7. With little else to do after dark, sex was an easy – and free – way for peasants to have a little fun
Sex was, without a doubt, one of the most common leisure pursuits of medieval peasants. After all, it was not only free and fun, it was also useful too. Once married, a couple would want to start a family, and not just for sentimental reasons. Kids offered an extra pair of hands to help farm the land, gather firewood or prepare meals. And, with infant and child mortality rates much higher in the Middle Ages than they are today, a couple would want to have as many children as possible so as to ensure that at least a couple of them survived into adulthood.
The subject of sexuality in the Medieval period has been the focus of much historical research. However, this has mainly concentrated on the sex lives of the kings and nobles. In comparison, relatively little work has been done investigating the sex lives of peasants. We know that most people lived in one-room houses, with children and parents sleeping side-by-side. In most cases, presumably, the parents would have told their children to go collect firewood and then locked the door for some alone time. But it’s also true that sex was not such a taboo subject then as it is now, and in most families, the parents would have had sex while their children were sleeping next to them.
What records do survive from the time are mainly those kept by the Church. These reveal that priests and other clergy warned against sex before marriage. However, it’s estimated that as many as 1 in 3 brides in Medieval times were married when they were wed – so clearly most people were not following the Church’s teachings. Many of those illegitimate babies were probably also born as a result of a lord or other nobleman asserting his ‘right’ to take the virginity of any peasant woman living on his land. The peasant men, however, just had to wait and hope – though prostitution might be the ‘world’s oldest profession’, no serf or peasant could afford to pay for sex.