Series in which historian and author Helen Castor explores how the people of the Middle Ages handled the most fundamental moments of transition in life - birth, marriage and death.
Runtime: 60 minutes
Medieval Lives: Birth, Marriage, Death - Medieval female sexuality - Netflix
Medieval female sexuality is the collection of sexual and sensual characteristics identified in a woman from the Middle Ages. Like a modern woman, a medieval woman’s sexuality included many different aspects. Sexuality not only included sex, but spread into many parts of the medieval woman’s life. Everything in her life ultimately led to marriage, and it was within wedlock that her sexuality developed and took shape into what today could be recognized as a sexual identity. The scope of sexuality for a married woman during the Middle Ages was broader than that of an unmarried woman. While there are many reasons for this, an important one is that the Church only acknowledged the potential for a sexual identity in a woman partaking in sexual intercourse with her husband alone. Outside of marriage, virginity and purity were prized, and sexuality was limited to small displays of beauty, such as embroidered hair coverings or fine clothes. Chastity removed the possibility for any kind of sexual identity as would be seen in the 21st century. Even medical problems related to female organs were disregarded with the understanding that only sexually active women could have them, and even so, help was difficult to find. However, within the bonds of marriage came sexual intercourse for these medieval women and with it, sexual problems. Those problems included conception, birthing, abortion, and health problems related to sexual organs. The most important piece of a woman’s sexuality did not directly relate to what women believed about their own sexuality, but more so the roles assigned to them through the beliefs, superstitions, and decrees of the Church, the law, and men. These three entities came to define female sexuality and sexual identity in the Middle Ages.
Medieval Lives: Birth, Marriage, Death - Medical - Netflix
Perhaps the most important aspect of a woman’s sexuality was not how she used her body for sexual purposes, but the state of her physical sexual health. Female medical experts of the period such as Trotula and Hildegard of Bingen had great interest in sexual topics concerning women and desired to aid women in the upkeep of their sexual health. These healers were interested in: fertility, obstetrics, women’s diseases, reproduction, sexual appetite, and so forth. Doctors and healers well understood the medicinal use of plants and herbs and were regularly consulted about menstruation, contraceptives, and abortion aids. Menstruation was universally seen as a means of purification and as the blood supplied to the fetus and the blood converted to breast milk for nursing. Often women would come to healers or herbalists to receive a concoction which would instigate menstruation. Although it may be hard to understand why this would be desired, it becomes evident that this was an abortion aid. Stimulating menstruation in a woman who had recently become pregnant would deliver a miscarriage and hence abort the embryo. It was believed that there was a window of time between when receiving a man’s semen and when impregnation would occur. There was a great reluctance to give wives any form of birth control and what recipes did exist had terrible directions and caused more harm than good.