5 Ridiculous Sex Myths From History (You Probably Believe)
Since the sexual revolution of the '60s, we tend to think that sexuality from the Baby Boomers back to the beginning of time was a long history of repressed urges, prudish fundamentalist restrictions and brutal rape politics.
But it turns out that a lot of what BBC dramas tell you about sex in history is just a fanciful cover for sex lives that didn't differ that much from our own. Myths that persist to this day include ...
Ya know, we've made fun of the DC Universe for not immediately realizing what Batman's secret identity is (hint: He's the only person in the world who could conceivably afford an experimental private helicopter-plane), but here in the real world, we have a similar relationship with sex. No, seriously: We spread strange rumors about sex, and often make sex seem like the bad guy just because it confuses and scares us. We're obsessed with the strange tools sex uses and marvel at the vast size of sex's "utility belt." And, as this Cracked Classic shows, we haven't even figured out Sex's origin story!
Yes, sex is the real world's Batman. Tell your friends. -Cracked
Victorians Were Repressed and Sexless
When you think about the Victorian era, you probably remember a whole bunch of jokes about how women couldn't show their ankles without it being considered indecent exposure. If they ever did have sex, they would first have to peel off so many layers of clothing that it almost wasn't worth it.
Queen Victoria is rumored to have told her daughter to "just lie back and think of England" when the princess was concerned about having to fulfill her wifely duties on her wedding night. There's even a myth that Victorians covered the legs of their tables because they resembled female flesh.
We can barely conceal our boners right now.
Frankly, we're surprised that the population of England didn't collapse after men got sick of sobbing their way through sex long enough to impregnate their wives.
It's true that Victorians weren't exactly into halter tops and assless pants. In public, that is. In private, they made up for it by producing extraordinary amounts of porn. And not just any porn, but the type of porn that would make the most seasoned Internet deviant blush and cover their table legs. We're talking incest, rape, pedophilia, orgies, BDSM ... and that's the normal stuff.
She has a dozen live eels stuffed under that corset. You know why.
Here's a taste from a piece published in 1907:
"Seeing her dressed you'd have taken her for thin, but she wasn't in the least. In fact if anything she was on the fleshy side. Her dark pubic hair, I noticed, climbed all the way up to her navel ... her nipples were set in a small field of light brown hair. Lifting her breasts, I saw that she also had some short, fine black hairs underneath. Her armpits were likewise covered with hair as thick as a man's. The sight of all this healthy fleece caused John Thomas to harden even more. I ripped off my nightshirt and straddled the lovely creature, whose rhythmic movements set my pickle slapping back and forth against her belly."
-From Memoirs of a Young Rakehell
Classy. As. Balls.
Alas, Victorians also left their table legs as bare as their marvelously hairy women: furniture-leg covers are a myth originally peddled, ironically, by an English travel writer demonstrating American prudishness to his British audience. As for the famous prudishness of Queen Victoria, not only is the "think of England" exchange untrue, but the Queen's diaries reveal she was extremely fond of sex, and often presented her husband with male and female nude artworks. Oh, and this is after those diaries were heavily censored posthumously by her children.
Are you picturing it? Are you picturing them boning?
So the Victorians weren't exactly Puritans. Then again, neither were the Puritans ...
Puritans Were Puritanical
Every American schoolkid who has sat through a lesson on the history of Thanksgiving was told that the pilgrims who founded America were Puritans, a group of sexually repressed religious fanatics. In reality, the Puritans and the Pilgrims arrived separately but since that's the only context in which most of us have even heard of Puritans, we just mentally combined the pilgrims and the Puritans into a single group of people who loved turkey but loathed sex.
Sex with turkeys presented the ultimate conflict of interest.
But those early settlers in America were part of a much larger group in the Church of England who were working to purify the world of anything relating to genitalia.
