Most of us know how sex is done today; we’ve either done it, tried it, or have an inkling of what goes on if we haven’t. But sex was not always so simple a matter. In medieval Europe sex was only deemed acceptable within marriage, and even then it was for the lower echelons of society; the religiously superior abstained from such carnal vices. In marriage there were many ins and outs with regards to bedroom activity, with too much sex thought to be a bad thing. Many medieval authors agreed it was a sin if couples didn’t abstain from sex during Lent, the Pentecost and Advent; amounting for almost 70 days of every year. That’s a dry spell for up to twenty-percent of the year.
Some thinkers also thought it wrong to engage in sex on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Common folk were warned against sex during the day, sex whilst naked, and sex in any other position than the missionary. The man had to be on top; otherwise it was deemed ‘unnatural’, reversing the social hierarchy by suggesting that women were superior to men. Christian theologians likewise denounced sex from behind, considering it beastly. Non-procreative sex was condemned, meaning oral and anal, described as ‘whorish embraces’, were out the window (rather than through the back door).
Masturbation, thankfully, was seen more leniently and could be absolved through confession. In a sense, you could masturbate as much as you liked so long as they told the priest about it. Whilst masturbation was seen as only slightly wrong, sex outside marriage met with serious punishments and the law treated adultery primarily as a female offense. Women, after all, were seen as the weaker sex, more prone to giving in to sinful carnal desires. If convicted of adultery women might well have had their heads shaved and been forced to march through the streets. Authorities forbade the killing of adulterous wives but the courts would often turn a blind eye to a husband who slay his wife’s lover.
The most serious sexual deviancy during the Middle Ages was sodomy, this being sexual relations between any persons of the same gender, or non-vaginal sex between a man and a women. Bestiality was viewed as sodomy by some, as a separate crime by others, but to all religious writers it was considered slightly better than homosexuality. Yes, you read that correctly, humping an animal was considered superior to being gay.
It might shock, then, to learn that prostitution was more widely accepted. If prostitutes were not around to appease men’s lust then things may turn sour for society as whole, and in some places prostitution came to be seen as a public necessity.
It would be unfair to say that medieval Europe was all rules and regulations. It’s likely that the wide majority of people were much more lax with their sex-lives than their ecclesiastical counterparts. In fact, there are a number of references to women using dildos, though it’s widely accepted these artefacts were quite different from the rampant rabbits used today. The use of such implements might have been used by women if their partners could not perform. If impotency occurred, wise women from the community might be brought in to examine the dysfunctional penis. If the penis was deemed inadequate or the husband could not consummate the marriage the couple may be allowed to separate.
So, be thankful that we are free to realise whatever carnal desires we want. Without the need for bestiality, you can frolic with whomever you want, and however you want, even on a Wednesday if you’d like (hello literal hump day). So, lets debunk the findings of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles’ and get naked, because we can.