Category: Children's Books

Lutz van Dijk
Die Geschichte von Liebe und Sex
[The history of love and sex ]

Review

Leafing through Lutz van Dijk’s The History of Love and Sex for the first time, readers may find it to be both coherent and confusing. With its appealing layout, the book provides a well-structured diversity of information – yet it is precisely this diversity that is initially so confusing. Then again, it is also what ultimately distinguishes this book.

Van Dijk opens by making an explicit differentiation between love and sex, and once he places his two subjects within their own historical contexts, it becomes clear why, in fact, they must be treated separately. In view of the wide range of perspectives van Dijk draws on for his history, it becomes equally clear that his book is not meant to be a systematic and comprehensive study. Instead, it is an account of the numerous ways love and sexuality have become manifest throughout both the ages and the farthest reaches of the world.

Van Dijk is not the only narrator here. Rather, he lets a great many people tell their own stories. These personal accounts of both young and old give readers an immediate impression of just how differently sexuality and/or love has been – and continues to be – experienced. The perspectives themselves cover a wide range of topics. Beginning with observations on the origin of life and diverse cultures’ myths of creation, the author moves both along a timeline as well as back-and-forth across the globe, with the occasional chronological sidestep. One example of van Dijk’s thematic approach is his reference to recent developments of the AIDS virus within the early chapter on Africa, although here his focus is initially on the emergence of the Homo sapiens roughly 200,000 years ago. After stopping to discuss ancient Greece and Rome, the book then examines the customs of love and sex within each of the three monotheistic religions as well as the religions and cultures of the Far East.

In his treatment of Europe, van Dijk leaves a fairly large gap between ancient and modern times. Thus, when examining the literary motif of love and its relation to passion and death, and the question of when humans are old enough to first experience passionate love, van Dijk’s account begins no earlier than with Shakespeare.

The closer van Dijk gets to our own times, the more political and concrete is his examination of the role that sex and love play. One of the topics in this regard is exotism, a phenomenon widely prevalent in colonial times. In the same chapter the author offers a short aside on Sigmund Freud and the development of psychoanalysis, with the tabooed sexuality between the “untamed” and the “civilized” serving as thematic bridge.

Finally, van Dijk turns his attention to underrepresented groups, investigating the opportunities homosexuals, people with disabilities, and seniors have to express their love and sexuality without social constraints. The latest developments of the Web’s global range of dissemination are also subject to van Dijk’s purview. He examines not only cybersex and online dating sites, but also illegal pornography, human trafficking and sex tourism.

As mentioned, van Dijk’s History of Love and Sex is more a collection of intriguing and interesting passages than a systematic historiography. And though it is not intended to serve as reference material to teach kids about sex, it does have a great deal more to offer than the standard information on the subject. Since readers will immediately grasp the correlation between love and sex and nearly all other sectors of society – such as politics, the economy, and art – solely by van Dijk’s manner of presentation, the issue will require no special pedagogical emphasis. Yet the most important point for the author – a point he doubtlessly has succeeded in making – is to convey to his readers the fact that love and sex exist in countless forms and varieties and that it is up to each individual to discover for him- or herself the best way to deal with it.
Heike Friesel

By Heike Friesel, 12.02.2008

Translated by Franklin Bolsillo Mares