Middle Ages sexual practices

Middle Ages sexual practices

Sex and sexual practices in the Middle Ages

In our society, sex is not necessarily a taboo subject anymore. It is omnipresent and hammered by the different media. Nothing is easier than turning on your television set or watching magazines to realize it. From a very young age, we are in contact with images, videos and other media with a direct or indirect link to sex. Even worse, psychologically, “sexual evolution” pushes us to become sexist while paradoxically our society advocates gender equality. Is the image of women in the different media in contradiction with our society?
But what was it before? How was the sex and sexual practices in the old days?
We will try to clarify all this.

Sex at the time: Basic notion

When we think of sexuality in the Middle Ages, two preconceived ideas come to mind.

1. The church shapes society with strict rules that do not allow anything sexual because thinking about sexual things is a sin
2. People live their sexuality hidden and with difficulty. Farmers practice sex behind the bushes. Priests seduce women who come to confession and young boys visit married women in the absence of their husbands.

These two behaviors that are diametrically opposed have the merit to exist in the medieval society. If we compare this method to the sexual practices of today, we realize that, in our society too, the conceptions of sexuality are different. For example, among your relatives you probably have an uncle who regularly visits swingers’ clubs and another who cannot consider sex before marriage. Although these two examples are extremely opposite, it is clear that different conceptions of sexuality can exist within a society.

Difference between a man and a woman 1000 years ago

The first strict attitude towards sexuality appeared for the woman in the Middle Ages. She could not afford to live a full and visible sexuality while the man on the contrary only wanted to satisfy his natural sexual need in full view of everybody (except for the monks).

In the Middle Ages, the notion of sex could only be considered as a practice that the man did with the woman. The opposite situation was not even conceivable. Thus, the man was always considered the active part of the sexual practice and the woman the passive part. The man was considered abnormal and acting against the natural course of life if he practiced a passive part of sexual practice, such as oral sex.

Let’s not forget that in the Middle Ages it was believed that women were more lustful than men. This thought was most probably promulgated by the monks because they could not have sexual relations even though when they saw a woman they were sexually stimulated. But the latter in the name of the church must suppress these sexual needs and blame the woman who wants to seduce him.

Sexuality from yesterday to today

During the years 500 to 1500 AD, the basic norms of sexuality were established and to this day certain norms are still engraved in our heads and still influence our sexual actions and thoughts.

The Christian church had a great influence on sexual life and most of the European countries took over almost all these ideas.

Even in the early Middle Ages, marriage and cohabitation were common among the high nobility. The church only wanted to recognize monogamy, but the nobility continued to insist on their right to plural marriage. Thus, in the early Middle Ages, the church was only able to impose its moral laws on laymen who, while wanting to be good Christians, had difficulty with the restrictions involved.

The 12th century seems to have known relatively few repressions. It was not until the mid-13th century that a more repressive era began to emerge: cities regulated prostitution and other sexual behavior, and ecclesiastical courts now punished adultery, fornication, and other sins.

The Church wanted to impose sexual norms and presented sexuality as a sinful and perverse practice, but many sectors of society hardly paid attention. As today there were many different opinions about sexuality.

From the end of the Middle Ages until today, our image of sexuality has changed. For example, during the Renaissance, celibacy was devalued by the rise of Protestantism, the emerging sciences served as new “opinion makers” and the spread of women’s rights changed our image of women.

This culture, which disappeared 500 years ago, has much in common with our own. We have evolved, adopted its language and pursued our ideas. However, this time seems to us as distant, unrealistic and fascinating ideas.

Sex in the public baths place of practice as in a brothel

The public baths were at that time not only a meeting place, but also a solution to treat various sexual disorders and were operated by some bathers as a brothel.

The public baths that developed flourished until the end of the Middle Ages to disappear during modern times for two reasons. 

1. Because of its scarcity, the price of wood needed to heat the rooms increased enormously.
2. People feared infectious diseases and public baths were considered a source of infection.

Sexual practices effects in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, children were sometimes married at the age of 12 or 14 and in some cases this would have likely resulted in sexual contact. A practice that seems inconceivable today but a reality of the time.
But what did these practices mean to this ancient society compared to our current society?

To be able to write a few words about this we need to know if the presence of children’s sexuality was felt and perceived in everyday life and what the impacts would have been without it. We also need to know whether early sexual experiences were harmful to children. In today’s society, of course, the answer is yes. But in an ancient society where one became an adult at 14 years old, what was it?

It seems to me difficult, if not impossible, to answer such questions. For that, we would need descriptions of the writings of epoch on people having lived childish sexual experiences. But as they do not exist, we have to conclude that the initial psychological damage could not be noticed, because it was normal and no one ever tried to establish a link between child sexuality and later psychological damage (be careful, we are not talking about rape). Or maybe it was simply not harmful for children at that time, because the whole society did not find anything wrong with it. But be careful, the non-existence of judgments does not prove the absence of negative psychological consequences. All this to say that we cannot discover the consequences of child sexuality for the society of the Middle Ages, or else there were no negative consequences…

We can criticize our current society, but if we look at the Middle Ages and the sexual practices that existed, we can think that time and men know how to change and evolve sometimes in the right direction.