What sex was REALLY like in medieval times – from kinky role play to DIY porn

Medieval times weren’t all boils and grime – one historian says sex toys, foreplay and porn were rife too.

Dr. Eleanor Janega, who wrote The Middle Ages: A Graphic History, reveals all in our Ye Olde Middle Ages sex guide.


MEDIEVAL people didn’t need car headlights to enjoy sex outdoors for all to see.

"Outdoor sex was going on a lot at ‘fayres’ – basically a big party, perhaps an ‘ale fayre’ – people would have sex in the surrounding fields. They even wrote songs about it.

“So they weren’t necessarily having sex for others to watch, but they had to be aware that people could be watching. We’re not sure if they enjoyed the fact that other people may have been watching.

“Some of the outdoor sex came down to privacy – if you’re living in a one-roomed house, you don’t have many options.

"Also, a lot of young people worked in service and couldn’t take anyone back to the house where they lived.”


THE church was strict when it came to sex, it was for procreation only and missionary was the only acceptable position.

Any type of foreplay was a sin, but that didn’t stop the randy people of the times. They were having much more fun between the sheets than was allowed.

“Sexuality in the medieval period was the church trying to get people to only have procreative sex,” says Dr Janega.

“It’s funny though, as the people didn’t seem to be interested in that at all.

“Non-procreative sex was considered the good stuff. They seemed to be most interested in the kind of sex that we now call foreplay. Straightforward intercourse was the boring thing that you ‘should’ do, whereas everything else was fun – because it was taboo.”

They used condoms mainly to prevent STIs spreading.


SEX toys were invented by Ann Summers, yes? Wrong. Phallic-shaped devices existed thousands of years ago.

By the middle ages, sex toys were widespread.

“We know sex toys were popular because we have receipts for them,” says Dr Janega. One is from a leather maker who created a red leather one complete with a strap for a female customer.

"Women also made them themselves, using anything from ceramics to clay. One way we find out what they were up to is by looking at the rules around what people were told not to do.”

Dr Janega talks about 8th century literature that told priests to “ask women if they have made something in the shape of the male member to assize their infernal imagination”.

In other words, do you use a sex toy?


MEDIEVAL people had a penchant for pain – and that was long before EL James brought bondage and sadomasochism to the forefront of popular culture with her Fifty Shades Of Grey series of books.

Dr Janega says: “We think of S&M as a new phenomenon, but people had these interests in the middle ages, too. There are writings about relationships where each person spanks the other and then they hit each other.

"There’s a lot of getting excited about the pain. In churches, there were statues of half naked people bound to pillars or strapped to trees and being lashed.

"And medieval people talk about finding that sexy.

“A number of devices, or sex machines, have been found too, that were used in wacky medieval sex.

“They were kind of kinky.”


IN the middle ages, historians say it was believed that both men and women needed to orgasm to conceive a child.

They also thought that to be fertile, both sexes needed to regularly expel their seed.

If a woman wasn’t married, and therefore not expected to be sexually active, it was thought the seed would build up inside her and cause “suffocation of the womb”.

Some doctors would prescribe do-it-yourself methods to release the seed.

“But they weren’t huge fans of going it alone, so they might recommend you see a midwife or a doctor, who would help you with it,” Dr Janega says.

The medieval church took a dim view of sex, as it was considered enjoyable. Dr Janega says that pleasure was a huge part of it, and records from the time describe how much fun it is.


FORGET the Bayeux Tapestry, everyday medieval people were far more interested in making their own kind of artwork – the kind they could really pore over . . .  and over, and over.

While top-shelf magazines, adult shops and the internet were not yet invented, people would make their own pornographic material.

Dr Janega says they were excellent at using their imagination and creativity.

She adds: “They were like, ‘I will make my own porn, I will do drawings of things I think are sexy’.

“We have found all kinds of drawings of sex acts that were made during medieval times. They feature vaginas, penises and people having sex.

“And we know the people back then found them funny. They had a great sense of toilet humour.”


STRAIGHT, gay, lesbian, bisexual and other terms referring to sexuality were not at all prevalent in medieval times.

Dr Janega says: “It wasn’t about an identity, it was more about the actions. Because, for them, there was no such thing as homosexuality or hetero-sexuality, you were either a sodomite or you were not.

“For them, sodomy was defined as all kinds of sex that can’t get you pregnant.

"So even a married couple could be engaging in sodomy if they did anything other than traditional sex.

“We also know from love letters there were same sex relationships, and sex toys may have played an important role in these.

“Often it was thought of as young people being confused – and they would be prescribed marriage to get them back on track.”


SEEING naked strangers at the local bath house was a sure-fire way to get medieval people hot and bothered – and looking for a way to cool down.

Often bath houses would also be brothels, but even at the ones that weren’t, Dr Janega says they were considered sexy places.

“Medieval people loved bathing, it was their equivalent of going to the spa,” she says. Some people would be going there innocently simply to bathe and get clean.

“But for others it was an opportunity to have a bit of a flirt.

“The patrons of the bath house could make eyes at each other or waggle their eyebrows. They would usually be naked and wet.

“It was a bit of a tease and could end up becoming quite steamy.”


RACY chick lit is nothing new.

The medieval works of fiction, written on parchment, would often play on the fantasies of women who had marriages of convenience to noblemen, and would involve other men who wanted to have sex with them.

“People were wildly into this literature,” says Dr Janega. “When you’re a queen, or a lady or duchess, you didn’t get married because you were in love, it was a business decision.

“And of course you’re going to be attracted to other people. They had crushes on each other. A lot of literature and poetry was written about cheating on your husband.

“And this writing was a mixture of wishful thinking and acting out fantasies – but, of course, it reflected some real life affairs, too.”

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