What History Can Teach Us About Sex - OZY | A Modern Media Company
Leonard Woolf pictured reading with the poet John Lehmann


These unlikely figures knew a thing or two about having a good time between the sheets. 

By OZY Editors

You think you know your history? Well, here are a few lessons you didn’t learn in school.

J. M. Keynes

What we can learn: Be brilliant during the week and wild on the weekends

You probably remember learning about Keynesian economics in school. What you probably didn’t learn is that the father of this school of thought was a swinging, sexually uninhibited powerhouse. This influential economist had a private life that would make a Pride Parade seem dull. It might also surprise you that J.M. Keynes belonged to London’s infamous “Bloomsbury Group” at the turn of the last century. This collection of artists, writers and intellectuals included such towering figures as Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster. Keynes had a series of tangled sexual relationships with men, including a messy love triangle with fellow Bloomsbury members Lytton Strachey and Duncan Grant. 


Anne Lister

What we can learn: Be confident with your sexuality and don’t bend to gender norms.

Born in England in 1791, Anne Lister managed her own estate, developed coal mines, enjoyed shooting and reveled in her sexuality. She is the woman many refer to as the “first modern lesbian.” She was wildly promiscuous — courting ladies left and right — and kept detailed diary entries about her sexual exploits. Lister’s diaries aren’t for prudes or the faint of heart; many passages are lush with raunchy, salaciously provocative sexual details. We’re talking Fifty Shades here. “The Lister diaries are the Dead Sea Scrolls of lesbian history: They changed everything,” writes author Emma Donoghue. A lover of Lister’s once asked if she thought her father should have brought her up as a man. She replied, “No, because then I would not have been able to be in your boudoirs.” 


Albert Einstein

What we can learn: It might not be a good idea to make your lover sign a contract.

When you think of Albert Einstein, you may think of the letters E=mc2, but probably not S&M, let alone BDSM. But the German physicist actually shares a desire with Mr. Fifty Shades himself, Christian Grey. Both Einstein and Grey had a penchant for contracting their love lives. Sadly – or perhaps, better for our mental image of Einstein – the scientific genius’ contract had nothing to do with whips or handcuffs. He did, however, draw up a contract for his wife contractually binding her to clean, feed and stop talking to him. How sweet, right? Despite these romantic overtures, Einstein’s wife left him a few months after and divorced him in 1919.

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