I’m a sex historian – here’s how the missionary position became such a popular and bizarre old remedy for “excessive masturbation”

Have you ever wondered why missionary is the most popular sex position – or if people did it as much as we did back in the day?

According to sex historian Kate Lister, any suggestion that our ancestors were “prudes” in the bedroom couldn’t be further from the truth.

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Kate Lister is a sex historian, author and speaker

In fact, she feels that the regular frolics in Bridgerton would not have come as a surprise to anyone living in 1813.

From the origins of sex toys to ancient aphrodisiacs, Kate offers here a potted guide to bonking through the ages – and the origins of some of our modern flaws.

SEX TOYS

Humans have created toys to enhance their sex lives for as long as there have been sex lives.

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We found tortoiseshell sex toys from Qing Dynasty China and ivory dildos that were hidden in an 18and French convent of the century.

One of the oldest dildos ever discovered is the ‘Hohle Fels phallus’.

It was discovered in the Hohle Fels cave in Germany in 2005 and has been carbon dated to between 26,000 and 30,000 years old.

The jury is still out on whether it was a sex toy or some kind of devotional object, but either way, it’s a very old penis.

One of the oldest dildos ever discovered is the 'Hohle Fels phallus'

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One of the oldest dildos ever discovered is the ‘Hohle Fels phallus’Credit: @university of Tübingen

BEANS AN ‘APHRODISIA’

Despite the popular image of damsels in distress and chastity belts, sex in the Middle Ages was surprisingly progressive.

However, they did not always get their facts right.

On the one hand, there was a belief that erections were caused when the penis filled with air.

As a result, beans were considered an aphrodisiac.

bdsm

This fresco inside the Tomb of the Scourging shows two men scourging a woman

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This fresco inside the Tomb of the Scourging shows two men scourging a woman1 credit

Some of the oldest evidence of BDSM is found in “The Tomb of the Whip”, an Etruscan tomb in Lazio, Italy.

It dates from around 490 BCE and takes its name from the fresco on the wall which shows two men whipping a woman while having sex with her.

In the 1800s, there were establishments known to cater to the needs of the kink, such as Theresa Berkley’s brothel in Hallam Street, London.

According to Henry Spencer Ashbee, “Theresa’s instruments of torture outnumbered those of any other governess”.

His brothel was the place to go where anyone “with a lot of money could be upset, whipped, lashed, flogged, needle-punched, half-hung, holly-brushed, gorse-brushed, brushed butchered, stinging nettle, curry – combed, phlebotomized and tortured until his stomach is full”.

BIRTH CONTROL

Sex in the past was a fun, naughty, and pleasurable experience.

Pig gut condoms were in use in the 1500s, and there is evidence that contraception has been in use since ancient Egypt.

One method used at the time was a vaginal pessary made from crocodile dung and honey (which may well have been effective in preventing people from having sex).

The first recorded vasectomy was actually performed on a dog by a man named Sir Ashley Cooper in 1823.

By 1899 it was being used on human males as a “cure” for excessive masturbation.

It would take another 50 years or so for vasectomy to be offered as a method of contraception.

UPPER POSITION

The missionary position has always been incredibly popular, but it took on new religious significance when the early Catholic Church began to teach that it was the only acceptable position and that everything else was sin.

Thomas Aquinas, a 13and Italian theologian of the last century, for example, believed that intercourse in an “unnatural” way was a crime against nature.

HIGH AND POWERFUL

Marilyn Monroe once said, “I don’t know who invented high heels, but women owe him a lot.”

So it may come as a surprise to learn that the first high-heeled shoes were worn by guys.

The heels were sported by the Persian cavalry in the 10and century to keep their shoes in the stirrup.

around 17and century, the heeled shoe had become the must-have fashion item for every dashing man in town.

Women did not start wearing them until the 18and century.

LGBTQ

Suranne Jones played Anne Lister in the BBC drama Gentleman Jack

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Suranne Jones played Anne Lister in the BBC drama Gentleman JackCredit: BBC

Homosexual desire and gender fluidity are found throughout history, but some of the most important records of queer history are the diaries of Anne Lister.

She spent most of the early 19and century to seduce the women of Halifax and record his conquests in secret code in his many diaries.

Her neighbors were well aware of her exploits and nicknamed her Gentleman Jack and Captain Tom – Tom being a slang word for a lesbian at the time.

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While Anne misbehaved in the north, London was famous for its gay brothels, known as “Molly Houses”, which were subject to repeated raids by various vice squads.

Kate’s Podcast Between the Sheets: The Story of Sex, Scandal and The company is available to listen now.


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