Episode Guide

Season 1

DIRTY (1)Episode 1: Contraception in History: From Pomegranates to Pennyroyal. Think birth control only dates back to the 1960s? Think again. In this episode, we cover contraception and abortion from the ancient world to the 20th century.

Read more about Medieval abortion and contraception in cookbooks here.

DIRTY (4)Episode 2: Hurts so Good! 19th Century Dominatrix Theresa Berkley. So you think kink is modern? In Regency London, dominatrix Theresa Berkley opened a multistory sex dungeon and became a self-made millionaire. This is the story of Theresa, the English Vice, and the Berkley Horse. More on the Queen of the Flagellants here.



Episode 3: The Problematic History of BMI, plus Deadly Diet Drugs of the 1930s. In this double episode, Jess talks about the 19th-century origins of BMI and explains how it’s still inherently flawed today. John covers Egyptian and Roman laxatives, then it’s on to the deadly diet pills of the 1930s, namely DNP and Pervitin, the once-legal meth added to chocolate that went on to fuel the Third Reich and their wives. More on Pervitin and DNP.

DIRTY (9)Episode 4: The Sickness of Naples. Syphilis and the Invention of the Modern Condom. Did Columbus bring syphilis back to Europe from the New World? Almost certainly. In this episode, Jess talks about how Columbus caused the deaths of 120 million people worldwide from disease alone, leading to the invention of the modern condom (by a priest!) in 16th-century Italy. More on condoms here.

DIRTY (10)Episode 5: Chasing Ghosts in 19th Century Paris. Horror Tourism in the City of Light. Jess takes you on a tour of the darker side Parisian nightlife in the 19th century from Robertson’s Phantasmagoria to the awesomely goth nightclubs of 1890s Montmartre. As a bonus, she explains how to drink absinthe like a pro so you don’t embarrass yourself in front of Oscar Wilde. More on Robertson here.

DIRTY (12)Episode 6: The Transgender Priests of Cybele. Trans identities aren’t a new thing; they have existed since at least ancient Mesopotamia around 3100 BCE. In this episode, we take a look at the trans priests of the goddesses Inanna and Cybele, and how an oracle’s prophecy brought them to Rome to defeat Hannibal. More on the Gallai here.


DIRTY (13)Episode 7: In Love and Dirt. Cross-Class Romance in 19th Century England. In the 19th century, no one ever married outside their class…right? In this episode, we look at some people who did. Elizabeth Armistead was a courtesan to the aristocracy who married the love of her life, politician and abolitionist Charles James Fox. Arthur Munby was a gentleman who secretly married Hannah Cullwick, a maid with a very interesting fetish. More on Elizabeth and Hannah.

DIRTY (14)Episode 8: The Storming of the Bastille. Happy Bastille Day! This week, we’re talking about the factors that led to the storming of the Bastille on July 14th of 1789 and finding parallels between today’s income inequality and that of Revolutionary France. Read more about Bastille Day here.


DIRTY (16)Episode 9: Pumpkin Spice Laudanum. Once as common as aspirin, laudanum was immortalized in 19th-century literature and still pops up in period dramas today. So what was it? Opium and alcohol, and it was used for everything. In this episode, we talk about those uses—authorized and otherwise—and looking at Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Read more about laudanum here.

DIRTY (17)Episode 10: The Necessary Evil: How Sex Work Built London’s Churches. In this episode, we’re looking at sex work in Southwark from the Roman period until the 12th century, when the Church was in charge of licensing the “Winchester Geese” and used the money to build places like Southwark Cathedral, which sits on the site of an ancient Roman temple to Isis. Read more about sex work in medieval Southwark here.

DIRTY (18)Episode 11: Dreams of Love: Franz Liszt and la Dame aux Camelias. La Traviata, Les Miserables, Moulin Rouge… the tragic courtesan of so many stories is based on just one woman: Marie Duplessis, better known as la Dame aux Camelias. This week, we’re looking at her short life, her love affair with composer Franz Liszt, and her enduring legacy in art and music. Read about their love story here.

