Once upon a time, people thought the world was flat, and that unicorns roamed the Earth, so it stands to reason we’ve got a few other things wrong over the years. And when it comes to sex, we’ve believed some really crazy stuff. Here are some of the most bizarre ideas and sex advice to be dispensed over the last 2000 years:
One of the earliest-known sex manuals harks from Ancient China around 300 BC. It says if you have sex with a different virgin every night without ejaculating, you’ll become immortal. Gross.
Massaging someone’s ego has always worked, no matter what the century. A 2 BC papyrus sex manual by Greek courtesan Philaenis advises: "Pick the woman's worst feature and then make it appear desirable. Tell an older woman that she looks young. Tell an ugly woman that she looks “fascinating”.” She was really onto something, right?
You may recall the ancient poet Ovid from your high school history class, but did you know he was banished for dispensing sex advice through poetry? "If you are short, go on top/If you're conspicuously tall, kneel with your head turned slightly sideways" – said old Ovid in one of his poems. Random. The emperor of Rome at the time clearly didn’t approve because he made poor Ovid leave forever.
In the Middle Ages, only the missionary position was allowed. Any other moves were considered unnatural and therefore sinful. Doesn’t sound like much fun to us.
A 12th-century Indian scripture advises against marrying redheads or women with big toes that are too small. Poor redheads have always copped a raw deal it seems!
Published in the 13th or 14th century, the Medieval manual De Secretis Mulierum (The Secrets of Women) claimed women drained men of their power through sex and some hid sharp shards of iron inside themselves to injure innocent men. Yikes, how paranoid is that?!
Need a love potion? In 15th century Venice, a lower-class girl created a mixture of her own menstrual blood, a rooster heart, wine and flour to make a young aristocratic man crazy for her. It worked a little too well: she got the guys but then was busted and put to death. We’ll stick to sending come-hither looks and leave the love brewing to others - those Renaissance chicks were more desperate for love than Carrie Bradshaw.
In the Renaissance, the power of the printing press meant sex advice could be printed out faster than it could be banned by the Church. Yiew! Unfortunately, their ideas were totally cray cray: one “helpful” tip by Mrs Isabella Cortese, an alchemist and writer, in 1561 recommended mixing quail testicles, large-winged ants, musk and amber for straightening bent penises. Luckily, if that doesn’t work, we now have surgery.
What is it with blondes? "All women are lascivious but auburn blondes the most," writes Giovanni Sinibaldi in Rare Verities: the Cabinet of Venus Unlock'd (1658). In other words, he thinks they can’t wait for a roll in the hay. It seems blondes’ reputation for fun has been around for some time.
In a letter to a friend, one of America’s Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin advised that he should choose an older mistress because they are sneakier than young ‘uns but nicer than hookers, can’t get pregnant, and their looks have been ravaged by age so they need to try harder. Nice.
In the medical text The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs (1858) by William Acton, it is said that "the majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled with sexual feelings of any kind." Could they be any more wrong?
Corsets make women horny, apparently: "Constricting the waist by corsets prevents the return of blood to the heart, overloads sexual organs and causes unnatural excitement of the sexual system. The majority of women follow the goddess fashion and so also wear their hair in a heavy knot. This great pressure on their small brains produces great heat and chronic inflammation of their sexual organs. It is almost impossible that such women should lead other than a life of sexual excess." Dr John Cowan, The Science of a New Life (1888).
According to Confidential Talks With Husband and Wife (1900) a book of advice for marriage, sex four times a month is more than enough. In fact, anything else would be “excess”. We definitely beg to differ.
The Edwardian era:
We may be a young country but we have the dubious honour of having our own historical sex nut. Australian William Chidley printed a pamphlet in 1911, which promoted togas because heavy clothes caused erections. Seriously. He also supported the method of flaccid intercourse, which he based on horses’ sex lives. We’re not sure why he thinks horses did it right, but he was arrested because his toga was considered indecent and decreed insane. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.
According to Edward Podolsky in the book Sex Technique for Husband and Wife (1947): "The clitoris, while important, is not nearly as important as many of us have been taught or led to believe." Can you believe we could still get it so wrong even 60 years ago?
"Never fool around sexually with a vacuum cleaner" recommends Dr Alex Comfort in The Joy of Sex (1972). We hope he isn’t speaking from experience.