Although sex between unmarried couples was theoretically a crime in Puritan society, that hardly slowed them down. It just meant that their society was rife with shotgun weddings. According to some studies, up to 1 in 3 Puritan women were pregnant when they were married. The odds of becoming pregnant from one act of intercourse are a lot lower than that, so that's a lot of deviant behavior for a group that cheerfully crushed people to death for looking "witchy."
Look close. Ain't no rings on those fingers.
Given that they lived in such a repressive and extremist society, these dangerous criminals must have carried out their illicit affairs with discretion, right? Not even close. The Puritans had sex everywhere. They had sex in churchyards. They had sex in ditches and in hedges. They had sex in bars and in bean patches and on porches. One of the most common places for Puritan servants to have sex was in the kitchen, often while the other servants watched.
It's not even like the clergy were uptight about a little action in the bedroom or bean patch. The Puritan church not only condoned sex for pleasure between married spouses, it actually required it. Sex was mandatory not only because it produced offspring, but because the Puritans believed that sexually pleasing one's spouse was a religious duty. At least one man was excommunicated from the Puritan church for refusing to have sex with his wife. Impotency or poor sexual performance was considered grounds for divorce, and a man was not to withdraw from his wife in case he ruined her orgasm.
"The frilly neck thing is to tickle her -- well, we don't talk about it."
So, how could the Puritans justify awesome sex for married couples but no sex for the unmarried? The Puritan church believed that because marriage was between a man, a woman and Jesus, sex should also be between a man, a woman and Jesus. This wasn't even a metaphor: The Puritan church sought converts by describing the "voluptuous delights" that awaited them in heaven with their "heavenly husband." Yeah, they're talking about sex with Jesus.
Jews Had Sex Through a Sheet
This one turns up in supposedly accurate films all the time, and Christopher Hitchens rants about it as an example of religious crazy: Jews conduct the marital act by way of a hole cut in a bed sheet, so as to avoid the lustful distractions of nudity.
The story is so pervasive that whenever someone has occasion to discuss Jewish sex, you can be sure there's going to be some snide reference to it. They joke about it on Curb Your Enthusiasm. When it came time to write a book about the subject, they called it, "The Hole in the Sheet."
Even for that title, it has a surprisingly unsexy cover.
If the media is to be believed, Orthodox Jewish men must go their whole lives without ever seeing boobs in a sex-related context.
These kinds of references tend to be as much a learning experience for Orthodox Jews as they are to other people, since the Jewish community have always made love like normal, non-furry people: naked. In fact, Jewish law actually prohibits clothed or covered sex. This means that not only are movie portrayals of deliberate Jewish sheet-covering inaccurate, but that those love scenes in which the actress mysteriously leaves her bra on are actually a serious sin in the eyes of God. Well, that's how we choose to interpret it anyway.
Praise His glorious name!
But how on earth did such a specifically wacky myth start? The theory is that it arose from the tallit katan, a Jewish religious undergarment that does look a bit like a bed sheet with hole in it:
That thing actually goes over your head. But back in the day, non-Jewish people saw their Jewish neighbors washing or drying something with a hole in it and thought, "Wow, a penis must go there." Combine general anti-Semitism with the depthless perversion of the human imagination and you have the most oddly enduring penis-related myth since "It'll be OK just this once if we pull out."
We're trying to push "Sikhs do it with scepters."
Feudal Lords Could Legally Rape Peasant Wives (Like in Braveheart)
"Droit de seigneur," or the right of feudal lords to sleep with peasants' wives on their wedding nights, is probably most familiar today from Braveheart, in which Mel Gibson's troubles with the English begin with him refusing to allow them to have their rightful way with his new girlfriend. But it can be found all over the place: It's a major plot point in the opera The Marriage of Figaro, there's a Charlton Heston movie about it, it even pops up on the TV series Merlin. Basically, if you were a male peasant in the Middle Ages, you had about as much a chance of bedding an actual virgin as you did of finding a good Wi-Fi hotspot.