DIRTY (19)Episode 12: Dead Sexy: Tuberculosis and Other Beauty Tips. Following on from Episode 11, we look at how the symptoms of tuberculosis became the gold standard for Victorian beauty, then we jump to Gilded Age New York for some skin care tips from “The Ugly Girl Papers.” Read about tuberculosis as a beauty trend here.


DIRTY (20)Episode 13: Perfect Love and Sacred Sin: The Spiritual Side of Historical Kink. This week, Jess talks about the spiritual side of historical kink with a look at the death of Czech composer Frantisek Kotzwara in 1791 from erotic asphyxiation, and the murder trial that followed. Then, we jump to Imperial Russia for a look at Rasputin’s views on love and sex to answer the eternal question—was Rasputin really Russia’s greatest love machine? More on Kotzwara and Ra-Ra-Rasputin here.

16Episode 14: Porn: Politics and Censorship in 19th Century England. In this overview, Jess traces the development of pornography in Britain from its working-class political origins with Fanny Hill to later Victorian attempts to crack down on its sale.


DIRTY (22)Episode 15: Heroin and the Spanish Flu. How did people manage their symptoms during the last pandemic? Heroin! Once and over-the-counter cough aid, it was sold to women, children, and soldiers with chronic pain as a “non-addictive” alternative to morphine. Jess lost her voice due to Covid, so Dr. John presents this episode on the early history of heroin as well as other common treatments for the Spanish Flu. Read about the history of heroin here.

DIRTY (23)Episode 16: Witchcraft, Part 1: Women’s Vices. In the first episode of our Halloween series, Jess talks about 11th-century ideas of witchcraft in penitential literature and reads some of her favorite “women’s vices” from Burchard’s Decretum, a medieval penitential with some strange ideas about women’s hobbies. Read about those here.


13947263-1631715255433-13f1d1cb78f52Episode 17: The Malleus Maleficarum: Witch Hunts in Late Medieval Europe. In the second episode of our Halloween series, we’re picking up where we left off last week with a look at the Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th-century German handbook for the identification of witches. More on the Malleus Maleficarum here.


DIRTY (24)Episode 18: The Catacombs of Paris. In Episode 3 of our Halloween series, Jess talks about the history of Paris’s catacombs from the dangerous graveyards that led to their opening to the surprising things they are still used for today. This episode is available in article format here.


13947263-1632893585018-ec7e7bc2ce318Episode 19: 40 Elephants, with Special Guest Sarah MacLean. This week, we look at 40 Elephants, an infamous all-female gang active in London from about 1870 – 1950. Then Jess talks to New York Times Bestselling Author and host of Fated Mates, Sarah MacLean, about the gang and how it helped to inspire her latest Historical Romance, Bombshell. From organized crime and chloroform to Victorian fast food and IUDs, we cover it all today on Dirty Sexy History. Guest Sarah MacLean and Fated Mates.

DIRTY (26)Episode 20: Death in the Walls: How Paris Green Poisoned Victorian Britain. Decor can be ugly, but what about when it’s deadly? Continuing with our Halloween series this week, we’re talking about Scheele’s Green, the arsenic-based pigment that filled homes in Britain throughout the nineteenth century, and its surprising connection to William Morris, one of the most influential figures of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Millions of miles of arsenic green wallpaper filled the homes of Victorian Britain, causing illness and death with toxic dust. You’ll never look at green walls quite the same way again. Read about Scheele’s Green here. 

DIRTY (27)Episode 21: Daniel Mendoza and the Modern Art of Boxing. This week on the podcast, we look at the life of 18th-century prizefighter Daniel Mendoza, who paved the way for the acceptance of the Jewish community in Georgian London and changed boxing forever. Read about Mendoza here. 


