Dick and Harry gossip about it."
2. H.G. Wells
If you have ever enjoyed a film or book where aliens land on earth and start doing something thoroughly unpleasant, then you've enjoyed the legacy of H.G. Wells. The sci-fi visionary behind books like The War of the Worlds , The Time Machine , The Invisible Man , and others, Wells' work is still being frequently adapted and drawn upon for new films, books, and comics, over a century after most of it was published. But Wells didn't just sit around writing The Island of Dr. Moreau — he also lived on the island of Dr. More-Bone, if you get my drift. Wait, do you get my drift? That was kind of a tortured pun. Sorry. Anyway, my point is: Wells loved to get it on daily and nightly and ever so rightly.
He also loved to write about his exploits. Wells penned a second volume of autobiography, H.G. Wells In Love: Postscript to an Experiment In Autobiography, which focused on his romantic and sexual exploits. He planned to publish the volume after his death (and did — it was released in 2011, nearly 50 years after Wells' 1946 death). What was in there that was so cool that Wells had to write it down, yet too scandalous that he had to wait until everyone involved was dead to publish it? Probably Wells' relaxed and ultra-modern ideas about sex. Wells was known for his progressive views on sexuality, as well as his progressive ideas on women's rights (though he held some notoriously questionable views on other social issues of the day), to the point where women sought him out in order to have an enlightened sexual experience. According to Wells expert David Lodge, Wells slept with over 100 women in his lifetime; according to some peers, Wells' sex appeal was based in the fact that he supposedly smelled like honey. Of his lovers, he said they “had much the same place in my life that fly-fishing or golfing has in the life of many busy men.”
Like Einstein, Wells was open with his wife about the other women in his life, though if this was an equal polyamorous relationship is unclear. The only record we have is what he chose to include in his memoir:
"I have never been able to discover whether my interest in sex is more than normal. There is no meter yet for that sort of thing.”
3. Edith Wharton
The undisputed master of stories about repression and the class system in the Gilded Age, Wharton is often viewed as a sexually buttoned-up product of her era, especially because she lived through one unsuccessful marriage, divorced, and was never formally linked to another partner.
About half of that story was true. In 1885, at the age of 23, Wharton was essentially strong-armed into a society marriage to Edward Wharton, a wealthy and well-born man 12 years older than her with whom she had very little in common. After 20 years of marriage, Edith had an affair with suave journalist Morton Fullerton in 1908, before divorcing her husband in 1913. Wharton's relationship with Morton was not necessarily ideal —by all reports, Fullerton seems like someone you'd try to warn your friends away from. Morton Fullerton was known as something of a hit-it-and-quit-it type, prone to doing the fadeaway for months at a time. Wharton wrote a letter to her friend Henry James about it that will feel familiar to who's sent a series of panicked texts about an MIA lovah:
"Dearest HJ, I beg of you. I urge you to help me. I don't know what's happened to Morton. He's broken my heart with his inability, or perhaps I should say 'refusal,' to answer any of my posts. What could be hampering him? Do you know if he is ill? Or has he found someone else to love? Has he written to you this summer?...I am at wit's end."
Though Fullerton's existence seems to primarily prove that crappy boyfriends are not a modern invention, Wharton scholars believe that the highs and lows of their relationship helped Wharton develop the emotional resonance that she gave 1920's The Age Of Innocence , which went on to become the first novel by a woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.
But like all bad boyfriends, Fullerton's good times were really good. For proof, check out this letter that Wharton wrote to Fullerton at the start of their affair:
“There would have been the making of an accomplished flirt in me, because my lucidity shows me each move of the game – but that, in the same instant, a reaction of contempt makes me sweep all the counters off the board and cry out: – 'Take them all – I don’t want to win – I want to lose everything to you!'”
4. Hans Christian Anderson
Let's not beat around the bush: Anderson — creator of The Little Mermaid, The Emperor's New Clothes, and other classic fairy tales that are now rides at Disneyland — loved to beat around his own bush. And he loved to write about it. He kept detailed notes in his own journal of his masturbatory habits, noting which days he throttled his ugly duckling, and making special notations like "penis sore." Anderson was celibate when it came to sex with partners, but wrote fairly explicitly about his habits and experiences with his own princess and the pea. In 1834, he noted in his journal:
"My blood is hot. Headache; the blood rose into my eyes, and a passion I"ve never known drove me outside — I didn"t know myself where I went, but I...sat on a rock by the sea where the water rose up. The red fire streamed down Vesuvius, and the air didn"t cool me — I burned. When I headed back, two men came along and suggested women. No, no! I cried, and went home, where I soaked my head."
5. James Joyce
Oh, James Joyce. Where would articles about famous people who wrote about their sex lives be without James Joyce? The author of Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake, and overall master of modernist fiction, was also a master of the totally raw sex letter. His letters to his wife Nora, which were published in 1975, long after his 1941 death, basically start at 10 on the smutty scale, and just keep going from there. They were like the Fast and Furious of sexually explicit letters. To begin with just the tip of the iceberg, this is how a 1909 letter from James to Nora began. This is it, for real, from the beginning — no "Hello," no "How's the weather," no "Have you been having any problems with that one gutter that always gets all clogged with leaves":
"My love for you allows me to pray to the spirit of eternal beauty and tenderness mirrored in your eyes or fling you down under me on that softy belly of yours and f*ck you up behind, like a hog riding a sow, glorying in the very stink and sweat that rises from your arse, glorying in the open shape of your upturned dress and white girlish drawers and in the confusion of your flushed cheeks and tangled hair."
I don't want to spoil anything for you, but this is the tame part. If you want to read more about the king of modernist literature's passion for butt play, you can read more of Joyce's sex letters in this online archive.Will all the boob shots archived on your computer ensure that you'll become a noteworthy historical figure? Sadly, no; but as all these cases prove, they definitely won't hold you back. Go get 'em, you smutty tiger, you!Images: Giphy (2), Wikimedia Commons (3)