You probably are, too. People apparently had a different attitude towards nudity and public sexual displays in the medieval era, at least as revealed by divorce records, where one of the few ways a woman could get an annulment of a marriage was to prove her husband was impotent. With witnesses. Which seem to have been surprisingly easy to get.
In the year 1370, Tedia Lambhird filed for divorce from John Saundirson, claiming that her husband was impotent. Next, she had to prove it. Fortunately for Tedia, she had eyewitnesses.
One key witness, Thomas son of Stephen, testified in church court that he had seen the couple unsuccessfully attempting to have sex in John’s father’s barn before 9 o’clock one springtime morning. In spite of the fact that John and Tedia were “applying themselves with zeal to the work of carnal intercourse,” Thomas reported that he saw “John’s rod was lowered and in no way rising or becoming erect.” Furthermore, Thomas claimed that John’s brother also witnessed the failed sexual encounter, adding that the brother stroked John’s penis with his hand in order to see if he could help.
So to summarize: John Saundirson not only tried (and failed) to have early-morning barn-sex with his wife before an audience of two men but also received ineffective manual penis stimulation from his own brother. Thanks to Thomas’s devastating testimony, Tedia won her case.
Uh, kinky? I have no idea how common this kind of behavior was — maybe John and Tedia were swingers, atypical for the time. Or maybe we modern people are the weirdos, with our fetish for privacy and the wealth to have houses with multiple rooms and doors, and no need to resort to our nearby hay pile in the barn. Go to a zoo and you’ll see that primates are generally not particularly shy.
I have to say, though, that some of the approaches taken would make me flee — there’s a degree of casual intimacy that makes me cringe deep down inside.
Often the witnesses in impotency cases were women, either married female acquaintances, widows, or local sex workers. They might be tasked by the court with inspecting the man’s genital equipment, or they might expose their breasts and genitals to the allegedly impotent man, give him ale and tasty snacks, kiss him, and rub his penis in a warm room to see whether he became aroused. But other times, these witnesses were men who looked on as the husband in question tried to have sex, or even lent a hand and stroked his penis themselves, reporting their findings to the court.
Impotence was a pressing concern for men and women in late medieval England. Multiple poems from the time feature women gathering in groups over copious amounts of alcohol and complaining about their impotent husbands, comparing their flaccid penises to maggots, snails and bumblebees. Other poems are voiced by the men themselves, who mourn their impotence and offer advice to others about preserving their virility. “All ye lovers take heed of me, for I was once as lusty as ye,” laments one poet.
I am repelled by all of that…except for the bit about bringing “ale and tasty snacks”. Ladies, I won’t object to that at all. Bring it on!
Wait, “bumblebees”? I don’t get that one.