What Your Ancestors Did on Date Night: Sex Trends Through History

Birds do it. Bees do it. Humans do it, too. People have been having sex since the dawn of humanity. But has the human sex act evolved over time?

We have basically remained anatomically unchanged for about 100,000 years. If we enjoy sex now, then so did our cave-dwelling ancestors and everyone else since. Nothing much has changed about the act itself.

Indeed, cultural restrictions — rather than anatomical — have had the biggest consequences on our sexual history.

Of course, that’s not to say that cultural restraints have kept people from exploring the taboo.

If we enjoy sex now, then so did our cave-dwelling ancestors and everyone else since. Nothing much has changed about the act itself.
If we enjoy sex now, then so did our cave-dwelling ancestors and everyone else since. Nothing much has changed about the act itself.

Sex Trends Down Through History

“The idea that there is a sexual line that must not be crossed but in practice often is, is far older than the story of Eve’s temptation by the serpent,” says British-based archaeologist and historian Timothy Taylor.

Nothing proves this more poignantly than the kinky sex trends and romantic notions that have emerged throughout history.

So, what exactly did ancestors do on date night? Below are seven historical sex trends that’ll change the way you look at our ancestors – and human history, in general.

1. What Lipstick Meant in Ancient Egypt

Oral sex was practiced in most ancient societies. But the ancient Egyptians appear to have had a particularly prodigious appetite for it.

In fact, some historians credit the ancient Egyptian enthusiasm for oral sex for creating another cornerstone in modern society.

They claim ancient Egyptian courtesans publicized their oral prowess by coloring their lips. This practice eventually evolved into our modern red lipstick!

Now that adds a whole meaning to the lipstick ad tagline: “This is an ad for men.”

Ancient Egyptian courtesans publicized their oral prowess by coloring their lips. Historians claim this practice eventually evolved into our modern red lipstick.
Ancient Egyptian courtesans publicized their oral prowess by coloring their lips. Historians claim this practice eventually evolved into our modern red lipstick.

2. Why the Men of Ancient Rome Avoided Lettuce

Aphrodisiacs have been around forever. Medical texts from ancient China, India, and Egypt proclaim the sexual benefits of dozens of practices and products.

You can’t believe that some foods get you horny without believing that others do the opposite, right? Well, the Romans, in particular, believed that certain foods possessed anti-aphrodisiac qualities.

Historians say ancient Romans were suspicious of lettuce. They say the Romans believed lettuce could instantly render men impotent! That’s why Roman men tended to avoid the vegetable, experts say.

So, what does that tell you? For one, lettuce was probably not served during those Roman orgies we still hear so much about to this day. 

Historians say ancient Romans were suspicious of lettuce. They say the Romans believed lettuce could instantly render men impotent! That’s why Roman men tended to avoid the vegetable
Historians say ancient Romans were suspicious of lettuce. They say the Romans believed lettuce could instantly render men impotent. That’s why Roman men tended to avoid the vegetable.

3. Look but Don’t Touch in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages were not such a great time for fornicating. The Church had very strict rules about whom – and even when — you could fornicate. Going against any of these rules meant risking severe punishment, sometimes even death.

This led to the creation of “courtly love” in the late 11th century. Courtly love existed between two people who were not married to each other. Often, they were married to other people.

Typically, the female in a courtly couple was a noblewoman in a marriage set up by her family. Her male lover may have been a knight or other man of the courtier class.

The man expressed his feelings for the woman in songs or poems. These celebrated their love, which they were doomed to never fully consummate as a married couple.

Many of the concepts of courtly love still come into play in some modern relationships. These include the “suspicion of the beloved generates jealousy and therefore intensifies love.” Or, the “thought of the beloved never leaves the true lover.”  

So, what was the sex trend of those times? Well, for many people in the Middle Ages, it seems that not having sex at all was kind of kinky.

The Middle Ages were not such a great time for fornicating. The Church had very strict rules about whom – and even when -- you could fornicate. Going against any of these rules meant risking severe punishment, sometimes even death.
The Middle Ages were not such a great time for fornicating. The Church had very strict rules about whom – and even when — you could fornicate. Going against any of these rules meant risking severe punishment, sometimes even death.

4. The Risky Sex Lives of the Puritans

Even the puritans liked a good roll in the hay. By some accounts, at least one in three Puritan brides were pregnant by the time they were wed.

The fact is that the average Puritan was also into a rather kinky sex habit. Puritans appear to have had a lot of sex under risky situations. Having sex in a field, forest, or hedge was a normal part of Puritan life.