24Episode 22: Byron’s Fault: An Introduction to Vampires with Violet Fenn. Happy Halloween! This week, we welcome special guest Violet Fenn, author of The History of the Vampire in Popular Culture: Love at First Bite. We cover everything from the earliest myths to the Victorians, and even make it to 1950s Glasgow and a (not so) surprising connection to the Monmouth Vampire in 1980s Wales. Release the bats! Visit Violet here. 

13947263-1636041981358-f56479eba7bb1Episode 23: The Monster Mash. In this year’s last episode of the Halloween series, Dr. John presents the Monster Mash: a little history behind werewolves, Dracula, “resurrected corpses,” and mummies’ curses. It’s a graveyard smash! 


DIRTY (29)Episode 24: Cocaine, Coca-Cola, and the Contraceptive that Wasn’t. In this week’s episode of Dirty Sexy History, Jess talks about the history of cocaine from its uses in medicine to the development of Coca-Cola, and how these were used in sex, pregnancy prevention, and childbirth into the 20th century. Don’t try this at home. Read about the history of cocaine and Coca-Cola here. 

13947263-1637164537244-e9742e908ce19Episode 25: “Female Husbands”: LGBTQ+ Uninions in England through the Georgian Era. We’ve already established that transgender people have always existed, but gay marriage is new—right? Not so much. This week, we have a brief overview of different kinds of same-sex or gender-nonconforming marriages and other unions in England prior to 1800, with a closer look at some fascinating figures from Jen Manion’s brilliant book, Female Husbands.

13947263-1637807816284-79ebb2f7ac31aEpisode 26: The Chevalier de Saint-Georges. This week on Dirty Sexy History, we look at the extraordinary life of Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. As a composer, he tutored Marie Antoinette and was so talented that Mozart despised him. An abolitionist and accomplished swordsman, he also led the Legion Saint-Georges, the first all-Black regiment in Europe. Read about Saint-Georges here. 

DIRTY (31)Episode 27: Ariadne Unraveled. This week on Dirty Sexy History, Jess talks to Zenobia Neil, author of Ariadne Unraveled. We speculate on the truth behind the myth of the Minotaur and talk sexual fluidity, body positivity, and contraception in the ancient world. Visit Zenobia here. 


13947263-1641425200521-db205245b0c6fEpisode 28: Historical Themes in Heavy Metal. Jess talks to Dr. Charlotte Naylor Davis and Dr. Jeremy Swist about historical themes in Heavy Metal ahead of their online conference, Heavy Metal and Global Premodernity (February 24th – 26th). We touch on race, feminism, inclusivity, and some of the exciting ways modern readers misinterpret classical texts. This week is a little History, a little Media Studies, and a whole lotta Metal. Listen to the Spotify playlist for this episode, and visit Jeremy and Charlotte.

DIRTY (33)Episode 29: The Legend of Lola Montez (Part 1). In this week’s episode, Jess covers the life of infamous dancer and courtesan Lola Montez from her tumultuous childhood in India to her earliest doomed love affairs with Franz Liszt, Alexandre Dumas, and Alexandre Henri Dujarier. Montez was said to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s inspiration for femme fatale Irene Adler, but her real life was far more interesting.

DIRTY (34)Episode 30: The Life, Death, and Afterlife of Claude Duval. On the anniversary of Claude Duval’s death, Jess talks about the gallows at Tyburn, then covers the life and high-profile hanging of this legendary highwayman. As a bonus, we host special guest Matt Robinson of the paranormal podcast Ghoul Britannia to talk about a historic hotel in England that Claude allegedly haunts. Read about Claude here. 

DIRTY (35)Episode 31: Lola Montez (Part 2): When Lola Met Ludwig. In this episode, we cover the tumultuous year Lola spent in Bavaria which resulted in the abdication of Ludwig I. There’s political intrigue, hints of the occult, and some spectacularly dodgy poetry. Check out our Instagram for all the photos we mention. 


