Sex in history

(67 Posts)
Tamoo Tue 25-Sep-12 13:15:22

Apologies in advance for lowering the tone.

It occurred to me reading the Henry VIII thread (someone mentioned Anne Boleyn introduced him to oral sex) how awful sex must have been pre-modern era standards of hygiene.

Thinking of, say, 500 years ago, when only the wealthy had regular access to hot baths, and even then perhaps only used them a couple of times a year?

How could anyone bear the smell of intimate physical contact with someone who never washed?

And the rotten teeth. Imagine full-on snogging with someone before toothpaste was invented.

I'm aware they didn't know any different but still.

Just a few historical musings for the day blush

MrsjREwing Tue 25-Sep-12 14:06:30


Tamoo Tue 25-Sep-12 14:09:48

That was pretty much my point, really...!

monsterchild Tue 25-Sep-12 14:11:18

I'm not sure full on snogging was terribly popular way back then. And if everyone around you stank, you'd get used to it soon enough. I mean, the smell of sewage was probably everywhere in towns, so I doubt some sexy funk was the worst thing ever.

Why do you think everyone's doctor was always recommending the fresh air of the country or the sea?

I seriously doubt that many people even got totally undressed for sex.

But these are all things that make me glad I'm living now!

ALittleBitOfMagic Tue 25-Sep-12 14:11:20

Also boak

LineRunner Tue 25-Sep-12 14:12:57

Maybe they were just pissed all the time.

I've got a book called Sex in History. I'll see if I can find 'mingers' in the index.

LiviaAugusta Tue 25-Sep-12 14:14:52

They were probably very gross from our standards but I think they changed their underclothes relatively frequently so weren't completely rank (well, the rich ones anyway). Snogging I think was something quite new and exotic in the 17th/18th century - can't quote my source on that though as I can't remember where I read it! Still can't imagine getting close to someone that smelly though - morning breath is bad enough grin

TunipTheVegemal Tue 25-Sep-12 14:19:25

Ah, but think how the hormones would have built up with no washing to remove them!
When I used to do historical re-enactments there was always a huge amount of shagging. We used to reckon it was the lack of washing that did it.

Tamoo Tue 25-Sep-12 14:24:46

Also I guess from a purely primal POV the urge to have sex quite often trumps everything else.

greenhill Tue 25-Sep-12 14:42:05

I've got the book Sex In History too. It is an excellent and informative read wink

Apparently you can date when people started to have face-to-face sex as opposed to doing it from behind / like the animals did, by the incidence of cold sores and other oral diseases.

MrsjREwing Tue 25-Sep-12 14:44:43

I am shocked face to face sex was not always on the menu.

R2PeePoo Tue 25-Sep-12 14:54:34

I read in a book about homosexual culture in Georgian times that blow jobs were quite rare, it tended to be vaginal/anal/intercrural and manual sex acts. Unsurprisingly as filthy mouth + filthy penis = not very appealing.

If you were properly devout the chances were you wouldn't be having very much sex any way (see here !).

Plus there would be levels of female incontinence and prolapse caused by childbirth that would be almost impossible to fix, especially if you are poor. (There is a very good book called A History of Women's Bodies' by Shorter that goes into these issues in more detail)

Oh and untreated STDs and lice/fleas.


TunipTheVegemal Tue 25-Sep-12 15:03:25

Interesting R2, especially the 'married more than three days' one. No traditional 'wedding night' then?

You lot are filthy. shock

I have a facsimile of a medieval prayer book that includes images of men staring up each others' bums and men with faces in their arses. There are also huge numbers of pictures of people weeing on each other or doing weird bum-stuff. I actually wonder if anal fetishes were less automatically revolting (sorry, if that offends anyone!) in a time when, well, it all smelt horrible.

There's a Latin epigram about mouths smelling like arses, too, but I forget the Latin.

Maybe it's only us who expect it all not to be smelly and disgusting?

