Sex in the Middle Ages: The effed up things ye olde people did

Did you know dildos have been around since medieval times?

sex in the middle ages

Despite sex being around since, legitimately, the beginning of time, it is fair to say that the act itself (and all the ~dramah~ surrounding it) has come a long way.

After snooping into the history records of ye ol’ England, we discovered some pretty shocking details about sex in the Middle Ages. Frankly, getting jiggy with it in Medieval times was complicated, risky and may or may not have resulted in you getting burned at the stake. But it’s not all bleak — in fact, some of the things that folks got up to back in the day are hilarious.

Read on to be equally entertained and revolted.

The Church was hella strict about sex positions

In medieval times, the only position that was considered to be completely ‘natural’ and fine in the eyes of the Church was the ‘missionary position’ — which is why the move has this name, because Christian Missionaries would encourage it.

Other positions were deemed ‘unnatural’ and therefore a sin in the eyes of God. Girl on top, reverse cowgirl etc were not allowed because they interfered with the natural order of male-female gender roles. Eurgh. Up to three years’ penance for riding ye old mate.

What was worse than the woman being in control? Anal and oral sex were listed as hardcore sins because they were only ever practised for pleasure, not for procreation. Religious purists believed that baby making is, and should be, the only purpose of sex. Something tells us, they have been doing it wrong…

‘Progressive’ theologians began to question the Church’s strict rules (probs 'cause they were experimenting themselves). Albertus Magnus (a Catholic bishop who later became a Saint) decided to rank sex positions from good-and-holy to not-so-godly. The list was as follows:

  1. Missionary
  2. Side-by-side (Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj are clearly heathens)
  3. Sitting
  4. Standing
  5. A Tergo (which is ye old slang for doggy style)

Missionary remained the only completely ‘natural’ position but the others were changed from ‘mortally sinful’ to ‘morally questionable’.

Dildos are older than you think…

Though the word wasn’t properly used until the Renaissance period, the supposed origin of the word ‘dildo’ was ‘dilldough’ — after a small elongated loaf of bread flavoured with dill. It is not recorded whether the name was taken because this bread looked like a potentially phallic tool, or whether these loaves were actually used in the act.

As masturbating fell under the sodomy umbrella, the use of a dildo was not a practice that put a smile on the church's face. In fact in a church ‘penitential’ (a big book of punishments for sins) there was this extract:

So that is five years of penance for using a dildo. Imagine what it would be for a vibrator?!

Having sex could have you killed

In ye olden times, sodomy was defined as “acts against nature”. What was considered to be an act against nature, included:

• Masturbating alone
• Masturbating with others
• “Copulation between the thigh” (aka oral)
• “Copulation in the rear” (aka, well, you get the idea)

St Thomas Aquinas expanded the definition of sodomy to mean literally everything other than vaginal sex in the missionary position. Fun guy…

Sodomy was punishable by death in the 12th and 13th centuries, and the act that was most punished for (aka the biggest sin of all in the medieval church’s eyes) was homoerotic relationships. Death for this ‘crime’ included mutilation (obviously with no medical painkillers) or being burned at the stake.

If priests were caught in the act then their punishment was to be hung up in a suspended cage above the town until they starved to death.

Erectile dysfunction was a big problem

If a fella could not make his little soldier stand to attention, then it was flagged up by the family to the Church. The Church would then send in ‘private investigators’ to examine the husband’s penis. If they deemed that there was no hope that the little guy would be able to perform anytime soon, then the Church would force the couple to split up.

Big dicks were very ~fashun~

There was a very bizarre accessory that was all the rage in the Middle Ages – the codpiece.

This was a little pouch that attached to the front of a pair of trousers that blokes would wear to enhance their package, or make them look like they were fully erect throughout the day. It was often stuffed with sawdust and was tied to the groin with string.

As well as wanting to look like a ‘big boy’, large penises gave off the idea that the dude was super fertile — which was a big tick in the box for medieval wives-to-be.

Another way guys would try and build up the illusion of a big wang would be by wearing a shoe called a poulaine, which were notoriously long and pointy, to symbolise a big ol’ shaft. The longer the shoe, the greater package the fella was working with. False advertising much?!

Shock of the century — the Church hated these and thought that both accessories were “fashions of the devil”.

Oddly, the Church was pretty chill with prostitutes

Despite being cranky about almost everything else, the Church viewed prostitution as a necessary evil. Lucky, as the profession was rife in the Middle Ages, with most villages having their own brothel — or, as they were called back then, ‘stews’. Gross name. We know.

Sex workers who were part of a brothel tended to wear a signifier to point them out as a prostitute — usually a veil or a yellow stripe on their dress.

Why you should be very, very appreciative of condoms

As mentioned, the Church was not best pleased with couples having sex for pleasure as the primary function was to make babies, not to treat yo self. That means that they did not want their congregation using contraception. And when you find out what their methods of contraception were, you probably wouldn’t have been keen to use them either…

The condom equivalent in the Middle Ages was made from animal bladders or pig intestines, sometimes cleaned with sulphur and tied with twine. If that doesn’t sound horrific enough for you, then you should probably know that they were also ‘reusable’.

Example of a medieval condom. Image from *[History Undressed](|target="_blank")*
Example of a medieval condom. Image from History Undressed

These ‘condoms’ were sold at markets and were quite pricey products, meaning not many people had them. It is said that one condom would have cost a prostitute several months’ pay.

Women also had a go at trying to prevent baby making. They often made their own pessaries (which is kind of like a diaphragm) with homemade ingredients that supposedly acted as a sort of spermicide. One noted recipe included ground dates, bark and a blob of honey mixed into a paste. They would then apply this paste to the inside of their vagina.