The Middle Ages may have been a sexually repressive time, but despite all efforts of the Church to make sex feel like a sin, people found a way. When there’s a libido, there’s always a way!) Here are some ways that sensuality reared its head. (Pun only slightly intended.)
My codpiece is bigger than yours
The most fashionable (and virile) men of their time wore codpieces: a flap or pouch that attached to the front of the crotch of men’s trousers, and skillfully draped in such a way that it exaggerated the genitals. Many men stuffed these with sawdust or cloth, or chose larger crotches to give the idea of an erect penis. “Codpiece” comes from the Middle English word, cod, which means scrotum.
Even the shoes were symbols of virility. The long, pointy shoes called poulaines were also supposed to symbolize the penis size. Well, if the shoe fits…
The Church called them “the fashions of the devil” but many people didn’t care. Both the codpiece and the poulaine were captured in paintings, such as those of Dutch artist, Pieter Breugel. There is a portrait of Henry VIII wearing both.
It feels so good to be so bad
Women were also known to use and hide dildos. One penitential book that documented punishments for sin exhorts, “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.”
Poets also made fun of the dildo, many of which were imported from Italy. One verse said: “You ladies all of merry England Who have been to kiss the Duchess’ hand, Pray, did you not lately observe in the show A noble Italian called Signor Dildo?”
The world dildo only emerged in the Renaissance period, supposedly because its shape resembled a small elongated loaf of bread flavored with dill, thus “dilldough.” Well it did spice things up.
The oldest profession
Prostitution was a thriving industry during the Middle Ages. It was considered an honest and essential profession. The Church even approved of it, because it was a “necessary evil that prevented adultery and homosexuality.” St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and one of the strictest theologians, wrote: “If prostitution were to be suppressed, careless lusts would overthrow society.” The prostitutes often worked their trade in brothels (called “stews”) and wore a veil with a yellow stripe to identify themselves. Brothels were considered the safest place for prostitutes who risked violence or imprisonment if they worked outside of their walls.
Condoms of the Middle Ages
The Church was less concerned about contraception then, more obsessed with “unnatural” sex acts rather than what people used. Condoms were made of animal bladders and intestines, secured with twine, and then washed for reuse. Eventually they were made of linen.
Women also made a primitive form of spermicide fromdates, acacia bark and honey mixed into a paste. The cloth was soaked in this and then inserted in vagina.