Sexuality Throughout the Ages

Explore the history of sexuality.

Sexuality During the Renaissance

Botticelli's "Birth of Venus"

When Europe came out of the Dark Ages and Byzantium fell, Italy emerged as not only the most powerful nation, but also the leading patron of the arts. Under the commission of the Church and royalty, artists celebrated sexuality in new forms, often celebrating and reverting back through classic Greco-Roman style.

Out of the Dark Ages, people acquired a thirst for knowledge absent in the past. Books, poetry, and art emerged and brought light to whole new areas of human life, in particular sexuality.

For women, the emergence of courtly love introduced a more accepted form of love absent in the Dark Ages. Though still regarded as inferior to men and vessels for bearing children, women gained the attention and devotion of men and troubadour’s wandering the country. The view of women began to change and women began to be viewed as pleasure seekers – having the power to exhaust their husbands and make them ill due to as a result of a voracious sexual appetite.1

The 14th and 15th centuries saw the emergence of two sexual worlds: that of marriage and procreation, and the libertine world where women were raped, prostitutes were pursued and boys were sodomized.2

Most people belonged to the first world, where sex was a means to procreate. Sex was seen as a necessary evil but many participated in sexual acts for reasons other than procreation.

Contraception was another problem during the Renaissance and many used other methods of sex:

   “Heterosexual anal intercourse was, in fact, a standard if reprehensible contraceptive method in France in the medieval and post-medieval period, as it had been in Classical Greece; Brantome says that several husbands of his acquaintance used their wives “more by the rear than the front, and only made use of the front in order to have children.” (Tannahill, 285)

The Church also played a large role in people’s sexual life, in particular marriage. Thomas Aquinas had two recommendations: it allowed children to be conceived without sin and kept men out of sexual troubles.

The church also took an interesting position regarding prostitution, considering fornication and adultery were considered sins. The church did not want to outlaw prostitution. St. Augustine referred to prostitution as sordid and shameful, but also said “yet remove prostitutes from human affairs, and you will pollute all things with lust; set them among honest matrons and you will dishonor all things with disgrace and turpitude.” Aquinas compared prostitution with “the filth in the sea or the sewer in a palace. Take away the sewer, and you will fill the palace with pollution. . . .Take away prostitutes from the world and you will fill it with sodomy.”

The thirst for knowledge acquired by many during the Renaissance led to the advancement of thought and culture, but also sexuality. Though the church still played a dominant role in the lives of many, sexuality was seen as less evil though still thought of as a sin.

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This entry was posted on April 2, 2012 by in The Life of Oscar Wilde.
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