Kink through the Ages

Author Esmé Louise James speaks about her book Kinky History
Author Esmé Louise James speaks about her book Kinky History

QNews spoke to author Esmé Louise James about her book Kinky History which explores the kinky side of human sexuality down through the ages.

WORDS Harry Hadley

Esmé Louise James’ chosen field of study as a sex historian is one that many would consider the definition of new age and progressive. But if anything, Esmé aims to prove that the study of sexuality has been around since long before we decided it was a taboo topic for conversation.

Esmé specialises in the study of Kinky History, most famously through her online series of videos which she began posting on TikTok in 2020.

That has now spawned a book of the same name, available now across Australia, and soon, the world.

Since its genesis on social media, Kinky History has catapulted Esme’s career into orbit, with her socials now amassing over 3 million followers over several different platforms.

Esmé was also named as one of the Top 30 Emerging Writers by SBS Australia in 2020, and has proven to be a force to be reckoned with in both the academic and writing world.

QNews had the privilege of speaking to Esmé, to discuss her unique career path and what the future looks like for Kinky History.

Even today, your field of study is considered taboo. What challenges have you faced when trying to progress in your career?

Working in academia, you either talk about sex and then you’re tainted by that or you apologise for having talked about sex and you never do it again.

But I think there’s a strength in paving your own way. When you go at it with enough confidence and unapologetic energy. People respect that. That was something I was really surprised about quite early on.

It became evident to me that if you want to do something and it’s important to you, then you go into it with your whole heart. So if anything studying the history of sex has opened up way more doors for me than it’s closed. I think that is a nice little lesson for myself, and hopefully others can take from that too.

You begin Kinky History by saying the book is for “anyone who has ever searched for an open door when they needed a safe place to turn.” What’s the importance of having Kinky History in print for you?

There’s something about books, maybe this makes me sound quite nerdy, something about the physicality of it that makes you feel like you’ve got a friend. It brings things more to life in the world it creates.

I’m someone who carries around books like a safety blanket most of the time. So when it came to writing Kinky History, it wasn’t just the stories I wanted to tell but also the medium through how we told those stories that was important to me.

If we’re going to tell stories about the importance of acceptance and empathy, then I wanted the book to feel like that. When you have that argument with that grumpy aunt at Christmas you can quickly search for the page to get the rebuttal you need.

There’s something about that which is empowering in many ways.

What are the challenges around writing about sex across different time periods?

We can also learn so much about looking at the points of history where people talked a lot about sex and the times where we didn’t talk about sex, and that pattern of oscillation.

I mention in the “Queer Kinks” chapter of the book that we can’t expect to find terms like ‘transgender’ or ‘bisexual,’ or ‘homosexual,’ in historical sources because those words often didn’t exist yet back then.

We’re looking for other ways that these people are represented in those periods, whether that’s as a ‘third gender’ or ‘two spirited’ person, or they might be described as ‘fairies,’ ‘dandies,’ and a host of other ways that people have discussed sexual and gender identity and fluidity through the ages.

Everyone had different words for different things, which makes this area of history really difficult, but also really interesting. So I wanted to give people those tools so they could look back in history and say “there I am!” Because we were always there.

Would you say that 2020 and your launch into TikTok was when your career took a turn?

Definitely. I think that’s my canon moment. Up until then it had been really hard for me in writing about the history of sex and trying to get published doing that freelance.

That did close a lot of doors for me. When it came to my PhD, they told me they were only going to accept me on the condition that I brought everything back to being very, very conservative in how I approached the topic. So I had to make one of the hardest calls of my life in 2019 to not pursue where my heart was, because they closed that door to me.

But I always knew this was going to lead me somewhere.

There are some incredibly funny stories in the book. One that stands out is about Mozart composing a ditty about rimming, which is a hysterical read. Is there anything that didn’t make it into the book that you could share with us?

It’s quite funny because I haven’t found a historical figure yet that hasn’t got something freaky written about them.

Mozart’s scatological compositions are truly ones for the ages. I think when you have such a prolific person like that, it’s just so lovely to remember that they also have humour and that they can make fun of their sexuality, and be silly.

One of the stories that didn’t quite make it into the book was about Catherine the Great, and all her sexual proclivities.

One of my favourite things about her is that she employed professional foot ticklers, at really high wages, to sing her songs and turn her on.

And it wasn’t just Catherine, it was really common amongst all the Tsarinas in Russia. These servants were paid among the best wages in court, because of their proximity to the royals.

So you could make a full time career out of tickling empresses’ feet and singing them dirty songs!

I genuinely love that and think it’s an occupation that we need to bring back!

What does the future look like for you? What’s the dream?

I’m really excited about the international version of Kinky History being released next year.

It’s going to be such an incredible experience to see that crossing international boundaries and seeing where that can take us.

Another thing I’m very excited about is the next SexTistics Survey that I’m working on with my statistician mum Dr Susan James and the aim is to make that the biggest global survey on sexuality that has ever been done!

So with that very ambitious goal we are hoping to launch that early next year, and get it out into the world. And hopefully moving that into the TV world! Next stop Kinky History: The Musical?

-Kinky History is published by Pantera Press. To find out more go to

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