DIRTY (37)Episode 32: “The Poor Whores’ Petition” and the Shrove Tuesday Riots of 1668. Shrove Tuesday—Mardi Gras—is now celebrated with pancakes and parades, but in 17th century London, it was another story altogether. For years, local apprentices used the holiday as an excuse to attack sex workers and vandalize brothels. The damage in 1668 was so severe that London’s sex workers petitioned the king’s mistress to help. This week on DSH, we talk about (and attempt to read) The Poor Whores’ Petition of 1668. Read about the petition here. 

DIRTY (39)Episode 33: Gunpowder Toothpaste: Ten Surprising Victorian Beauty Trends. From hot pink and fetish gear to fake eyelashes, tattoos, and nipple piercings, this week we’re talking about some surprisingly “modern” fashion and beauty trends of the 19th century. What did the Victorians wear apart from all that black? We can’t wait to tell you. Read about some of these trends here. 

Season Two 

DIRTY (41)Episode 1: The Facemaker, with Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. In this great interview with Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris, we discuss pioneering plastic surgeon Dr. Harold Gillies, his brave patients, and the multitalented medical heroes who made his work possible. You’ll never look at WWI quite the same way again. More on Lindsey’s work here. 


DIRTY (43)Episode 2: Secrets and Scandals of Regency Britain, with Violet Fenn. Violet Fenn returns to the podcast to talk about Lady Hamilton, Harriet Wilson, portable chamber pots, and the dateability of Regency dukes. Visit Violet here. 


DIRTY (45)Episode 3: The Real Stede Bonnet, with Jeremy Moss. Everyone loves Our Flag Means Death, but who was the real Stede Bonnet, and what exactly was going on between him and Blackbeard? On this week’s show, we talk to Stede’s biographer Jeremy Moss about this, plus libraries on ships, walking the plank, and what makes a good pirate flag. Visit Jeremy here. 


DIRTY (49)Episode 4: Before We Were Trans: Gender Nonconformity in History, with Dr. Kit Heyam. We constantly hear that trans and gender-nonconforming identities are a strictly modern concept. But are they? In this episode, we talk to historian Dr Kit Heyam about gender nonconformity in world history and how definitions and experiences of gender vary between time periods and cultures. Dr Heyam is the author of Before We Were Trans: A New History of Gender. More on Kit’s work here. 

48Episode 5: The Women’s House of Detention, with Hugh Ryan. This week, we talk to historian and curator Hugh Ryan about the Women’s House of Detention, a prison in the heart of New York City’s Greenwich Village where countless women and trans men were incarcerated for all kinds of heinous crimes, like…smoking and wearing pants? It wasn’t too long ago that a woman on her own could be arrested for prostitution without proof and jailed for her perceived ability to spread sexually transmitted infections. This wasn’t the dark ages; the Women’s House of Detention was open until the 1970s. This is the story of a prison built on structural racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and how those incarcerated fought back. Visit Hugh here. 

DIRTY (52)Episode 6: The Gilded Edge, with Dr. Catherine Prendergast. At the beginning of the 20th century, Carmel-by-the-Sea was an idyllic artists’ colony in Northern California. At the center of the excitement was “King of the Bohemians” George Sterling and his wife, Carrie. But all was not as sunny as it seemed. When George’s secret lover, poet Nora May French, came to Carmel, it set the three on a collision course that would end in suicide by cyanide—three of them. But what really happened? This week, we talk to Dr Catherine Prendergast about her new book, The Gilded Edge: Two Audacious Women and the Cyanide Love Triangle that Shook America. Visit Catherine here. 

DIRTY (54)Episode 7: The Invention of Gender, with Dr. Sandra Eder. Gender has been a hot-button issue for years, but the very concept only goes back to the 1950s. In this episode, we talk to Berkeley history professor Dr Sandra Eder about how the idea of gender developed from the treatment of children born with intersex traits in the first half of the 20th century. More on Sandra’s work here. 