TunipTheVegemal Tue 25-Sep-12 16:00:57


R2PeePoo Tue 25-Sep-12 16:06:11

Its only a guess but I would assume it links to the idea that sex can be a sin that defouls the body and mind, celibacy is the ideal way to worship God and marriage is an state instituted solely for procreating children.

So you shouldn't be looking forward to it or enjoying it if you are devoutly religious.

However medieval medical thinking was more enlightened and many believed the female orgasm was necessary for pregnancy. In addition the belief in 'hysteria' meant that midwives or doctors could be called to women manifesting symptoms to provide them with orgasms.

Here :

"Galen, a prominent physician from the 2nd century, wrote that hysteria was a disease caused by sexual deprivation in particularly passionate women: hysteria was noted quite often in virgins, nuns, widows and, occasionally, married women. The prescription in medieval and renaissance medicine was intercourse if married, marriage if single, or vaginal massage (pelvic massage) by a midwife as a last recourse".

Interestingly the reluctance of doctors to provide this service in the 19th century led to the development of the first vibrators, including a clockwork one (I have an excellent book on this subject).

Good article on this religious vs medical divide here

LineRunner Tue 25-Sep-12 16:11:25

I love the poems of Catullus (Roman poet). The Latin might bore the tits of you but please read Prof William Harris's fabulous translation below it.

Catullus XCVII

Non (ita me di ament) quicquam referre putaui,
utrumne os an culum olfacerem Aemilio.
nilo mundius hoc, niloque immundius illud,
uerum etiam culus mundior et melior:
nam sine dentibus hic: dentis os sesquipedalis,
gingiuas uero ploxeni habet ueteris,
praeterea rictum qualem diffissus in aestu
meientis mulae cunnus habere solet.
hic futuit multas et se facit esse uenustum,
et non pistrino traditur atque asino? 10
quem siqua attingit, non illam posse putemus
aegroti culum lingere carnificis?

So help me god, I can't tell the difference
whether I sniff at Aemilius' mouth or at his ass.
The one is not cleaner and the other not dirtier.
Actually the asshole may be cleaner and nicer in the end,
at least it has no teeth, the mouth has long fang ones,
with the gums of an old manure-loaded shit wagon,
and a foul odor which the pissing cunt
of a mule in heat is often likely to have.
Well, he fancies himself a beauty, fucks many a lady
yet is not sent to the mill-jail as a working ass. 10
If any girl touches him, wouldn't we think her ready
to lick the ass of a sick torture-chamber executioner ?

But then, how come they have sexy pics in prayer books?

I totally agree with you, I just can't understand how to reconcile it with the sexy pictures. Or did they (like us), think peering up someone's bum was disgusting rather than sexy?

(FWIW it's often rude illustrators, because scribes often have to split a word over two lines, and lots of words in Latin start with 'cul-', which means 'arse'. So it looks rude when it's split across a line. Dead mature, they were, you can tell.)

Ahhh, thank you line!

Sorry, I am totally wrong about it being an epigram but that is what I was thinking of.

LineRunner Tue 25-Sep-12 16:13:21

I can read your mind, LRD. grin

Oh, god, please don't! shock blush

There are Latin poems on vacancy, right?

R2PeePoo Tue 25-Sep-12 16:22:02

LRD: Its not as clear cut as religious and profane.
This is an excellent book I've had on my wishlist for ages, waiting for me to win the lottery. grin

The reviews here sum it up much more eloquently than I could right now.

LineRunner Tue 25-Sep-12 16:29:23

That book looks excellent. But what's with the nutty prices on Amazon - a thousand bucks! Is that just to get the book high up on the listings?

Oh, I love that book! I love all of his work.

Do you want me to post you a copy? If you just want to read it, I'm quite happy to lend it you? My copy wasn't very expensive ... flukes of the market.

He is so amazing, isn't he? I was gutted to realize he died of cancer very young.

Sorry. blush Stupidly, I realize obviously you don't want me to lend it you, you want a copy of your own.

