Some argue that the first novel was The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatan) written by an 11th century Japanese noblewoman called Murasaki Shikibu. It has been praised as a book of great subtlety and psychological insight. Yet it is also porn. It was written as a series of installments and read to the women of the court to entertain and to titillate. Some of the detail is quite shocking. One of the major plot lines involves Genji’s attraction to a beautiful 10 year-old girl who bears the same name as the author, Murasaki. He kidnaps her to train her as his ideal companion and he consummates their relationship when she is just 12. In another scene he seduces a boy of 12. And all this written by a woman to amuse other women.

The Tale of Genji is regarded as a classic of Japanese literature – the Japanese Shakespeare – and it had an enormous impact on the Japanese erotic imagination, inspiring a substantial body of erotic literature and of course, art, even to this day.

Erotic netsuke

But we need not turn to exotic cultures, to the ‘other’, to find the erotic imagination at play. Within in our own culture we have the transgressive myths of the Greco-Roman tradition, filled with tales of incest, paedophilia, pederasty, bestiality and uninhibited lust. Even in English literature we start with the work of Geoffrey Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales. Everyone knows Chaucer could be bawdy and vulgar, as this example from The Miller’s Tale demonstrates.

Derk was the night as pich, or as the cole,
And at the window out she putte hir hole
And Absolon, him fil no bet ne wers,
But with his mouth he kiste hir naked ers
Ful savourly, er he was war of this.

In the modern porn parlance this is called ‘rimming’, a part of oral/anal play. Rimming in English Literature? Who’d have thunk it?

What all this points to is one simple, and as it turns out, obvious point. That humans have a very vivid sexual imagination and this finds expression in just about every culture and in every historical milieu.

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