People born in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s often mention that the public’s views on romance and sex are drastically different than they were when they were growing up. However, as timelines go, these years are actually fairly recent: have you ever wondered how your romantic & sex life might be different had you been born in the Middle Ages? For all of you who’ve ever wondered about this, yes: it could (and has been) much worse!
Love & Sex in the Middle Ages
In the modern era, the fight for sexual & romantic freedom is often associated with the LGBT community. However, in the Middle Ages, this oppression wasn’t applied specifically by sexuality. Everyone was forced to submit to various forms of oppression, some in terms of partner selection & others in terms of religious limitations. Aren’t you glad to live in modern times?
They Had Limited Options
Unlike modern days where singles can connect via online dating platforms or hookup chat rooms, seeking dates locally or abroad for love or casual flings, people in the Middle Ages had severely limited dating pools. Not only were they limited by location, but by class (nobles, knights, clergy, tradesmen, peasants) as well. Generally speaking, dating or marriage across class lines was forbidden. There were financial limitations in place as well. For example, such as dowry (money paid to the new husband by the to-be wife’s father) or merchet (a marriage fee paid to the lord of the land).
Marriages Were Often Arranged
Romantic attraction was not considered vital to a marriage in the Middle Ages. Instead, financial prosperity was the end-goal of most marriages. The parents of potential brides & grooms would partner up their children, and the marriage would move forward once it was determined that the bride’s father could afford to pay the dowry to the groom.
The Church Maintained Control Over People’s Personal Lives
In the Middle Ages, sex was governed by the Catholic Church, which had determined that it was only allowed within marriages for the purpose of procreation (and without too much enjoyment!). As such, the sexual freedoms we enjoy in modern days were prohibited, and those found in violation of these rules were severely punished. Since the Church considered sodomy a grave sin, homosexual or bisexual individuals had to ensure their sexuality was kept a secret.
Technically speaking, the sexual limitations of marriage applied to both men and women. However, they were enforced more often against women than they were against men. Punishments for adultery varied by region but often included the shaving of one’s hair, whipping, public degradation, or even execution.
Love & Sex in the Modern Age
Our love lives are much better off in modern-day times. While cheesy things like Valentine’s Day or gender parties may not be for everyone, surely it’s better to have options than to be forced into societal submission. Here are just a few of the modern-day advantages singles & couples can be grateful for.
The Options Are Nearly Limitless
Thanks to the invention & widespread popularity of the internet, singles are no longer limited to their local dating pool. While most people still prefer to get with someone who lives nearby, online dating sites allow them to meet people they would have never run into in their daily lives. If they still can’t find suitable partners, these services allow them to take their romantic search worldwide, providing a nearly unlimited number of potential partners for hookups and serious relationships!
Arranged Marriages Don’t Pose a Threat
Being forced into relationships with people they weren’t sexually or romantically attracted to no doubt contributed to a large number of loveless marriages in the Middle Ages. While it’s still common for couples to marry for financial advantages (such as tax breaks), singles usually have a choice of who they partner up with (at least in the Western world). Worldwide, approximately 50% of all marriages are still arranged, but with one modern twist: grooms & brides-to-be often have the chance to decline the arrangement!
People Are Free to Govern Their Own Personal Lives
The Church no longer maintains control over the vast majority of people. True, around 17% of the world identifies as Catholic, but the Church isn’t as invasive as it was in past times. Singles no longer have to worry about being severely punished for having sex before marriage (and wives don’t need to worry about being executed for having extra-marital affairs). This is certainly a step in the right direction for women’s rights! True, one could argue that this freedom has contributed to a higher divorce rate (currently at 14.9% in the United States), but surely that is better than the alternative of forced compliance. While your current love life may not be all that you’d hoped it would be, one thing is definitely true: it could be worse in the Middle Ages.