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Sex and Punishment:

Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire

(Counterpoint, 2012)

In Sex and Punishment, Eric Berkowitz accomplished what no scholar has achieved: to craft a compelling history of Western sex law -- and by extension Western society itself -- using the flesh-and-blood experiences of real people to tell the story. The cast includes royal mistresses, gay pirates and charioteers, medieval transvestites, lonely goat-lovers, priests, prostitutes, kings, presidents, and London rent boys. Through their fascinating and often tragic lives, the reader gains critical insights into Western history and many of today’s hot-button political issues. More important, by following shifting attitudes toward gender relations and homosexuality, as well as class, race, and power politics, the existence of lasting sexual moralities is put to the test. The book covers ancient societies through Oscar Wilde’s downfall for “gross indecency” in 1895.


Sex and Punishment has been translated into three languages. 


Praise for Sex and Punishment

“I don’t think I’ve ever read such an entertaining historical work. It has the wisdom granted by perspective, without the condescension of someone who thinks we’re wiser than our ancestors. Whether you want to fuel your indignation, or simply furnish yourself with enough jaw-dropping data to galvanize a hundred party conversations, you really must shell out for this book. It’s worth every penny.” -- The Guardian


 “Enormously informative and entertaining.” -- The Boston Globe


“Very interesting, enlightening, well written, and timely. [Sex and Punishment] performs an important service in narrating the pre-twentieth century history of sexual mores.” -- Richard A. Posner, professor, University of Chicago Law School, judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and author of Sex and Reason


“Enlightening, astounding, broad-ranging and rich in detail, exciting and impressively relentless” -- The Sunday London Times (lead review in book section)


“Entertaining, angry, and deeply fascinating.” -- The Independent


“Fascinating and gruesomely compelling” -- Sunday Mail


“Well paced and lucid” -- California Lawyer


"Eric Berkowitz has done an excellent job of showing just how far from certain any of us should be that we really know what is 'normal' or 'ethical' when it comes to sex. Sex and Punishment is built on solid scholarship and spiced with plenty of sordid details that will make you the hit of any cocktail party." -- Christopher Ryan, author of the New York Times bestseller Sex at Dawn


“Detailed, well-researched … There’s so much great stuff that I can’t talk about all of it here. Pick up a copy!” -- Bookzilla


“Berkowitz’s book in the end is a rewarding wonderland of the forbidden, and of society’s attempts to keep it so, despite their inevitable failure. It is a mural sometimes done as miniature, sometimes as epic, but always with a craftsman’s hand—a sprawling story told with uncommon precision and purity of expression.” -- Tri-Quarterly Review


“[Berkowitz] addresses his subject with precision and deftly placed humor.” -- We Love This Book


 “This is a wonderfully well-written, well-organized and accomplished book.” -- The Literary Review 


“Sex and Punishment is fascinating in its entirety.” -- Brain Pickings


 “Stories of political scandal, domestic intrigue, religious intolerance, and corporeal fervor are entwined in an intricate love—or lust—knot that’s difficult to put down. Berkowitz’s work will be of great interest to social historians, students of human sexuality, and anyone seeking a better understanding of that age-old wrestling match between power and desire.”

-- ForeWord Reviews


“A thorough (and often surprisingly hilarious) look at the people who fall outside the parameters of the sexually condoned” -- San Francisco Chronicle (“Top Shelf” feature by local bookstores)

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