Media's obsession with sex, celebrity not new

Media's obsession with sex, celebrity not new

The 'Page 3' culture steeped in sex and celebrity gossip started when 'The Sun' began the trend in 1970, but an Oxford historian of Indian-origin says the obsession dates back to more than 200 years.

Faramerz Dabhoiwala, based in the History Faculty at the University of Oxford, cites the example of Kitty Fisher, a famous courtesan in 18th Century England, in a new book titled 'The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution'.

Based on his research, Dabhoiwala says that the apparent liberalisation of sexual attitudes which swept the western world in the 1960s was made possible by developments that began in the 18th Century, a university release said.

Dabhoiwala says: "People like Kitty were the first pin-ups. Celebrities like Kitty not only exploited the media to keep their names at the forefront of our attention but they even had pictures of themselves painted and reproduced in thousands of copies for people to buy".

He adds: "In 1600 almost everyone across the western world took for granted that sex outside marriage was a dangerous and pernicious kind of behaviour that should be stamped out  – in fact the main pressure for change was to penalise adulterers, fornicators and prostitutes even more".

According to Dabhoiwala, the last person to be executed for adultery in England was probably a woman called Susan Bounty, who was hanged in 1654.

In the middle of the 17th Century only about 1 per cent of births took place outside marriage, by 1800 40 per cent of all brides come to the altar pregnant. Dabhoiwala first noticed the change in sexual attitudes during his research into legal sources from the 17th and 18th centuries at Oxford.

He then expanded his research to literary, pictorial and other sources from the period, the release added. Dabhoiwala attributes the first sexual revolution to a changing approach to religion, the collapse of public punishment and the growth of the principle of sexual freedom.

He says: "In the 18th Century the way people understood religious imperatives changed, the text of Bible was not taken so literally and sexual freedom became more compatible with religious belief".

'The change, he says, can also be explained by the growth of major cities and urban living which made the small-scale self-regulation of village communities impossible.

"Sex became much more private and the idea that people could do what they want with their own bodies began to be seriously put forward. Arguments that have developed with increasing strength in our society over the past 50 years were first articulated and made possible in the 18th century by the great intellectual developments of that day", Dabhoiwala says.