They also frequently had sex in outhouses, porches, or rooms where other people were present.

Of course, they didn’t do it because they were wildly adventurous. There was just never enough private space indoors in those days. That made public sex a necessity.

Given that context, the Puritans did it in outhouses for the same reason we sometimes do it in cars today. In the heat of the moment, we simply make do with what space is available.

Even the puritans liked a good roll in the hay. By some accounts, at least one in three Puritan brides were pregnant by the time they were wed.
Even the puritans liked a good roll in the hay. By some accounts, at least one in three Puritan brides were pregnant by the time they were wed.

5. Personal Massagers in the Victorian Era Europe

Modern pop culture has it that the Victorian doctor, Morton Granville, invented the vibrator as a remedy for female “hysteria.” Some experts have come out to debunk this deliciously controversial theory. They say the good doctor invented the device to treat injured muscles, nothing else.

Where lies the truth? The jury is still out. But there is one fact we know for sure. “Personal massagers” were all the rage in the Victorian era. And for that, we must thank the people of the Victorian era, who also gave us the corset and, yes, industrialization.

Modern pop culture has it that the Victorian doctor, Morton Granville, invented the vibrator as a remedy for female “hysteria.” Some experts have come out to debunk this deliciously controversial theory.
Modern pop culture has it that the Victorian doctor, Morton Granville, invented the vibrator as a remedy for female “hysteria.” Some experts have come out to debunk this deliciously controversial theory.

6. Open Marriage in the Swinging 70s

Premarital sex has always been quite popular. But ideas like open, guilt-free non-monogamy actually took deep hold in the public imagination in the 1970s. Mainstream American pop culture in the ’70s often willingly championed non-monogamous sex, even for married couples.

The book Open Marriage, by Nena and George O’Neill, became an international bestseller in 1972. The publication became one of the first mainstream voices to promote emotional commitment without sexual monogamy.

Many couples agreed with the idea. Much of the world would have thought their experiments unthinkable only two decades prior. They held “key parties,” in which couples attended to swap partners. Heterosexual sex clubs began to emerge, encouraging swinging.

Today, many claim this era of open marriage and experimentation was nothing more than a cultural misstep. But it did open the door for today’s versions of non-monogamous marriages.

Premarital sex has always been quite popular. But ideas like open, guilt-free non-monogamy actually took deep hold in the public imagination in the 1970s. Mainstream American pop culture in the '70s often willingly championed non-monogamous sex, even for married couples.
Premarital sex has always been quite popular. But ideas like open, guilt-free non-monogamy actually took deep hold in the public imagination in the 1970s. Mainstream American pop culture in the ’70s often willingly championed non-monogamous sex, even for married couples.

7. All Tied Up in the 1990s

Bondage and S&M sex play had existed as a sexual taboo long before E.L. James wrote Fifty Shades of Grey. Sexual sadism and masochism experienced numerous profile booms through the 20th century. They would periodically surface as a mainstream trend — like in the 1950s bondage photography featuring Bettie Page. There was also the hit 1986 movie 9 1/2 Weeks.

But S&M began to claim a more lasting mainstream presence during the ’90s. The trend’s stylistic trappings – vinyl fetish clothes and whips – became fashionable after the 1992 Versace collection called “Miss S&M.”

Even the movie and television writers of the time began using S&M to signify danger -or cutting-edge cool. The 1994 Rosie O’Donnell movie Exit to Eden parodied the trend.

Major publications like New York Magazine, Chicago Tribune, and Spin sent reporters to cover the “new trend.” This led to countless “undercover” reports from writers who attended S&M clubs. They emerged to write shock articles about people running around spanking each other.

S&M began to claim a more lasting mainstream presence during the '90s. The trend’s stylistic trappings - vinyl fetish clothes and whips – became fashionable after the 1992 Versace collection called "Miss S&M."
S&M began to claim a more lasting mainstream presence during the ’90s. The trend’s stylistic trappings – vinyl fetish clothes and whips – became fashionable after the 1992 Versace collection called “Miss S&M.”

Not to be outdone, Madonna got in on the action, too. She adopted the persona of an S&M dominatrix for much of the early ’90s. In the 1994 video for the song “Human Nature,” she runs around spanking black vinyl-clad dancers. Unfortunately, the video achieved little erotic effect on a largely indifferent audience.

Unlike sex itself, which has always been a trendy activity, the pop star’s popularity was already on the wane.


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