On Dildos and Penance

Last week on twitter I had a little chat about the presence of dildos in the penitential of Burchard of Worms, which raised some questions.

For those who have managed to escape the morass that is the twitter hellscape, a brief recap before we get on to making a historical point™. Burchard of Worms was the Bishop of Worms, which was an extremely influential Holy Roman Imperial city, and which we generally think of now in relation to the Diet of Worms, where Martin Luther (who is just a second-rate Jan Hus, but whatever), was tried. Burchard, however, was working five blissful centuries before Luther came on the scene, i.e. at the end of the tenth and beginning of the eleventh centuries, and he was massively influential in making canon, or Church, law. He is also very well known for making his own penitential.

For those who were not raised Catholic, a penitential is – more or less – a book that gives guidance to priests who are giving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which was known as the Sacrament of Penance in the medieval period. This is where Catholics (aka any non-Orthodox Christians in the medieval period) go into a little booth and tell a priest what sins they have committed. The priest then tells them what penance they have to do in order to be forgiven of the sins and reconciled with God.

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On St Nicholas

Today is St Nicholas Day! Hooray! As a person of the Czech persuasion, St Nicholas day (or Mikuláš) has long been a thing for me, celebrated in the family with stockings full of sugar and oranges, and if you’re lucky enough to be in CZ with a huge-ass street party where everyone is dressed up like St Nicholas, angels, and demons, and enjoys freaking kids out like so:

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On No Nut November

My loves, I am very sorry, but we have to talk about No Nut November. Why, you may ask, would I say something like that to you? And you would be right to do so. Why would I ask you to contemplate a month-long abstinence exercise for men propagated on reddit? The answer to that, sadly, is because the whole misguided, misogynist, pseudo-science binfire has all the hallmarks of medieval medical and theological thought on sex, and that is my job. I take no pleasure in saying this, because as you know, I think it is very important to be careful when using the word “medieval” to describe something. Yet, here we are.

For the up-until-this-point blissfully ignorant out there, No Nut November, (or NNN), was brought to us by the genius minds of Reddit, and the stated goal of these gentlemen is not to “nut” AKA orgasm for the month of November. (Yeah I’m not going to link this for you. It;s too weird.) Initially this idea spawned when some bright spark got a hold of one (1) study that showed a period of abstinence from masturbation in ten healthy men lead to a spike of testosterone production in the subjects. (Don’t even get me started on the sample size here.) This apparently is seen as a definitive good, and some dudes decided that they would refrain from jacking it for a month in order to get this extra hormone rush for some reason. (IDK. YKINMKATOK, I guess.)
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On cuckolding – a thing

The world around us has become so persistently unhinged that it’s sometimes hard to focus on just one terrible/weird thing at a time at this point.  There’s a sexual assaulting game show host as president of the United States, escalating unapologetic white supremacy world-wide, and your friends openly liking hentai on the Twitter TL. We’re all inured at this point.

One of the millions of weird things that has come to be in the hellscape of social media (other than the hentai) is the joyful use among the white supremacists of the word “cuck” as an insult. Those of us who live online, and even those of us who are just forced to exist in this squalid farce of a society, are sadly aware that “cuck” is a foreshortening of the word “cuckold”, and what these sad little men (it’s always men) mean is that the person in question is being cheated on by their female partner. (Don’t get mad at me, I didn’t start it.)

Because I am a medieval historian this is, to me, what we in the business like to refer to as “fucking hilarious”. Why is that? Well, because the same people bandying about the word cuck are the same ones who are frequently harping on (and on, and on) about how the trouble with our society is that we need to refer to “traditional values”, as we have lost our way.

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Considering bad motherfuckers: Hildegard of Bingen and Janelle Monáe

I, like all the best people, have spent the last month or so being absolutely amazed that there was a time before Janelle Monáe’s ‘Dirty Computer’ existed, and that apparently there was music before now. It’s a lot to deal with, you know? Obviously, this album is important for a number of reasons, the most pressing of which is that it BANGS. However, it is also an amazing record of queerness and female auteurship in a male dominated society.

And of course, all of this is rather like the work of Hildegard of Bingen.

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The history of penis in vagina as default sex at Bish!

 

I’m super delighted to have written a piece for Bish (insert fan-girling here) on the History of Penis in Vagina Sex as Default Sex.

Come for an explanation of why the Church are total haters about any sex that can’t get you knocked up, and stay for Justin’s insight on, well, basically anything involving sex, gender, relationships, and self esteem.

Massive plug here also for Justin’s book Enjoy Sex (How, When, and If You Want to) with Meg John Barker. Spoiler alert: enjoying sex usually requires more than inserting tab a into slot b, and that’s why the Church wanted to limit sex to just that.

Anyway, um, enjoy!


For more on sex in the medieval period see:
These hoes ain’t loyal – on prostitutes and bad bitches in medieval and hip hop culture
On women and desire
On power and entitlement to the bodies of lower status women

Sex and the (medieval) city: social hygiene and sex in the medieval urban landscape

I gave a talk for the London Science Museum Lates on medieval sexuality and the ways in which cities responded to what were considered the competing needs for sex and a harmonious Christian landscape.
Included: swearing, manuscript pictures of penises, and a lot of talk about sex work.
Enjoy!


For more on sex work in the medieval period see:
These hoes ain’t loyal – on bad bitches and prostitutes in medieval and hip hop culture
On sex work and the concept of ‘rescue’

For more on sex and attraction in the medieval period see:
On women and desire
The history of penis in vagina as default sex at Bish!
On incels and courtly love
On courtly love, sexual coercion, and killing your idols
On the ideal form of women
On power and entitlement to the bodies of lower-status women, or, the thing that IS actually medieval about Trump
On Hotline Bling and courtly love