• Fri. Mar 31st, 2023

Medieval Sex Rules – How Not to Have a Good Time


Oct 27, 2022

Nowadays, intercourse is in every single place. It is in our books, movies, songs, TV exhibits, and now, even our historical past articles. Though some nations nonetheless impose strict guidelines upon intercourse, the actual fact is most western nations have relaxed of their strategy to intercourse. At the moment, intercourse is one thing to be loved, to not be ashamed of. However that hasn’t all the time been the case. In medieval instances, intercourse got here with so many guidelines and prerequisites that it’s a surprise we didn’t go extinct.

Married Folks Solely Please

In medieval instances, the one individuals who have been allowed to have intercourse have been those that had exchanged marriage vows . Intercourse earlier than these vows, particularly in early medieval instances, was seen as a significant sin. The truth is, anybody discovered having intercourse earlier than marriage may very well be executed by disembowelment!

Whereas this may increasingly sound fairly clear-cut, it wasn’t. There have been two units of vows, and this brought about a sure diploma of confusion. There have been betrothal vows, which a pair used to pledge that at some point they might get married, and the marriage vows which they stated on the wedding ceremony. These vows held equal weight; as soon as a pair had made a vow, they might have intercourse with no repercussions (apart from those Mom Nature supposed).

A betrothal vow may very well be damaged, however a marriage vow couldn’t, because the medieval church was not an enormous fan of divorce. The betrothal vow was not a loophole, nonetheless. Folks couldn’t simply get betrothed, have intercourse, after which name the marriage off. If a pair had intercourse after making the betrothal vow, they have been robotically married within the eyes of the church. Not everybody realized this although, and so ecclesiastical courts spent a good period of time coping with {couples} who didn’t notice they’d gotten married.

The one method out of an sad marriage was sexual impotence . Since marriage was meant to result in procreation, in case your associate couldn’t produce infants, it was grounds for divorce. Some males tried to make use of this as one other loophole. They might declare impotence with their previous spouse, however magically be capable to do the deed once more with their new spouse.

The Catholic Church quickly grew sensible to those shenanigans and instituted new guidelines. To corroborate any claims of impotence, a pair needed to have been married for at the very least three years and witnesses have been required.  

Manuscript Leaf with Marriage Scene, from Decretals of Gregory IX, circa 1300 ( Public Domain )

The Catholic Church Determined When Intercourse Was Okay

The Catholic Church wasn’t completely satisfied merely telling individuals who they might have intercourse with. There have been additionally strict guidelines as to when {couples} may get pleasure from one another’s firm.

The non secular calendar featured “chaste days,” throughout which there may very well be no fornication. There was to be no intercourse through the main holidays (like Christmas and Easter), nor through the six weeks of Lent. Sundays and fish days have been additionally out.

On high of this, intercourse was to be averted throughout being pregnant, menstruation, and lactation. This wasn’t a lot enforced by the church as really useful by squeamish medieval doctors . General, this didn’t depart numerous days disregarded of the 12 months.

As well as, on the times husbands and wives have been allowed to have intercourse, they wanted to be ready. Underneath medieval legislation, intercourse needed to be given on demand. Saint Paul had declared husbands and wives have been to “ship unto one another what was due” (intercourse). Each companions have been equal when it got here to the concept of marital debt. In case your associate was within the temper, legally, you needed to be too.

Fortunately, as time progressed, the Catholic Church realized lots of people have been merely ignoring the principles and so it relaxed its stance. By the twelfth century, most of those guidelines had grow to be strategies. The church most popular it if individuals spent their holy days worshiping God, however they weren’t going to kill you over it anymore.

Depiction of a couple in bed, from the 14th century book Tacuina Sanitatis (Public Domain)

Depiction of a pair in mattress, from the 14th century ebook Tacuina Sanitatis ( Public Domain )

Guidelines on How the Deed was Accomplished

The Catholic Church didn’t cease with guidelines on when or with whom individuals may have intercourse. In response to the church, intercourse was all about one factor and one factor solely: procreation. This meant that individuals ought to solely have intercourse in the event that they have been actively attempting to have a child. Having intercourse purely for pleasure was a significant sin.

One other main sin was attempting something too risqué within the bed room. Intercourse was seen as one thing the person did to the lady. The one intercourse that was permitted was intercourse during which males took the lively position whereas girls remained passive. This meant that just one sexual place was allowed, the so-called missionary pose.

Various sexual positions, for instance, the feminine being on high, have been seen as unnatural. It was believed that different positions undermined the person’s pure masculine dominance. Bizarrely, among the extra liberal-minded theologians hung out rating how sinful sexual positions have been based mostly on how pure they have been. The extra ‘unnatural’ the place, the extra doubtless it was somebody was going to hell.

The Catholic Church also attempted to regulate ‘unnatural’ sexual positions. A drawing from a 15th century French Book of Hours illuminated manuscript (Public Domain)

The Catholic Church additionally tried to manage ‘unnatural’ sexual positions. A drawing from a fifteenth century French Ebook of Hours illuminated manuscript ( Public Domain )

Different kinds of sexual contact have been additionally banned. This meant no oral intercourse, no anal intercourse, no masturbation, and no foreplay. Any sexual act that wasn’t aimed particularly in the direction of making infants was deemed to be sodomy.

Breaking these guidelines got here with some awfully harsh punishments. Sadly, this meant homosexuals, particularly, suffered tremendously. Males discovered responsible of sodomy may face being burned at the stake , hung, and even starved to demise.

The burning of the knight Richard Puller von Hohenburg with his servant before the walls of Zürich, for sodomy, circa 1483 (Public Domain)

The burning of the knight Richard Puller von Hohenburg together with his servant earlier than the partitions of Zürich, for sodomy, circa 1483 ( Public Domain )

Breaking the Guidelines of Medieval Intercourse

There wasn’t any a part of intercourse that the Catholic Church didn’t try to manage, and punishments have been typically extreme. The church simply had one downside: individuals like having intercourse. Even worse, the extra forbidden one thing is, the extra enticing it typically is as properly.

Proof means that regardless of all of the church’s threats, most individuals simply ignored the principles, understanding so long as it was behind closed doorways, the church would have a tough time proving something.

If something the church’s stance on intercourse backfired. Their give attention to intercourse being inside marriage and just for procreation typically pushed individuals away from their spouses. Many medieval individuals, particularly these of the higher lessons, had two companions. There was often one partner, who they merely married and had infants with, and a second, extramarital romantic associate with whom they did all of the enjoyable, supposedly sinful issues.


After all, church buildings immediately nonetheless have teachings relating to intercourse that they count on their practitioners to observe. Fortunately, nonetheless, most individuals within the West are free to decide on whether or not they observe them or not. It’s a matter of perception, not legislation.

At the moment, our non-public lives are our personal and what we do in non-public is our enterprise. Nevertheless, you will need to do not forget that as surprising or amusing as a few of these guidelines seem immediately, there are components of the world the place these sorts of guidelines are nonetheless enforced. A have a look at these guidelines is a reminder that we shouldn’t take the freedoms we get pleasure from immediately as a right.

Prime picture: Medieval intercourse was often restricted by the Catholic Church in some ways. Element from The Backyard of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1500. Supply: Public Domain

By Robbie Mitchell

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