DinosaursOnASpaceship Tue 25-Sep-12 16:44:43

I think my ex (once removed - is that how you refer to an ex previous to your current ex?) would have really fitted in well in medieval times the dirty skank


May I offer my congratulations that he's an ex?! grin

R2PeePoo Tue 25-Sep-12 16:48:07

LRD, actually its been about 10 years since I read it, I borrowed it from the university library and its been static on my wishlist for years (overshadowed by other interests), so if I could borrow it for a reread that would be fabulous.

Ultimately I'd love a copy of my own but can't justify £35 on one book atm.

I am very careful with other people's books and a quick reader grin. Shall I PM you my address? <eager>

Of course!

Just let me check I can find the thing and it's not at my parents' house!

Yep, got it, you're welcome. And I'm unlikely to need it in the near future. I would like it back, but don't feel like you have to skim it in ten days flat or something.

MrsSalvoMontalbano Tue 25-Sep-12 17:01:27

I have a book by Reah Tanahill (sp) (soz, not at home to check) called 'Sex in History' - going all the way back to prehistory - very well-reaesched and readable. She also wrote a book called 'Food in History' also excellent

LineRunner Tue 25-Sep-12 17:02:04

Is there any mileage in a separate book loan thread? <ponders>

I have hundreds of books on history and prehistory and antiquity and death and all that shit, some of them quite obscure and out of print.


LineRunner Tue 25-Sep-12 17:06:38

That's the one MrsSalvo - Reay Tannahill. Really readable.

I've got a great book of collected papers called Gender and the Archaeology of Death. Kick-ass woman writing about their passions.

I only know Reay Tannahill's novels, but they are great!

I need to re-read them.

Tamoo Tue 25-Sep-12 17:15:31

There's a lot of sexy stuff from Roman times, has anyone heard of the Secret Cabinet/Secret museum of Naples? It contained all the rude mosaics and statuary (man having sex with a goat is a famous example) and men doing the Grand Tour used to go and perve at all the antiquities in a scholarly sort of way.

However the Romans were into bathing and a lot cleaner than the average person in the Middle Ages etc.

DinosaursOnASpaceship Tue 25-Sep-12 17:15:47

Thanks LRD grin


I hope you found someone nicer afterwards!

(My ex is a wanker but, sadly, in no way historically interesting.)

Am going to lower the tone right down now.. (Sorry)

A school friend had a book about sex across the ages (or similar) from his mum (!) in which he said described something <boak> that would fall out of fanjos in a sort of minging lumpy thing which was a mixture of period blood, fanjo juice and cum..

I have never seen the book to know if he was not just trying to gross me out but <boak> <boak> <boak> just in case its true..!!!!!

MrsjREwing Tue 25-Sep-12 17:36:33

This is the most repulsive thread I have ever read.

SummerRain Netherlands Tue 25-Sep-12 17:46:00

QI mentioned that too.... They even had a name for it <<<heave>>>

R2PeePoo Tue 25-Sep-12 18:27:30

<has several hardback books full of images from Greek and Roman times-out of the reach of the kids of course>

I love the fact that the ancient Greeks wore costumes like these-scroll down to perform comedies. That both they and the Romans had penises everywhere - Priapus, Satyrs and just Penises - eighth picture down.

Aristophanes is brilliant too, I did those for A-level and we used to make bets on how soon the teacher would blush (not helped by a room of seventeen year old girls asking things like 'so what is anal penetration?' and 'what does phallus mean?')

Tamoo Tue 25-Sep-12 18:46:11

OMG how on earth did they describe that on QI?!

Tamoo Tue 25-Sep-12 18:47:07

<<ponders Stephen Fry saying the words "fanjo juice">>

LineRunner Tue 25-Sep-12 18:54:19

I think Stephen Fry would murmur, "A viscous concoction of menstrual blood, ejaculate and a dash of ladies' enthusiam".

SummerRain Netherlands Tue 25-Sep-12 19:00:53

Shit.... I should have know better than to google <<<needs shower>>>

I did come across this though..... They might not have liked sex much but they sure liked shoving things up their arses

LineRunner Tue 25-Sep-12 19:03:16

grin SummerRain

SummerRain Netherlands Tue 25-Sep-12 19:10:18


I'm off to purge my browser history and take a long hot shower now.......

CaptainKirksNipples Tue 25-Sep-12 19:29:03

A sootikin. Think I learned that on here!

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Tue 25-Sep-12 19:30:36

I think we can say History Club is a roaring success as a new Topic - it has a Friday night thread on a Tuesday!

Tamoo Tue 25-Sep-12 19:39:03

Christ, it actually had soot in it?!

Learning more than I ever wanted to know on this thread smile

LiviaAugusta Tue 25-Sep-12 19:45:08

Oh my, that's quite the grossest thing I've heard about in a long time since the last time I googled anything mentioned on MN

LineRunner Tue 25-Sep-12 19:49:35

No - but - it's fascinating. It could be seen as the body having a self-cleaning function. Or self-abluting.

grin at doctrine.

ProphetOfDoom Tue 25-Sep-12 21:31:12

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

TunipTheVegemal Tue 25-Sep-12 21:37:44

They used to share beds with complete strangers, NAKED, except for a nightcap.

stubbornstains Tue 25-Sep-12 21:43:09

But going back to the smell thing...why are we expecting people from Olden Times to have had precisely the same attitudes towards hygiene and desire as we did? They might have found a rather, erm, "riper" odour to be erotic - crammed with hormones, after all- and, if transported to the modern day, may have found the lot of us pretty unsexy because we don't smell enough! Don't forget Napoleon's message to Josephine- "Ne laver pas, je reviens"- "Don't wash, I'm coming back"? (Apologies for any mistakes in the French...)

ProphetOfDoom Tue 25-Sep-12 21:44:17

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Tamoo Wed 26-Sep-12 10:20:43

It's not just a ripe odour though, is it. I quite like a man who smells of himself IYKWIM without any cologne and I don't mind a bit of sweat. But for many people across much of history they would have been downright filthy: hard manual labour, impoverished liviing conditions inc. living with animals, grubbiness from open fires, untreated illness and infection, and so on. I just can't imagine something like oral sex (for example) being anything people would have enjoyed until relatively recent times. Exceptions being societies that did make a big deal of washing eg the Romans as mentioned earlier.

TunipTheVegemal Wed 26-Sep-12 10:39:38

Maybe if you were rich you would have oral sex once a year, after your annual bath grin

The privacy factor is something that intrigues me even more in relation to sex than dirt does. I can't imagine living without privacy just in general; what on earth your sexual relationships would be like without it, I can't imagine.

When they did that Iron Age village recreation on tv in the 70s the participants talked about how there was visual privacy but not aural privacy - you could hear the other couples at it in the dark in your roundhouse!

Well, and what about families living in one room? That wasn't terribly uncommon in the last century in the UK, was it?

That is hilarious about the Iron Age recreation ... some sounds you would not want to hear!

MrsSalvoMontalbano Wed 26-Sep-12 17:19:17

Has anyone mentione Napoleon? Apparanatly he sent a message to Josephine saying 'Back in X days, do not wash!'

TunipTheVegemal Wed 26-Sep-12 17:53:31

I've just remembered something.
Despite all this stuff about them not snogging, the normal Tudor kiss of greeting was on the lips. (No tongues or anything, but still.)

ProphetOfDoom Wed 26-Sep-12 20:42:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Tamoo Thu 27-Sep-12 11:28:35

I can well believe that about incest, apparently it (and inbreeding) is still relatively common in very closed communities where branches of the same family live in consistently close proximity across several generations and where education (esp sex/health education) is either poor or non-existent.

MrsBovary Thu 27-Sep-12 11:33:14

Goodness me!

I have a copy of History of Women's Bodies too, R2. It's an interesting read.

R2PeePoo Thu 27-Sep-12 13:32:46

MrsBovary Its a good one isn't it? Haven't met anyone else who has read it before. I read it for the first time when I was pregnant which was a huge mistake!

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