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We often imagine our elders as being more prudish than we are today. After all, it's hard to get through a Facebook conversation or family reunion without hearing at least one elderly person rant about teens making love to their iPhones while driving, or sexting each other pictures of vodka-soaked tampons, or whatever it is they're into these days. And even though our ancestors' historical prudishness may have been somewhat exaggerated, they still don't seem like the most laid-back people around.

Via Wikipedia
Not a vodka-soaked tampon in sight.

But it turns out that your tampon-hating great aunt is wrong: Plenty of the things that would make an iPhone-fucking youngster blush would not have caused our prudish forefathers to bat an eye, let alone lose an entire monocle. Like ...

4
Cousin Marriage

The general consensus on cousin marriage is that it isn't just vaguely gross -- it's downright irresponsible. See, settling down with one's attractive cousin may very well end up producing children, and thanks to the way recessive genes work, we can be sure that at least all of those children will be born with some hideous deformity, like head-tentacles or a liking for coleslaw with raisins in it. Really, it's no wonder that cousin marriage is legal only in a minority of U.S. states, and that one of those states is Florida.

But In The Past ...

Our modern apprehension about Billy Head-Tentacles showing up at our next family reunion is little more than a blip on the historical timeline. For most of human history, hooking up with your aunt or uncle's offspring was not just acceptable; it was the norm. One historian has estimated that 80 percent of all marriages in human history were between second or first cousins, which probably explains how raisins in coleslaw became a thing in the first place.

Eising/Photodisc/Getty Images
Look at this abomination.

Things changed during medieval times, when the Catholic church introduced restrictions on marriages between closer branches of one's family tree. But those rules didn't last: After some branches of Christianity decided they didn't like the pope telling them what to do, cousin shenanigans sprung up again all over. Among the more recent cousin-lovers was Charles Darwin, who hooked up with his first cousin Emma in 1839, thus making things awkward for eugenicists for centuries afterward. In the U.S., bans on cousin marriage popped up only after the Civil War, heralding a new era of slightly less confusing Hallmark cards.


"Ahh, here's the section for 'mother-in-law who is also my aunt and possibly
also my niece; I don't even know anymore.'"

And, as weird as it sounds, these family-loving holdouts might have had something of a point: According to recent research, a single marriage between first cousins (as opposed to a long family tradition of it) will raise the chances of birth defects in children by only around 3 percent, which is approximately the same increase in risk that a child gets by being born to a woman over 40. So, if you have a really attractive cousin, feel free to go ahead and marry them. But, like, not too much.

3
Having Sex In Front Of People

These days, sex is generally considered a private affair between consenting adults. Sure, there are websites out there that cater to people who like having sex in the local public aquarium or wherever, but for the most part this isn't encouraged by wider society. And given how private and prudish we imagine our ancestors were, surely they would have been even more careful than we are about keeping their sex private. After all, they probably didn't even have aquariums.

But In The Past ...

The modern preference for "keeping sex in the bedroom" starts with the assumption that people actually have bedrooms. Separate sleeping rooms, however, are a relatively recent invention: For most of the time that humans have lived in houses, those houses have been tiny, one-room affairs. Members of the household usually slept together in a single bed, or, if a bed was too expensive, in a pile of straw.

Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images
Teenagers: Never complain about having to make your bed again.

For the most part, that meant that if couples wanted to get busy, it had to be in front of other housemates. One record from the 17th century describes a woman not wanting to have sex with her husband, so she placed their two children between them on the bed to block his advances. That part doesn't sound too weird, until you realize that the normal place for the children to sleep was on either side of the couple, whether their parents were having sexy times or not. And you thought you were traumatized from that one time when you were 5 and you walked in on your parents "checking each other for ticks."

JackF/iStock/Getty Images
"Yes, son, that other thing you saw was also just a really big tick."

Separate sleeping areas started to become common only around the time of the Industrial Revolution. So the next time you're lying in bed listening to your roommate's loud Ant-Man roleplay sex in the next room, just be glad you weren't born before the 19th century. Then again, if you're of the boob-liking persuasion, there were some advantages to living in the past, too. For one thing, plenty of people back then were happy with ...

