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Ardor in the Court! Sex and the Law

by Jeffrey Miller

As Jeffrey Miller, author and popular columnist for The Lawyers Weekly, notes in his introduction, a lifetime of research into sex and the law would cover only the margins of the subject. Playing in those margins is Ardor in the Court!, a book that tries to encapsulate sex in the courtroom from Biblical times to the present. Such a large subject across such a long time span is doomed to anecdote.

Among the dozens of characters briefly encountered are Charles Miller of Toronto Stork Derby fame, whose will in 1926 left a half-million dollars to the Toronto woman who gave birth to the most children over the next 10 years. There is the predictable parade of celebrities, from Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle to John Lennon and the Barenaked Ladies. Many of the cases Miller has culled from newspaper accounts, and there is a recycled quality to his rehashes of the Lorena Bobbitt case and other stories that have recently made tabloid headlines.

More successful are Miller’s brief forays into legal history, tracing the evolution of the court’s pronouncements on adultery, obscenity, or “mayhem” – defined as a crime that deprived the king of the aid of one of his subjects due to maiming. Thus, loss of arms, legs, fingers, or testicles constituted maiming; ears and noses didn’t count. Miller wryly appreciates the legal hairsplitting in the court’s discussions about whether a prostitute can be a virgin, or if a woman is guilty of streetwalking if she doesn’t leave her apartment.

But Ardor in the Court!, with its breezy style and laboured humour, tries too hard to titillate (though the effort is appreciated, given that law’s views on sex are about as sexy as those found in a gynecology textbook). In the end readers are left not with a real history, but a few hundred anecdotes that read like story ideas for an upcoming season of Law & Order.