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10 Lessons from an 18th-Century Japanese Sex Manual

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Guest blogger Diana LandenBack around the time of the American Revolution, a Japanese man named Tsukioka Settei was busy writing "A Treasure Book for Women on the Way of Love -- Day and Night." The book was an erotic parody of a popular medical textbook, but with more interesting illustrations. It was small enough to carry in your sleeve -- a good thing, since carrying erotic art (or "shunga") was believed to protect you against fire and death.

woman in her underwear
So what can we learn from 18th-century Japanese erotica? Actually, a lot: 

1) Women have been masturbating for hundreds of years (at least). Settei assures us that masturbation is not unhealthy. On the contrary, he says it improves circulation and helps women to calm their passions and avoid indiscretion. (Hmm ... I'm not so sure his advice to tie a dildo to the back of your heel is a good way to do that.) 

2) Vulvas are not meant to be clones. A clitoris can be long or hanging. Some vulvas are set lower than others. A hairy vulva has "real delights." 

3) Sex toys have been around for a very long time, too. Eighteenth-century Japanese had "regular" dildos, finger dildos and double dildos. Men could wear penis caps and rings, or wrap their penises in taro root or "body armour." Women could insert "round balls" into their vaginas during intercourse. 

4) If you want to get a woman panting with pleasure during intercourse, caress her clitoris. Settei's book provides clearly marked illustrations for readers to study carefully. (Good Settei tip: Be sure your nails are clipped.) 

5) Men have been worrying about penis size for hundreds of years (at least). Settei classifies nine types of penises. He says the "gluten bread" one feels good in the vagina, although "upward facing" and "upstanding head" are also supposed to work well. A huge penis is a "real gem," he says, but it's "not easy for an average woman [to handle]." Per Settei, penises should be 4.5 to 4.8 "sun" long (that's 5.4 to 5.7 inches). Nevertheless, most of the illustrations in his book show humongous male genitals. 

6) Dr. Graffenberg may not have been the first man to discover the G-spot. In his book, Settei advises men to "rub the top of her vagina firmly" during intercourse. Furthermore, he says that a penis that points up and caresses the top of the vagina "works well to give pleasure." 

7) Sexual "snake oil" is nothing new. Settei's book includes recipes for potions to bring women to orgasm, thicken the penis and stop premature ejaculation. (You'll need to find some fossil bones and a cuttlefish skull, though.) 

8) If you buy a courtesan, she may fool you into thinking she loves you. Apparently there were a few idiots back in the 18th century, too. 

9) Men come up with some strange ideas about women. Some of the myths Settei mentions: A red nose is a sign of smelly genitals. You can satisfy three women at once. Once upon a time, a man brought pleasure to twenty-four women in one night. A virgin's clitoris will grow out and open up after frequent intercourse. 

10) Love letters and poetry are good for seduction. Settei includes a section of sample poems and letters for lovers. My favorite bit is from "A Letter after a Fateful Encounter under a Karakasa Umbrella": "Now more than ever it is hard for me to be away from you, and although I sought you out, I didn't know where you lived and had to search and search ...."

Quotes from "A Treasure Book for Women on the Way of Love -- Day and Night," by Tsukioka Settei, from the collection of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, translated and with an introduction by C. Andrew Gerstle. Available at libraries and research institutions in Japan and abroad.


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