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date: 12 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This article examines the passage in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis where Venus invites Adonis to perform cunnilingus on her, situating it in relation to other representations of this act from ballads, pornography, medical writing, and moralizing literature. Viewed together, these representations qualify two oft-repeated generalizations about oral sex in early modern English culture: (1) that the act was virtually unknown, and (2) that it was consistently viewed with disgust or disapprobation. By contrast, the texts assembled here demonstrate that cunnilingus was frequently portrayed as being quite pleasurable, and not only for the woman who received the gesture, but also for the individual who performed it. Moreover, these texts suggest that there may have been more cultural room for the acceptance of women’s sexuality—and of acts that were ‘serviceable to the ladies’—than has previously been acknowledged.

Keywords: Venus and Adonis, early modern sexual practices, cunnilingus, pornography, domestic heterosexuality

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