The Truth about Sex in Medieval Europe

The Truth about Sex in Medieval Europe
04 November 2016 0 Comment

Who was Doing What to Whom in the Bedroom in Medieval Europe?

To understand sexual relations between a man and a woman in Medieval Europe we need to begin with the sad but earnestly believed premise of “women as the perpetrators of the original sin” and that they were blamed for all the physical, intellectual and moral weaknesses of society! There existed the almost paralyzing factor in male/female relations in all levels of society the inability to understand and control sexual desire. Medical knowledge, which was heavily based on the teachings of the 3rd century Galen, held that women’s wombs were “cold” and needed constant warming by “hot” male sperm. It was further believed, thanks to Galen, that if women did not copulate on a regular basis their “seed” might coagulate and suffocate their wombs, thereby damaging their health. It was assumed therefore that women had an overpowering physical need to have sex regularly, a belief that is still widely believed and misunderstood by certain men today!

The Role of Marriage in Medieval Europe.

Marriage was seen as an essential means of gratifying (and keeping under control) both the female and male lust through making each partner “indebted” to the other. Under this quasi-religious dictum and arrangement men truly believed that their wives were in a constant state of sexual arousal, needing sex as often as they could get it. The hand of the Church imposed itself rigorously even in the privacy of the bedroom, which of course was not that private due to overcrowding and the orchestrated copulation of the aristocracy. The Church forbade open expression of sexual desire, but the medieval notion of “courtly love” suggested that love and admiration could exist somewhere between erotic desire and spiritual attainment and large doses of intense sexual frustration!

“Turn the light off and get on with it”, the Church is watching!

The Church even dictated how you were supposed to have sex. Anything other than the common “missionary position,” for example, was considered unnatural and therefore a sin, according to the Church. The woman on top position, or entering her from the rear (sex a tergo) was not favored because they interfered with the natural order of male-female roles. Anal and oral sex were sins because they could only be practiced for pleasure, not procreation, which for the church was the only purpose of sex.

Italian dildo’s where considered a necessary part of any lady’s Boudoir   

There was however mention of women pursuing individual forms of pleasure and sexual satisfaction with references to the use of dildos by women in the Middle Ages, as mentioned  by the Church’s “penitential,” a book that prescribes punishments for sins. “Have you done what certain women are accustomed to do, that is to make some sort of device or implement in the shape of the male member of a size to match your sinful desire? If you have done this, you shall do penance for five years on legitimate holy days.

One writer in the renaissance period referred to the popularity of dildos imported from Italy in this rather suggestive ditty:

You ladies all of merry England

Who have been to kiss the Duchess’ hand,

Pray, did you not lately observe in the show

A noble Italian called Signor Dildo? …

A rabble of pricks who were welcomed before,

Now finding the porter denied them the door,

Maliciously waited his coming below

And inhumanly fell on Signor Dildo …

Maintenance and Servicing of the Penis?

If a man could not perform sex, the Church brought in a special group of “private investigators” – wise village women who would examine the husband’s penis and assess its general health to determine if it were capable of performing sex for procreation (and pleasure). If the penis was deformed, or if there was some other reason he could not consummate the marriage, the couple would be separated.

Women did have the final say in the bedroom

Sex was not the boring, predictable romp in the biblical hay you might have thought it to be. Prostitution was rampant throughout Medieval Europe. For a time, the Church actually approved of prostitution. Ironically, the practice was regarded as a way of preventing adultery and homosexuality on a larger scale, so it was viewed as a necessary evil. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the sterner theologians of the day wrote: “If prostitution were to be suppressed, careless lusts would overthrow society.”

As maligned as women were by a neurotic and superstitious Church, many held a light to their importance in society and fully enjoyed their independence in the bedroom. It comes as no surprise that such a learned man as Geoffrey Chaucer declared, “What is better than wisdom? Woman. And what is better than a good woman? Nothing.”

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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