DIRTY (57)Episode 8: Women’s Mental Institutions of the 19th Century. You’ve heard Victorian women could get committed to mental institutions for reading books and thinking too much, but why did it happen, and what were these places really like? This week, Jess explains how being female was enough to get you labeled insane, looking at some horrific treatments used, as well as the experiences of Elizabeth Packard and Nellie Bly, two badass women who fought back.

59Episode 9: Illegitimate Birth in the 18th Century, with Dr. Kate Gibson. Illegitimate children come up a lot in historical fiction, but how common was illegitimate birth, and what was life really like for these people? This week, we talk to Dr Kate Gibson about her new book: Illegitimacy, Family, and Stigma in England, 1660-1834. Visit Kate’s Twitter here. 


13947263-1669250793102-cabb33f1f3e6aEpisode 10: Misinformation Nation: 18th Century Fake News, with Dr. Jordan Taylor. Fake news a modern problem, right? Not exactly. In fact, the US was founded on it. In this very special Thanksgiving episode, we talk to Dr Jordan Taylor about 18th century newspapers, the Revolutionary War, and how misinformation started everything. More on Jordan’s work here. 

DIRTY (58)Episode 11: The Gender Outlaws of 19th Century France, with Dr. Anne Linton. This week, we talk to Dr Anne Linton, author of the groundbreaking new book Unmaking Sex. The book focuses on intersex and gender-nonconformity in 19th-century French life and literature, and we also discuss marriage laws, medical erotica, popular fiction, and permits for pants! More on Anne’s work here. 

DIRTY (63)Episode 12: Radium Cosmetics, with Lucy Jane Santos. Christmas shopping is hard, so this week, we’re taking the advice of 1930s holiday beauty ads and looking into radium! Our guest is Lucy Jane Santos, author of Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium and an expert in toxic beauty history. We’re talking about radioactive skincare, X-Rays in beauty salons, radium condoms, snorting radium, and other *very* bad ideas. As always—do NOT try this at home! Visit Lucy’s awesome blog here. 

70Episode 13: Founding F*ck Buddies, with Dr. Cassandra Good. We think of “friends with benefits” as a modern phenomenon, but it really isn’t. This week, we talk to historian Dr Cassandra Good about 18th-century friendships between men and women, answering the important questions: Who sent the first “tit pic”? How did Benedict Arnold win over Peggy Shippen? And crucially, what was really going on between Alexander Hamilton and his sister-in-law? Find Cassandra’s book, Founding Friendships, here. 

DIRTY (67)Episode 14: Monstrous Women, with Dr. Nicole Dittmer. Following on from Season 2, Episode 8, Dr Nicole Dittmer joins us for a discussion about the Victorian view of women as inherently monstrous and how this widespread fear of women influenced the gothic fiction of the time, notably Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Literary nerds, rejoice! This week we’re talking Catherine Earnshaw, Bertha Mason, hysteria, demon uteruses, and…werewolves?! Plus, this episode comes with merch! Join the Monstrous Women squad with our new “Demon Uterus” design, up now at Tee Public. More on Nicole’s work here. 

78Episode 15: Queer Suffragists, with Dr. Wendy Rouse. You know about the Women’s Suffrage Movement, but what you might not realize is how many of early suffragists were queer. This week, we talk dress reform, free love, jiu-jitsu, and queer love stories with Dr Wendy Rouse, author of Public Faces, Secret Lives: A Queer History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Visit Wendy here. 

80Episode 16: Pamela Colman Smith and the Golden Dawn, with Susan Wands. The art of the Rider-Waite tarot deck is iconic, but not everyone knows the artist behind it, Pamela Colman Smith. This week, we talk to actress, tarot reader, and historical fiction author Susan Wands about Pamela’s life, her art, and her involvement with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Susan’s new book is Magician and Fool, a historical novel about Pamela Colman Smith. Visit Susan here. 

