'Trial By Impotence' Was Once France's Only Way To Get Divorced

'Trial By Impotence' Was Once France's Only Way To Get Divorced

We here at Cracked are typically not in the business of mocking nationalists stereotypes, like how the Swedes are all pumpernickel-obsessed dentists or how people from Wales can hold their breath underwater for 90 minutes before needing to surface for air. But it's really hard (pun intended) to not concede that the French are all sex-obsessed perverts who'd look at you sideways if you've never been turned on by a particularly suggestive-looking croissant. Especially when you find out that, for centuries on end, theirs was a country where it was a crime to not get it up in front of a bunch of disaffected onlookers. 

During most of Medieval France, it was downright illegal to not get freaky with your spouse. French records dating as far back as the 15th century confirm that the legal system supported the Roman Catholic belief that sex within wedlock wasn't just approved but mandatory. If a husband wasn't able to perform his husbandly duties, he was flying his floppy dick in the face of both God and law, which could have dire repercussions on his marriage's legality. 

When a French judge says, “all rise,” he means it.

This was great news for French women, though, as the specter of male impotence gave them something to fill a legal loophole. With divorces all but banned thanks to the Church, the only way for a wife to end her marriage was by claiming her husband wasn't a bedroom stud. This would result in courtroom spectacles, where men had to prove that they could get healthy erections in front of multiple anxious-looking legal experts. The resulting physical, often performed by "honest women," would check the male member in the court and judge it on its "color, shape and number" -- because no God-fearing woman should suffer the ignominy of having to deal with a spouse with two green dicks shaped like limp question marks. 

Of course, these Trials by Impotence weren't exactly pleasant for the aggrieved women either. To establish that their marriage was never properly consummated, women often had to prove their innocence by receiving an amateur gynecological inspection to check if her hymen was still intact. Judges also allowed for the test of 'pee-virginity,' a gross human cloaca urban myth where France's keenest legal minds believed that women couldn't readily urinate if their hymen was in the way. 

But after suffering through such trials, if the man couldn't "expel reproductive fluids on-demand" in the middle of a cold, sterile courtroom (hey, we've all been there) and the woman was able to hold her regular fluids in, she could be free from her oppressive marriage. But by the late 17th century, so-called Impotence Trials were fazed out of French law (with new, non-boner-related divorce law on the horizon), the by then public spectacles being deemed too indecent. And for a country like France, that's saying something. 

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Top Image: Public (Pubic) Domain


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