Medieval Sex Tips.

A brand new translation of Symphorien Champier’s The Ship of Virtuous Ladies is now available, and it sounds most intriguing. I’ll be ordering.

First published in 1503 in Lyons, Symphorien Champier’s The Ship of Virtuous Ladies helped launch the French Renaissance version of the querelle des femmes, the debate over the nature and status of women. The three books included in this edition include arguments for gender equality, and a catalogue of virtuous women modeled on Boccaccio’s Famous Women and Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend. Titled “The Book of True Love,” book 4 is especially important in gender history, importing and transforming the male-centered Neoplatonic philosophy of Marsilio Ficino for pro-woman ends.

Medievalists has a look at some sex tips from the volumes.

1. The Right Age

Following Plato, Champier declares that the perfect age for women to marry is 16-20, and for men, 30-35. Any younger, and you might marry a girl who will be sick forever – “So instead of being served by them, [you] must serve them”, Champier warns. The only exception is if the young woman is tall. If she is short, you should definitely wait until she’s 21. And if both man and woman are over twenty-one, you’re in the clear: “the children will be attractive and have good temperaments, with well-proportioned members and will have good minds.” Be sure to wait, if at all possible, because if you have children earlier, “they will be imperfect and short.”

2. The Right Time

People should not have sex at just any old time of the year, Champier says. If you want to conceive, make sure you have sex in the spring, because it’s “warm and moist”, which is the best kind of humour. “Next after spring,” if you can’t manage it then, “winter is the season most conducive to conception, while summer is bad and autumn is the worst of all.” As for time of day, it can’t be right after eating. As we’ve always been told about swimming right after a meal, the consequences would be dire:

If a man, when he is full and has eaten, enters the world of the carnal, he weakens his body and his nerves and causes pain for himself in his legs and knees. He also causes obstructions all throughout his body and causes thick humors in his body; and if he does this regularly, his body parts retain too much water, he has great difficulty breathing, and his limbs start to shake.

If you thought it was safe to have sex before eating, think again:

If he acts carnally when he is hungry or thirsty or when he has an empty body or when his body has been bled … he damages his body and dries it out, and its natural heat dissipates, negatively affecting his sight, and sometimes he becomes paralyzed.

(Same goes for if you’re just been bled, bathed, worked, fasted, or been sad.)  You’ve been warned. Best to play it safe and just have sex first thing in the morning, “after a [good] night’s sleep.”

You can read the rest of the tips at


  1. says

    Concerns over masturbation… why don’t christians just realize it’s god’s way of making them happy? I’m sure he’s up there with jesus /facepalming and going “what a buncha…”

  2. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    Mary got fucked when there was no one else around but her and god. I’d think masturbation would be a sacrament.

    thanks for this. It’s terribly interesting to me as well!

  3. cartomancer says

    Medieval attitudes towards sex are one of those things that everyone tends to assume they are familiar with but actually most people know next to nothing about.

    Interestingly enough it is medieval Islamic medicine that was far more pro-sex and sexually explicit in its advice than medieval Christian medicine. Since wealthy doctors in the Islamic world tended to have important clients with harems, sexual advice was much more a part of their job description than it was with Christian medics who were generally in religious orders. When the time came for Constantine Africanus to translate the texts of Arab medicine into Latin in the Twelfth Century, much of the sexually explicit material in Avicenna, Rhazes, Albucacis and the rest was left out. Including sections on sexual pleasure, even sexual pleasure between two women (important in the harem for keeping the ones who weren’t servicing the men happy). Though the Latin west wasn’t entirely sex-negative. Beyond the cloister there was a very lively culture of sexual pleasure and romance. Particularly in the courtly culture of the later Middle Ages.

    Which is why our friend Champier (who I would say is really a Renaissance author, not properly medieval) used non-medical texts, from a courtly context, as well as newly popular Greek classics, as his inspiration.

  4. says

    I’m looking forward to reading Champier. At least some of the arguments mentioned sound progressive, and each case made for gender equality inside of rampant and common misogyny are always interesting, and they all helped womens’ rights inch along.

  5. rq says

    Best to play it safe and just have sex first thing in the morning, “after a [good] night’s sleep.”

    But if you haven’t had breakfast yet, wouldn’t that qualify as being hungry and/or thirsty??
    The book sounds fascinating, and I can’t wait to see what you’ll share from it, because it is certainly a very refreshing perspective. As cartomancer says, most of my preconceptions about sex in the past are warped by the intervening history and ‘cleaning up’, but even if this is a more typical medieval attitude, it’s good to read that puritans didn’t always have a hand on sex ed for the general public.

  6. rq says

    Also I see people with bad eyesight should sit out the lusty activities. How to break the news to Husband that my nearsightedness is a prohibitive for us?

  7. says

    rq, I think glasses make it okay. ;) You should have seen the look on my face when I got to the part about sex being absolutely lethal for dry, thin people. All the IV fluids have dealt with the dry, but I’m still really skinny. :D

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