DIRTY pink triangleEpisode 17: Pink Triangle Legacies: From Imprisonment to Gay Liberation, with Dr. Jake Newsome. At least 385 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced so far in 2023, targeting everything from books to gender-affirming care and even marriage equality. It all sounds a bit familiar, and that’s what we’re talking about this week. Today we talk to Dr Jake Newsome, author of Pink Triangle Legacies: Coming Out in the Shadow of the Holocaust about anti-LGBTQ legislation in Germany from the 19th century until the 1970s, Nazi policies and how the public enabled them, and how the pink triangle went from a symbol of imprisonment to one of gay liberation. More on Jake’s project here. 

84Episode 18: Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag, with Craig Seligman. This week, we talk to Craig Seligman about the history of drag in the US and Australia and look at the extraordinary life of artist, filmmaker, and drag icon Doris Fish. We’re talking drag shows, drugs, glitter, Vegas in Space, and how San Francisco battled the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Craig’s new book is Who Does That Bitch Think She Is? Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag.


2Episode 19: Sex and Social Protest in 18th Century Pornography, with Dr. Kathleen Lubey. Eighteenth-century pornography was surprisingly progressive, challenging gender roles and the very definition of sex. This week, we talk to Dr Kathleen Lubey about that, plus dildos, gender fluidity, LGBTQ+ content, female empowerment, and the link to modern Romance novels. Dr. Lubey’s new book is What Pornography Knows: Sex and Social Protest Since the Eighteenth Century. Visit Kathleen here. 

Myth America episodeEpisode 20: Myth America with Dr. Kevin Kruse and Dr. Julian Zelizer. America is experiencing a crisis of “bad history,” with fake history being used to justify regressive policy decisions while real history is being removed from schools and libraries. Why is it happening, and what are the dangers of fake history? For the Season 2 finale, our guests are Princeton history professors Dr Kevin Kruse and Dr Julian Zelizer, editors of New York Times Bestseller Myth America: Historians Take on the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past. This episode covers everything from the Civil Rights Movement to current protests, from the “Lost Cause” and Reagan to gun control and Trump’s indictment. It’s a big episode that covers a lot of ground, attempting to answer, “Is history inherently political?” 

Season 3

DIRTY (4)Episode 3.1. A Haunted History of Invisible Women with Andrea Janes and Leanna Renee Hieber. We are kicking off Season Three with an extra-long episode with Andrea Janes and Leanna Renee Hieber, historical ghost tour guides and authors of A Haunted History of Invisible Women: True Stories of America’s Ghosts. From the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire to the Winchester Mystery House, we cover a lot of ground, discussing theoretical physics and the Stone Tape theory, famous ghosts, and the everyday horror of living as a woman in 19th-century America. What can ghost stories tell us about real history? A lot. We cover all this and more this week on DSH.


Listen to all of our episodes here: 


Episode 3.2. The HMS Black Joke and the Battle Against the Slave Trade Dirty Sexy History

Between 1827 and 1832, one ship—the Black Joke—captured thirteen slave ships and freed an incredible 3,000 people. The true story of the Black Joke is about so much more than one ship; today we also talk about diversity among sailors, gay relationships in the British navy, Britain’s complicated relationship with the slave trade, and how slavery was finally abolished. Our guest is historian and Jeopardy champion AE Rooks, author of the Mountbatten Maritime Media Awards’ Best Book of 2022, The Black Joke: The True Story of One Ship’s Battle Against the Slave Trade.
  1. Episode 3.2. The HMS Black Joke and the Battle Against the Slave Trade
  2. Episode 3.1. A Haunted History of Invisible Women
  3. Episode 2.20. Myth America with Dr Kevin Kruse and Dr Julian Zelizer
  4. Episode 2.19. Sex and Social Protest in 18th Century Pornography
  5. Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag