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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?

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 25-Sep-12 15:56:56

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 ?

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 25-Sep-12 16:11:54

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.)

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 25-Sep-12 16:12:39

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

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 25-Sep-12 16:15:14

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?

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 25-Sep-12 16:34:09

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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 25-Sep-12 16:34:52

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

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