Warning: This post contains nudity and may not be appropriate for work.
Let's talk about sex. Specifically, the spectacle and culture of sexuality in Paris between 1920 and 1946. What did Parisians in the roaring twenties and beyond find arousing, grotesque, criminal and divine? Where did the counterculture convene to drink, dance, get naked and get it on? What language was used to describe the particulars of their carnal knowledge?
If these questions are on the brain, we'd suggest checking out Mel Gordon's Horizontal Collaboration, a look back at the erotic world of Paris in this tumultuous time. Gordon's book combines stunning photographs, illustrations, posters and archival images with text describing all the dirty details of life in Paris.
"I spent a few years meeting with old French enthusiasts and participants, gathering boxes of cult artifacts, searching for brothel guidebooks, and excavating private archives," Gordon explained to The Huffington Post. "For the French, sex was another hedonist pursuit -- fluid, sometimes mocking, an inescapable and enduring pleasure."
Below we've compiled some of the more lascivious details of early Parisian sexuality, all taken from Gordon's text, interspersed with some of the titillating erotica of the time. If you're in an office, read on at your own risk.
"Philosophical texts" use to mean something far dirtier.
In the 17th century, the French monarchy strictly censored publications endorsing libertine beliefs. Thus Parisians began buying "immoral" literature -- radical political text interlaced with ribald sexual descriptions -- from sex workers. The pamphlets were hilariously called "philosophical books" and, less surreptitiously, "fuck-mania."
King Francis thought the fleur-de-lys was a drawing of a d**k.
When he wasn't engaging in incestuous relations with his older sister, 16th century King Francis I branded his courtesans with a fleur-de-lys on their buttocks. Although the stylized lily was once a symbol for purity, Francis' crude interpretation symbolized an engorged penis between two spread legs.
Breast rubs were a form of medicine, apparently.
In the late 18th century, Louis XVI surrounded himself with with courtiers who mixed eroticism with medical science and the occult. For example, alchemist and conman Franz Mesmer believed that impotence was a manifestation of "terrestrial fluid blockage" that could be cured through an all-night seance, and that frigidity could be remedied with a vigorous boob massage.
Parisians had strange associations with mustard and onions.
Vocab lesson! Moutardiers, which literally translates to "mustard-makers," referred to buttocks back in the day. Oignons, or "onions," meant anuses.
Most Parisian brothels were modeled after domestic spaces.
Of the 211 brothels licensed by Parisian authorities in 1930, nearly 90 percent were small-time operations with single-family staffs. They were usually called maisons de rendez-vous or "houses of contact," and normally attracted regulars from the neighborhood who'd stop by after work, have a drink, complain about work, and eventually get it on. As Gordon writes, "the social setting deliberately emulated the fixed contours of bourgeois domesticity with a slightly more upbeat finale."
When it comes to sex, people were always into weird s**t.
Sometimes, quite literally. As Marie-Thérèse Cointre penned in her 1946 memoir The Life of a Prostitute: "Most of the customers were weird little guys. I came back lots of times with one who made me shit on his chest: then he'd lick my ass clean. Monsieur got that treatment for a hundred francs a slice. There was another one who made me stick a pin into the tips of his tits and burn them with a cigarette."
This catchphrase for fellatio should not be taken literally.
More vocabulary: branlette or "sword play" refers to masturbation, and cache-cache, "hide and seek," is to make love. Tailler une pipe translates to "cutting a tube" and refers to fellatio. Ouch.
There was a death-themed cabaret that seems very gross and very popular.
In 1890, in the Montmartre district, a restaurant and nightspot opened called the Cabaret du Néant, fully focused on death and the disintegration of the human body. Coffins served as dining tables, pallbearers took you to your table, cocktails were nicknamed deadly afflictions like "malignant cancer." Real human skeletons adorned the walls and some guests recall a graveyard stench wafting through the bar.
Full-bodied kings had special chairs for sex.
For the furniture lovers among us, allow me to introduce you to "Dirty Bertie's love-throne" or the fauteuil d'amour. The contraption was designed so that Edward VII, a rather large man, could mount his female partner without squashing her.
The High Priestess of Love made a divine prediction.
In the 1930s, a Russian mystic by the name of Maria de Naglowska preached a mystical doctrine throughout Paris. She divided human history into three divine archetypes based on Judaism, Christianity and what she called the Third Term of the Trinity.
First, there's religion of the father, the "divisive male principle, where love seeks flesh." Then there was the religion of the son, "the neutral and passive principle, which rejects flesh completely." And finally, the religion of the mother, TTT, "where love, raising from flesh, allows mankind to achieve sublime purity." Naglowska, who held weekly services and distributed her beliefs in pamphlets around Montparnasse, became known as the High Priestess of Love.
Naked balls were a thing.
Students and artists in the Latin Quarter of Paris were known for throwing riotous bashes before their exams to provide much-needed study breaks. The parades doubled as scholarly attempts to resuscitate the wild energy of medieval Paris and counteract the pious sobriety that dominated the sphere.
Apparently, feces and urine were poured into holy vessels as replacements for water and wine. And one of the wildest balls was the Bal des Quat'z' Arts, in which students rushed into the streets and shocked passersby by getting naked. Not too surprisingly, the whole thing turned into a "drunken orgy of naked bodies."
"Horizontal Collaboration," published by Feral House is available on Amazon.