1. 18th-century Empress of Russia Catherine the Great employed “foot ticklers” to turn her on. Catherine and other czarinas, like Anna Leopoldovna, employed girls and eunuchs as full-time foot ticklers to arouse them sexually. The ticklers also told obscene stories to help get the empresses in the mood to have steamy fun with their husbands (or their lovers), and they were well-paid for their tickling services. If only that was still a career option.
2. The first cock rings were made from goat eyelashes. Cock rings were commonly used in Jin- and Song-era China (around 1200) and were made from the eyelids of goats. The goats’ eyelashes were usually left on to add an extra bit of stimulation for the humans involved. Argh. What’s even stranger is that you can still buy “natural goat eye cock rings” online today. Nope.
3. And the first dildos were made of stone. This ancient stone penis is one of the oldest depictions of male genitalia ever to be discovered. It came from Germany’s Hohle Fels cave, and it’s around 28,000 years old. Later versions of dildos were covered in leather sheaths to make them softer (and warmer), although the word “dildo” wasn’t used until the Restoration era, in a bawdy British poem about the popularity of imported Italian dildos:
“You ladies all of merry England
Who have been to kiss the Duchess’ hand,
Pray, did you not lately observe in the show
A noble Italian called Signor Dildo? …”
4. Sexy “petting parties” really took off in the 1920s. Many bold young women in the 1920s rejected their parents’ strait-laced, prudish, Victorian models of propriety and instead went to specially organized “petting parties” with the express purpose of pairing up with boys, kissing them, cuddling, touching them, and having a bit of under-the-girdle action. They didn’t have full sex though: Times hadn’t changed that much.
5. And so did hardcore pornography. It’s a common misconception that people were strait-laced 100 years ago. Almost as soon as cameras were invented, people started taking nude photos like this and selling them as postcards (discreetly, of course). Many showed penetrative intercourse as well, and “non-standard” sexual practices like lesbianism. You certainly wouldn’t want to accidentally post any of them to your mum.
6. Victorian doctors used to masturbate their patients. Women’s “hysteria” (i.e. anxiety, irritability, nervousness, and other symptoms of being a woman with few rights in a restrictive patriarchal society) was seen as a serious problem during the Victorian period. But doctors discovered these symptoms could be temporarily relieved with a “pelvic finger massage” (heh) that, if done correctly, would induce a “hysterical paroxysm.” Well…yes indeedy.
7. Sex poems were very popular in medieval France. Before Pornhub, people were getting their rocks off by listening to travelling players perform comic, filthy sex tales and poems called fabliaux, with titles like “The Maiden Who Couldn’t Hear Fuck”, “The Knight Who Made Cunts and Assholes Speak”, “The Priest Who Peaked”, and “Berangier of the Long Asshole”. Maybe HBO should take note. You can read “Berangier of the Long Asshole” here if you really want to.
8. Medieval women would cheat on “virginity tests”. The “pure, virtuous” medieval woman was expected to be a virgin on her wedding night. However, women (handily) had access to under-the-radar guides on how to fake virginity. One book states: “the day before her marriage, let her put a leech cautiously on her labia; then blood will flow out here, and a little crust will form in that place…in having intercourse the false virgin will (bleed and) deceive the man.” Urgh.
9. And impotence trials were a thing in medieval France. There were very few ways a woman could divorce her husband in 1500s France, but there was one dealbreaker: They were allowed an annulment if they could prove that their husband couldn’t get it up. These tests took place in court. A man would have to make himself ejaculate in front of a jury (no mean feat), and potentially have sex with his wife, too. And you thought Judge Judy was dramatic.