Study Guide

The Other Boleyn Girl Sex and Sexuality

By Philippa Gregory

Sex and Sexuality

"Have you done it?"

"Yes, ages ago."

"Did it hurt?"

"Very much."

She pulled back to read my face.

"Not too much," I said, qualifying. "He does try to be gentle. He always gives me wine. It's just all rather awful, really." (2.20-2.25)

One of the first things Anne does is ask her sister about sex with her husband. Anne is curious about what it's like, and it's apparent that Mary's pleasure is never considered by her husband.

"A man likes a glimpse of what he's buying." (3.113)

You've heard the saying, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Loosening Mary's bodice is like giving Henry a free sample. It's also treating her like a cow. Mary's thought of herself as furniture before; now she can think of herself as livestock to be traded.

"She's not there for her pleasure but for his." (3.129)

Female pleasure is never a factor in the sexual experiences in this book. All the sex is about power. There may be some pleasure in it for the man, but how the woman feels about it is never really considered.

"I'm making it fast," [Anne] said. "Not even the Percy family will be able to wriggle out of it when Henry and I tell them that we are wedded and bedded." (5.339)

A woman's virtue is her most valuable asset in this society, and Anne uses it to consummate her relationship with Henry Percy. Sex is a major part of the equation, because the return on the investment of marriage is supposed to be a child.

She protested her virginity and said that she would never forgive herself if she gave away her maidenhead before marriage, though God knew how much she desired him. (19.2)

Anne flaunts her non-existent virginity to Henry as a way of wooing him. He desires her because she is a virgin, and he will get rid of her after he is with her sexually. Double standard, anyone?

"I was his whore," I said. […] "When he lay on his back I would lie on him and kiss him down from his mouth to his parts and then lick his parts like a cat lapping at milk." (25.38)

Mary and Anne go through a role reversal during the book. Anne, raised in France, teaches Mary the ways of flirtation. But Mary, who has had sex more times than Anne has, later turns around and teaches Anne a few different tricks to use on the king in his bedroom.

"Good God, what do they do?"

"Everything, but the deed. She daren't allow it." (32.75-32.76)

Sexuality in 16th-century England isn't much different from sexuality now, where penetrative sex is given priority as the ultimate sex act, and everything else doesn't count the same way.

"Wouldn't you rather take me to your chamber?"

"If I wanted to be beheaded for incest, yes." (35.32-35.33)

There are many hints that George and Anne commit incest so that Anne can become pregnant with a male heir. Anne never confirms it outright, but the sexual tension between them is often brought to our attention. And it's not even clear if this possible sexual relationship is only about producing an heir; they may actually kind of have the hots for each other.

Then he lifted me up into his arms and carried me across the threshold of the house, and up the stairs into the bedroom, into the clean linen sheets of his duckdown bed, and into joy. (37.64)

This is the first time Mary has used a different three-letter word to refer to sex: joy. Being with William is pleasurable for her, which his unlike her experience with either of the previous two men she had been with.

We had taken Anne and trained her to do the things that Henry liked, the things all men like, things expressly forbidden by the church. We had given [Anne] the skills of a whore and now she was being reproached for it. (47.342)

Henry is the type of man who wants a woman to be erotic and alluring and virginal and pure at the same time. That's an impossible order for anyone; for Henry, as soon as a woman is sexual with him, she stops being virginal and pure, so he goes out and tries to find someone else. It's a cycle that never ends.