Medieval Europeans’ view on sex and wine was influenced by Christianity and the ancient Romans and Greeks before them. Sex and wine have always been intertwined in European culture. Wine was often viewed as a mild aphrodisiac, a metaphor for love, and a vehicle for sensuality, both good and bad.

Views on whether wine should be consumed to increase libido, how much wine was moral, and sex varied greatly during the Medieval Times. Here’s a peek into Medieval European views on the subject.

The Relationship Between Sex and Wine

Chaucer stated that wine was “the servant of love and sensuality,” and many Medieval Europeans saw wine and sex the same way. Christianity saw wine as a regenerative and procreative power celebrated in ritual. A French theologian said, “In [Christ] is the true vine, whose wine generates virgins and not only generates them but impregnates them.”

Comparing drunkenness to love was also common. Dante said, “I tremble in this drunken state,” when he saw his lover. Being drunk with love and comparing love to wine drinking was very common in literature at the time, and we can also assume in popular culture of the period.

Fertility and Wine

During the Middle Ages, there were several different medical opinions on the role of alcohol in human fertility. Some doctors believed that moderate consumption of wine could improve fertility in both men and women. Others claimed that too much alcohol could lead to infertility and that pregnant women who drank wine ran the risk of giving birth to deformed children. Still, other doctors argued that neither moderate nor excessive alcohol consumption had any impact on fertility whatsoever. The debate on this topic continued throughout the medieval period, with no clear consensus ever being reached.

We have plenty of records encouraging women to drink wine during pregnancy. Although most Europeans had access to clean water, doctors thought that the coldness of the water would make pregnant women give birth to too many girls. “Beware of using cold water, it is not good for the fetus, and it causes the generation of girls, especially here in our region, so keep drinking wine,” Savonarola said.[1]

Wine was given as a cure for miscarriages and to help with morning sickness.

Was Wine an Aphrodisiac in Medieval Europe?

Medieval Europeans had many different types of aphrodisiacs. Wine was one of them, but so were warm milk, spices, and animal genitals.

In one text, the recipe for an aphrodisiac for women says to dry the testicles of a deer, grind them, and add them to wine. “That will arouse a woman with the lust for intercourse.”

One story said a “sorceress” gave a man wine mixed with water from dead skulls to try to arouse him. Whether true or not, wine was often a mixer in medieval aphrodisiacs.[2]

St. Foutin was a bishop in France in the 16th century. His name is rumoured to come from the French word foutre, the translation of which also starts with an “f.” His most popular relic was preserved, and people would pour wine over the tip. They would use this wine, which purportedly restored virility and fertility.[3]

, Sex and Wine in Medieval Europe: How the Two Were Intertwined

A monk tasting wine from a barrel whilst filling a jug. From Li Livres dou Santé by Aldobrandino of Siena. France, late 13th century.

Negative Views on Wine and Sexuality

Alcohol was not always seen positively – especially when it came to sexuality. Some people believed that alcohol made people more likely to engage in sexual activity, which was often seen as sinful. Additionally, many people believed that alcohol could lead to impotence and other sexual problems.

Sexuality in these times was often stigmatized, thanks largely to the church. Most sexuality was considered sinful. The official view of the church was that sex was for procreation alone. Given the sensuality often attributed to wine, using it to get drunk or frisky was not something you would advertise in polite society.

In The Pardoner’s Tale, Chaucer warned, “That lust is born of wine and drunkenness.” While drinking in moderation was condoned, over-drinking was always considered sinful and a gateway to fornication.[4]

, Sex and Wine in Medieval Europe: How the Two Were Intertwined

Geoffrey Chaucer

Medieval Europe’s Views on Women and Wine

Many of the negative views of alcohol and sexuality were gender-neutral, but there were many more that were misogynistic. As we’ve seen in many cultures, the way society viewed women who drank is a good view of women’s role in that society.

Writers warned women that if they overdrank and ate, they would gain too much weight, and no men would court them. Many pamphlets said that drunk women were easy to seduce. Another man used the biblical story of Lot, a cautionary tale of what over-drinking can cause to man. One medieval European poet blamed Lot’s daughter for her father’s sin.

Made him drunk, and so at last

Meddled with him, he was sleeping fast.[5]

Most people thought a good woman would drink in moderation, and an immoral woman would drink too much, resulting in unbridled female sexuality.

This Day in Wine History

July 16, 1377 – Richard II of England was coronated at Westminster Abbey. In celebration of this event, the city of London ran wine instead of water through the pipes.[6]

October 25, 1400 – Geoffrey Chaucer died. Considered the “father of English literature,” his work is some of the first documents we have of Middle English and a good insight into the history of the time. Chaucer wrote about the role of women, views on wine, and common beliefs on sexuality at the time.

[1] Medieval advice to pregnant mothers: don’t drink water, have wine instead.

[2] Anglo-Saxon aphrodisiacs: How to arouse someone from the early Middle Ages? January 7, 2016.

[3] I Wine You To Wine Me. Ben O’Donnel. February 13, 2012.

[4] Martin, A.L. (2001). Alcohol, Sex, and Gender in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Early Modern History: Society and Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

[5] Martin, A.L. (2001). Alcohol, Sex, and Gender in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Early Modern History: Society and Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

[6] Facts from the Middle Ages that Are Full of Surprises. Khalid Elhassan. March 15, 2021.

 

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