Forget the romance about damsels in distress and knights in shining armor—having sex in Medieval times (that’s the 5th to the 15th century according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica) was definitely a no-no. Well, according to ye olde religious edicts that is.
For example: if it was Sunday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday then it was a sin to have sex. If it was daylight or you were naked—you weren’t allowed to have sex either. If the wife was menstruating, pregnant or nursing a child—yep, sex was definitely out. As it was during Lent, Advent, Whitsun week, Easter, feast days and fast days. In fact, having sex was only allowed according to the penitentials if you wanted a child and then you could only do it so long as there was no fondling, no lewd kisses, no oral, no strange positions, and even then you could only do it once and you had better not enjoy it.
‘I’m not enjoying this, darling.’ ‘Me neither.’
As you can imagine, back in these feudal times finding a place to make out was difficult—accommodation was cramped, often cold and damp and lacked privacy. Out in the fields, or in a hay loft was more suitable, as was inside a church, which as Ruth Mazo Karras notes was:
...safe, dry, and deserted for much of the day, might have been the equivalent of the back seat of a car.
Because of religious belief abstinence had to be observed during the 46 to 62 days of Lent, the four weeks of Advent, and the 40 to 60 days around the Feast of the Pentecost. To help people people find suitable times to have intercourse Penitentials—“books which gave the rules of sex and the penance for breaking them”—were devised by the church. One such book was the Anglo-Saxon Canons of Theodore written around 700AD that included regulations on drunkenness, fornication, theft, perjury, heresy and being twice baptized—o, the horror! Under fornication in chapter two, it contains the following punishments for deviation from the proscribed sex acts:
Whoever fornicates with an effeminate male or with another man or with an animal must fast for 10 years. Elsewhere it says that whoever fornicates with an animal must fast 15 years and sodomites must fast for 7 years….
There was similar rules for pleasuring oneself:
If he defiles himself, he is to abstain from meat for four days. He who desires to fornicate (with) himself and is not able to do so, he must fast for 40 days or 20 days. If he is a boy and does it often, either he is to fast 20 days or one is to whip him….
Women were also threatened with dreadful punishments should they give into the temptation of pleasuring themselves with a homemade, edible or mechanical instrument:
Have you done what certain women are accustomed to do, that is to make some sort of device or implement in the shape of the male member of a size to match your sinful desire? If you have done this, you shall do penance for five years on legitimate holy days.
But there was worse….
Whoever ejaculates seed into the mouth, that is the worst evil. From someone it was judged that they repent this up to the end of their lives.
‘Arms above the bedsheets, please.’
It wasn’t just the church who were quick to denounce people doing what comes naturally. Royals, nobles and landowners used their power to influence young lovers. King Phillip IV of France (1268-1314) was known as “Phillip the Fair”—I think we’ll have to think of him fair of skin rather than fair or just. When he discovered some of his favorite knights were having “relations” with his three daughters-in-law arrested on charges of adultery in 1314. He had the men arrested and disemboweled. His daughters-in-law were sent off to a nunnery for their sins.
Interestingly, prostitution thrived during the Middle Ages and was generally ignored by the Church, or at worst considered a necessary evil, as scholar and saint, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) thought:
If prostitution were to be suppressed, careless lusts would overthrow society.
Most towns had a brothel. Prostitutes were recognizable by their dress—a veil and a garment with a bold yellow stripe. Regular customers probably came from the wealthier classes.
This handy little diagram explains the ins and outs (ahem) of what was or was not acceptable—and explains why if you were young, horny and fancied some slap and tickle then you were well and truly screwed.
Via The Medievalists and Oddee.