It was generally assumed that while it was “natural” for men to pursue sexual opportunity, women were instinctively more virtuous (in complete contrast with the prior belief that women were the more uncontrollably lustful sex).Thus women were seen as vulnerable to male seduction, particularly by unscrupulous rakes who plotted with bawds to ensnare the innocent.Samuel Johnson, a high Tory Anglican, spoke for many in 1750 when he opined that “every man should regulate his actions by his own conscience”.His close friend and amanuensis, James Boswell, chronicled his own frequent encounters with whores and musings on polygamy with little show of guilt.Buy from Amazon.com, uk FOR much of the last millennium Europeans lived under sex laws that would have won the approval of the most austere mullah.In England between the 13th and 16th centuries, extramarital sex was policed with such energy that up to 90% of the litigation handled by church courts was about combating fornication, adultery, sodomy and prostitution. When the Reformation got going in the mid-16th century, the zeal for rooting out illicit sex went up another notch.It was partly rooted in religion and the looming threat of hellfire.It was also a product of patriarchal attitudes that saw women as the property of fathers or husbands.
Sexual liberation was largely confined to the ranks of well-to-do chaps.
Exploration also had an influence, as travellers returned with tales of very different sexual cultures.
But the key driver, Mr Dabhoiwala believes, was the spread of religious tolerance and nonconformity, which eroded the church's authority and let people define morality more personally.
William Hogarth's 1732 engravings of “The Harlot's Progress” were wildly popular, as were Samuel Richardson's moralising novels, “Pamela” and “Clarissa”.
The number of prostitutes in London grew exponentially, but they came to be regarded less as wicked sirens and more as victims of men's carnal appetites who deserved not punishment but pity—and, when possible, salvation and reform by charitable institutions.