Pleasure and Pain: A History of Sexual Punishment

Article by Team Penthouse

A new volume from Goliath Books compiles three centuries of BDSM images.

Delightfully perverse kinksters have been indulging in acts of erotic punishment for thousands of years, getting a unique thrill from giving and receiving pleasure and pain.

Just as in the present day, there were those in antiquity who craved the kiss of a whip in the bedroom and actively sought to fulfill their masochistic desires.

One of the earliest known European works of visual art to depict punishment in a sexual context is a fresco unearthed in Italy that dates back to around 490 B.C. Discovered in 1960, the wall painting in the Tomb of the Whipping is badly damaged but shows a debauched three-way involving a woman being spanked and flogged by her two male lovers.

And the Kama Sutra, an ancient Indian text on sexuality, contains advice on hitting, biting, and pinching to enhance a lover’s pleasure.

History of Sexual Punishment in PictureBut that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to historical depictions and descriptions of erotic punishment.

Prominent eighteenth-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his autobiography Confessions, minced no words when it came to his love of power games in the boudoir: “To fall at the feet of an imperious mistress, obey her mandates, or implore pardon, were for me the most exquisite enjoyments.”

During the same era, John Cleland sparked a firestorm with the release of Fanny Hill: or, the Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure — one of the first English-language pornographic novels — which described a prostitute birching a client before being punished herself in return.

A century later, Victorian Britain was a study in contrasts. Though society was bound by a rigid sense of morality, interest in sex flourished among the population like never before.

An explosion of erotic literature, artwork, and photography occurred, with an almost obsessive focus on what was considered perverse — including spanking, birching, and flogging. The floodgates had been opened, and thousands of images of punishment scenes were circulated in books and magazines. The notorious publication The Pearl, purveyor of pornographic tales, poems, and more, made a kinky name for itself before British authorities closed it down in 1880, accusing it of obscenity.

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