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As a dating writer, I’ve heard time and again people complain about how hard it is to date nowadays. It’s hard to meet people, it’s hard to know how to deal with changing gender roles, it’s hard to find someone to commit to. And to that, I say: at least our condoms aren’t made out of pig bladders.
Here are ten craaazy things you didn’t know about sex and love during the Middle Ages, to make you feel a little better about living in the 21st century.
1. How did a Medieval woman get ready for a date*? By plucking her hairline to achieve that sexy high forehead effect, going to a public bathhouse to bathe, and dousing herself with perfume made from oils, flowers, and spices.
*Chaperoned meeting in the presence of her parents during which she probably wouldn’t even speak to her beloved.
Related: Tips for Single Women from 1938
2. Couples were often betrothed around the age of 10 or 11, but they would meet their betrothed 5 or 6 years later. If they hated each other? Tough cookies.
3. After having sex for the first time, a man would often present his bride with a “morning gift,” to compensate for the loss of her virginity. Because a little decorative box totally makes up for what was probably an awkward first-sex experience.
4. People who had sex outside of marriage (fornicators), were punished heavily, if discovered, mostly because noblemen feared illegitimate children. Philip IV of France discovered his daughter-in-laws were having affairs, and had their lovers publicly disemboweled. The women had their heads shaven and were sentences to life imprisonment. (The Wikipedia page, if you’re interested.)
5. Sex was supposed to be strictly for the purpose of procreation back then, so only missionary style was encouraged. Albertus Magnus, a German bishop, made a list of sexual positions from least sinful to most sinful: 1) missionary, 2) side-by-side, 3) sitting, 4) standing and 5) a tergo (from behind). The only time anything other than missionary was really considered OK was in the case of mortal obesity. Oral sex was punished with three years imprisonment.
6. Richard the Lionheart, aka the Good King from Robin Hood, was apparently gay, and involved in a passionate relationship with King Philip II of France. Of course, this was all pretty hush hush, as homosexuality was considered a mortal sin.
7. You know what they say about the size of a man’s feet? Well, apparently they used to say it in the Middle Ages, too, as the long, pointy shoes that were in fashion were meant to suggest the size of a wearer’s penis. Also very fashionable? Codpieces.
8. Ever wondered about the etymology of the word, “dildo”? No, me neither, but apparently it comes from the Old English word “dilldough,” which was a small loaf of bread flavored with dill, which women used to…well, anyway!
9. Condoms did exist in the Middle Ages, but they were made out of animal bladders, tied with twine, and reused over and over again. Ew, on so many levels.
10. One topic on which scientists and theologians disagreed was masturbation. The Church agreed with Thomas Aquinas, who considered masturbation to be an “unnatural vice,” and therefore strictly prohibited. But medical authorities thought masturbation was an essential way of getting rid of “seminal humor,” and therefore keep the body in balance.