Sexuality from the Renaissance to 18th Century


The first clearly recorded outbreak of syphilis in Europe occurred in Naples. The most popular theory explaining it, says that syphilis was imported from South America by Christopher Columbus and crew, who in 1492 first reached the Americas. Upon his return, along with these new and dangerous bacteria, probably acquired by raping the native women, Columbus and his crew brought a few other handy items from the “New World” including potatoes, coffee and chocolate.

Circa 1550

Italian anatomist Gabrielle Fallopius (who also named the Fallopian Tubes) claims to have invented the condom. His condoms were made of 8 inches of medicated linen, which were tied at the ever-fatal end with an attractive ribbon, ostensibly for the women’s viewing pleasure.

At this time in Europe, Syphilis was wreaking havoc and the condom was meant to protect against infection with this disease. Despite Fallopius’ extensive experiments proving its success, this could not possibly be viewed as safe practice, since linen is highly porous, so syphilis bacteria could easily pass through, if the look and feel of the condom didn’t put them off sex in the first place.


The word “fuck” first appeared in an English dictionary. The dictionary, compiled by John Florio, indicated that this word had finally gained a measure of respectability, but this of course did not last. By the Victorian era it was once again considered taboo, and has not managed to work its way into too many leather-bound dictionaries to this day.


The book Onanism: Or a Treatise Upon the Disorders produced by Masturbation: Or, the Dangerous Effects of Secret and Excessive Venery is published by the Swiss physician, Simon-Auguste-Andre-David Tissot. He explains that sex for pleasure without reproductive purposes can lead to disability and death. The harsh ideas expounded here were not new, but as a respected professor of medicine, using very sophisticated theories, Tissot’s work became highly influential and continued to influence the beliefs of masturbation into the twentieth century.

His explanation was that over-excitation damages the nervous system and that wasted female and male seed lead to loss of equilibrium. Women would contract diseases such as hysteria and jaundice, whereas men would lose muscle tone and other secondary male features. 

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