The History of Sex, Scandal and Society: Betwixt the Sheets with Kate Lister 

Written by Naomi Wallace

How did people have sex in Tudor England? Did Lord Byron really sleep with his half-sister? What were historical sex toys made from? And when did the C-word become so offensive? If you want to know the answer to any of these questions – and I don’t know why you wouldn’t – look no further. All of these, and more, are the focus of History Hit’s outrageously entertaining podcast about the history of sex, scandal and society, Betwixt the Sheets

Join Dr Kate Lister on a journey through the sexiest – and sometimes strangest – sides of history, from Ancient Roman dildos to Henry VIII’s possible venereal diseases, to the first boob job. At the start of every episode, Kate gives us all a “fair do’s warning” that this is a podcast for adults, by adults, talking about adult things, so if that’s not your thing, it may not be for you. It’s not all sex, however; we also get a look into Early Modern murders, the origins of gothic fiction, and the history of tattoos. Betwixt the Sheets is a podcast that explores many elements of social history that have been submerged, hidden, or not considered worthwhile in mainstream historiography. 

As far as historians go, Dr Kate Lister is a tonic. She’s witty, down-to-earth, and a damn good historian with an impressive research output. Kate founded the online research project and archive Whores of Yore, that explores the history of sex and sex work from a range of academic, political and personal perspectives, and has published an enlightening book on the subject, A Curious History of Sex (2020). It is evident that the guests invited onto the podcast are made to feel comfortable in the informal atmosphere, which allows the discussion to flow in a light-hearted manner, all the while the content remains deeply informative and interesting. In an episode about female modesty, both Kate and guest Victoria Bateman recorded the interview completely in the nude! With her infectious personality, and extensive qualifications, there could not be anyone better suited to host Betwixt the Sheets than Kate Lister. 

What I love about Betwixt the Sheets is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is happy to acknowledge that talking about sex, past or present, can be funny, and Kate and her guests often have a laugh over the sillier elements of the subject matter. “I’d probably still shag him”, Kate quips during a discussion about the bizarre aspects of Lord Byron’s life. But in addition to its humour, the podcast touches upon themes that are incredibly pertinent today, such as sexual violence and abortion. Though its focus is historical, it feels highly relevant as a modern listener and informing people about the histories of these issues helps to construct a better understanding of them today. 

With just over one hundred episodes to peruse, Betwixt the Sheets offers a delightful range of snippets into some of the most fascinating and scandalous themes across history. It is incredibly educational, and I come away from every episode with new, interesting knowledge. One reviewer said that the podcast “feels like having a drink and a gossip with an old friend” and I must agree. I find myself laughing along with Kate and her guests, all the while learning about a vast scope of the history of sex and society. Accessible, entertaining and informative, I could not recommend a history podcast more than Betwixt the Sheets with Kate Lister. 

Betwixt the Sheets: The History of Sex, Scandal and Society is available to listen to on all major podcast streaming services.

Featured image credit: Accessed via Kate Lister on Twitter (@k8_lister).

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