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2
Showing Boobs

In the Western world at least, you'd be forgiven for thinking that wanton cleavage-showing is a relatively modern thing. Protests against school dress codes that restrict low-cut tops are spreading across the country: Surely our ancestors would never have put up with this type of slatternly behavior. Just look at the staunch modesty in this 17th-century woodcut depicting the arrival of a princess in England:

Via UCSB
Oh.

But In The Past ...

You probably know that in many traditional non-Western cultures, bare boobs are acceptable or even the norm. But Western society has also known periods of socially acceptable toplessness. In Europe from around the 1400s onward, bared breasts slowly emerged from their restrictive cloth-prisons and took their place as a sign of high fashion.

Via Reason
The style is sure to return any day now.

The trend started, unsurprisingly, in France, where a mistress to the king appeared in a portrait with one breast casually popping out to say hi. The boob-craze caught on across Europe, with low necklines and even visible nipples becoming trendier than smallpox. By the 1600s, a designer was totally OK with making a dress for the queen consort of England that revealed both her breasts. We don't have proof that she actually wore the dress, but the fact that a guy designed it for the king's wife and failed to get his head cut off says something about how normal it was.

This bare-breast window died down, for the most part, around the 18th century, which is a tragedy, because good bras are like $50 each, guys. Still, I guess we should all just be glad that we weren't born during some future window of time when shirt cocking comes into fashion.

Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
The year is 2034, and not a single one of these people is wearing pants.

On the other hand, there are plenty of sexual inclinations that we should really be happy are no longer acceptable. Like ...

1
Child Pornography

This subject might be a bit more controversial than the other entries in this article, but here goes: Most people, myself included, think child pornography is a pretty bad thing. I know, I know. Those are my beliefs, and I'm going to stick with them. I'm brave that way.

Image Source Pink/Image Source/Getty Images
Like these little guys! Look how brave they are!

But was it always like this? The rise of Internet pornography has made child porn harder and harder to control, and this unfortunate escalation might lead a person to believe that it's something that sprang up only in the last few decades, and before that history was a blessed boob-showing, cousin-marrying paradise.

But In The Past ...

Unfortunately, that person would be wrong. The first federal law in America specifically aimed at child pornography was passed in 1977, and before that, only two states had any specific laws against minors showing up in the pre-Internet porn that was sweeping the nation. Yep, around the same time Star Wars was first in theaters, child pornography was legal in large parts of this country.

Hemera Technologies/PHOTOS.com
Look, it's climbing a tree!

But that law was just a technicality, right? Maybe they had to pass it just because someone had opened the world's first child-porn factory in the Midwest, and everyone immediately agreed it was terrible and had to be banned within 24 hours. It's not like underage-loving was ever accepted in any part of the culture! Well, not unless you start looking closely at that culture. Take, for example, these lyrics from the well-known hippie musical Hair:

Sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, pederasty
Father, why do these words sound so nasty?
Masturbation can be fun
Join the holy orgy, Kama Sutra, everyone!

That song was released in 1967, during a time when the lyricist apparently considered pederasty, or underage-boy-loving, to be on the same mildly transgressive level as some hearty, consensual oral sex. And, in case you're wondering whether some drug-concussed songwriter just really, really needed a word to rhyme with "nasty," consider that in 1974, a popular folk singer also decided it was completely unobjectionable to release a song called Forbidden Fruit, explicitly detailing his love for a 13-year-old girl. At least he called it Forbidden Fruit and not This Fruit Is Totally Awesome, I guess.

vvvita/iStock/Getty Images
This guy likes fruit too!

Movies are another good indicator of how far we've come in terms of "not doing terrible things to underage people" just in the last two decades. In the 1992 movie Bad Lieutenant, the main character gets inappropriately friendly with two underage schoolgirls and still emerges as the movie's antihero figure. In the still-pretty-creepy 2009 Nicolas Cage almost-remake, those schoolgirls are quietly replaced with older women.

So, basically, the next time one of your parents starts telling you that things were so much better back in their day, just stare at them for a while and silently show them a picture of Nicolas Cage. In fact, you should probably just do that anyway.

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For more from C. Coville, check out 6 Insane Ways Sick People Have Tried To Get Healthcare and 4 Legal Loopholes That Screw You When You're Poor.

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