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Diversity in the Stacks: Highlights from the Penn Sexuality Collection

Posted on by David Sean Azzolina

This year, the Penn Libraries launched the Penn Sexuality Collection, a new effort that builds upon our already existing collections in more traditional aspects of sexuality studies. This new initiative will add materials to the Penn Libraries that fall outside the usual purview of academic libraries, helping to make the Libraries a destination for sexuality researchers. 

The Penn Libraries is already home to the Banned Books Collections, which is made up of pulp fiction of a sexual nature that was popular for about 40 years after World War II. Complementing these titles are newly acquired novels like Women Without Men and My Brother, My Lover which demonstrate the diversity in the kinds of interests represented in the Penn Sexuality Collection. 

Another kind of book that is prominent in the collection is “how-to’s.” Libraries rarely collect sexuality-related books like this in any depth. Some of these books, like The Toybag Guide to Basic Rope Bondage and Petting as An Erotic Exercise are meant to directly teach readers how to engage in particular activities. These books are diverse in both scope and time period represented. For example, Basic Rope Bondage was published in 2010 and reflects a topic that has become more popular in the 21st century, while Petting as an Erotic Exercise, published in 1948, is indicative of the historical materials the Libraries wishes to add to the collection. Both come from publishers that fall outside the usual distribution system and are held by few libraries. 

We also hope to build a significant collection of photobooks. Photography that is related to sex or sexuality can be complicated to collect because many people do not know whether it should be considered art or pornography, assuming that the categories are inherently separate. In building this collection, the Libraries will leave the question aside and will collect broadly. 

Along with popular titles, the collection includes books that are academic in nature. Two examples are Paul Englisch’s Geschichte der Erotischen Literatur (History of Erotic Literature), a classic of its kind, and the more recently published Midlife and Aging in Gay America

Perhaps one of the most important contributions the collection makes to the Libraries is the addition of serials rarely held in American libraries. None exemplifies this better than (Not Only) Blue

This magazine was more than just a magazine. Oversized and consisting mainly of photographs, you could say it was a “coffee table” magazine. Published in Australia, it featured world-famous photographers taking artistic photographs of men clothed and nude. Running from 1995-2007, it also featured high-end writing, interviews, and articles by some of the most prominent gay writers of the era. The Penn Libraries’ collection includes the only complete run of (Not Only) Blue in the United States. 

This brief blog offers a general overview of the collection, which can be further explored in the Franklin catalog. The Penn Sexuality Collection will continue to grow in the coming years, seeking to reflect this varied topic, and undoubtably changing and shifting as our understandings of sexuality continue to evolve.