Sexuality in the Middle Ages

By definition, the Middle Ages was a miserably slow time in the history of sexuality…


The Roman Catholic Church outlawed marriage for its priests, at the historical Second Lateran Council. Not only did it ruin any future plans for Catholic priests to take vows, but it also made all existing priestly marriages null and void.

It was not until the 1500′s that the Church enacted celibacy for priests. So for 400 or so years, these priests were not obliged to be celibate, but the women in their lives were considered concubines (translation: mistresses or lovers) and not wives.

Circa 1150

Hildegard of Bingen (Germany) was a medieval writer, composer and theologian, who is credited as being the first woman to publish writings on sexuality. Not only did she describe sex from a female point of view, but she also brought a somewhat positive view of female sexuality and female orgasm into the written word.

Hildegard wrote about faith and the church, but ventured far beyond this subject, to matters of human behaviour, all of which she apparently was told in visions. She described female orgasm as a feeling of heat in the brain, which she believed was an integral element of a couple’s lovemaking experience. According to her explanations, the female heat brought on by sexual excitement not only provides the experience of her orgasm, but flows down from her brain into her genitals, causing them to contract and elicit sperm, in the form of male ejaculation.

She also wrote that it was the semen that decided the gender of a child, which is a correct understanding. Her feminism (and biological accuracy) waned, however, in her explanation of how this worked: according to St. Hildegard, stronger semen produces a male; love and passion would yield offspring with a good disposition.

Circa 1266

The Italian theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, asserted the Catholic dogma that sexual intercourse is only justified for the purpose of procreation. In 1930 Pope Pius XI affirmed this, declaring that every act of sexual intercourse is a sin unless it is performed with a reproductive intention. 

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