"By the gods I will find love, even if I must deflower all the women in this village."
In fact, a whole second myth rose out of this supposed law. If popular opinion and email forwards are to be trusted, the word "fuck" actually came about because the king's permission was once required to have sex with your wife ever. If you wanted a baby other than the one delivered nine months after your wedding that looks suspiciously like Lord Peeblesworth down the street, you first had to hang a placard outside saying "Fornication Under Consent of the King," or "F.U.C.K." (presumably subtitled "If the dirt-covered hovel is rockin,' don't come a-knockin.'") Other versions of this tale feature soldiers obtaining this "consent" in order to rape foreign women.
"No butt stuff."
The subject of rape-kings does come up in a bunch of historical texts ... always in reference to some other country. According to pretty much everyone in Europe, the neighboring kings and lords were raping everybody out there, but no country actually listed this right in its own laws, or for that matter, in any record whatsoever. In other words, rape-lords are the historical equivalent of spreading rumors about rival high schools, and Mel Gibson was promulgating an outdated form of medieval racism. Man, who would have thought?
This man looks like a reputable historical source.
As for the old chestnut about the F.U.C.K. acronym, that's even more spurious, as most likely the word evolved like most other words do, from some ancient European word -- in this case, "fokka," to strike or to push. Hardly scandalous.
Contraception and Knowledge of the Female Orgasm Are New
As the theory goes, the ladies had it pretty bad in bed for most of Western history. Until the rise of modern feminism, men pretty much used sex as an elaborate form of masturbation, giving no thought to how to please their women sexually, and the art of female pleasure was about as well-known as space travel. And if this bad sex wasn't bad enough, it also inevitably resulted in at least 25 children, since reliable birth control also didn't exist at all until very recently.
"Rice paper does nothing."
It's easy to see why so many of us have this idea: After all, it was only a generation or two ago that the views of Dr. Sigmund "clitoral orgasms are a sign of immaturity" Freud were massively popular. Surely things before that must have been even worse, right?
The female orgasm not only has an extensive history, but before the rise of Freudianism was even more celebrated than it is now. We've talked before about shady Victorian doctors who used their magic hands to cure uptight women, but the mystical properties of the female orgasm go back far earlier than this. In medieval times, it was believed that the female reproductive system was the same as a man's but inside-out, and they thought that babies were only made upon both partners achieving climax. And even if you weren't aiming at baby formation, a lack of orgasm in either sex could still lead to a harmful buildup of "seminal humor." Thanks a lot for ridding us of that piece of ignorance, Modern Science.
We're not sure what's going on here, but we'd bet money it's easier with Astroglide.
As for contraception, every form of it save for the Pill has a long history, and we mean very long. Diaphragms and other barrier devices, made of everything from wrapped sea sponges to crocodile dung and often containing materials that melted inside the body and sealed off the cervix, have been in use since ancient Egypt, and popped up among the ancient Greeks and Jews. Women in the Roman Empire even had a morning-after pill called silphium, modern-day fennel. And if you're thinking, "So what? They probably also believed that eating blessed leeches cured stomach cancer," consider this: Modern tests in which scientists gave rats closely related versions of the herb found that it was effective almost 100 percent of the time. Oh, and the reason the scientists couldn't use the exact strain the Romans used was because the Romans relied on it so much that they drove it to extinction.
Nero ate the last piece. The neckbeard made him do it.
C. Coville's awful Twitter is here.
For more myths we want to clear the air about, check out 5 Drinking Myths That Can Kill You and The 6 Most Frequently Quoted Brain Facts (That Are Total BS).
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We have some bad news: women love casual sex (you're just bad at it), everything you've heard about your "sexual peak" is bullshit and your favorite book sellers are now taking pre-orders for a text book written and illustrated entirely by the Cracked team! Hitting shelves in October, Cracked's De-Textbook is a fully-illustrated, systematic deconstruction of all of the bullshit you learned in school.
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