The Forbidden Apple is expansive and yet particular enough that it set me to seeing signs of the city's sexual past in the present. For example, when I noticed that the American Social Health Association was celebrating February as National Condom Month, I was reminded that the organization had been founded by John D. Rockefeller as the American Social Hygiene Association to unite social hygienists and anti-white-slavery crusaders. I saw a Board of Health sticker on the door of a closed health-club steamroom and thought of the bathhouse raids of the 1980s. I looked upon Times Square and thought of the days when tourists went there to see "pansy shows" of "painted men"—not in the last century, but in the century before that.
For the moment, it seems as if the prudes and the prurients of New York are in a state of truce: Our streets are largely scoured, our computers and TVs blue with smut. But as our recession deepens, we may be in for yet another great upheaval. How will that affect the balance of power? The answer is yet unknown, but The Forbidden Apple suggests that when it comes, it will be very like something New York has seen before.
Library of Congress
Peeping at the Bowery, 1898
The Forbidden Apple: A Century of Sex & Sin in New York City
By Kat Long
Ig Publishing, 287 pp., $18.95