How Medieval People Decided Whether Sex Was Acceptable or Not

I want to sex you up.

Hold on, let me break out my medieval chart and see if I have a sufficient reason to have sex with you without sinning.

sex flowchart

In Medieval Europe , the answer basically would have been no, even if we were married.

The penance for sinful sex was steep. Here’s a small excerpt from the Canons of Theodore – a handbook of sin that helped the confessor decide what the penance was for each transgression (as found on the History Blog):

Whoever fornicates with an effeminate male or with another man or with an animal must fast for 10 years.

If the effeminate male (bædling) fornicates with another effeminate male (bædling), (he is to) do penance for 10 years.

If he defiles himself (masturbates), he is to abstain from meat for four days.

He who desires to fornicate (with) himself (i.e., to masturbate) 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.

If a woman fornicates [with another woman?] she must do penance for 3 years.

If she touches herself in the same way, i.e., in emulation of fornication, she must repent for 1 year.

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.

As for the married, the guidelines for sex were:

[blockquote]The penitential writers saw marital sex as a concession, not as a right or even a gift from God. The pleasure it brought was inherently sinful, a gateway to lust, so sex within marriage should be carefully contained and scheduled to ensure the most possible procreation and the least possible pleasure. Married couples had to abstain regularly or the very state of their marriage would degenerate into an illegitimate and sinful union. Even the children born of sex during a period where the couple should have abstained — mainly based on the Church’s liturgical calendar and on the wife’s reproductive cycle — were to be considered bastards.[/blockquote]

Talk about wham, bam, thank you ma’am! Although that probably would have implied too much for on the man’s part, so it was probably more like wham, bam, done, now let’s wash and pretend it never happened.

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