Female Heterosexuality in

Late Medieval Europe

By Joy Henningsen and Christopher T. Wootten

This page was created as part of a course assignment for Dr. Susan K. Hagen's "Chaucer" class (EH 350) at Birmingham-Southern College, spring 1998. The medical information given on these pages is an interpretation or compilation of medieval medical texts and is not intended to provide medical/pharmaceutical advice.

Sexuality: This page discusses the medieval notions of conception, with particular emphases on the biological consequences of coitus. Reproduction, female anatomy, the humoral system, and menstrual lore are explored. JH






Women: This page explores the institutionalized misogyny females were faced with from infancy to widowhood in the late middle ages. The estates of women--virgins, widows, and wives--are discussed in the context of obligations to God and obligations to men. Also mentioned are the economic reasons females were costly as household members. CW





Medieval Practitioners: Distinguishing between male and female practitioners, this page assesses medieval practitioners' views on birth control and other gynecological issues. The distinction between secular and clerical medicine is also discussed and differentiates the works of the Saints from Salernitan and Arabic practitioners' writings. CW





Contraception and Contraceptives: This page presents an alphabetized list of medieval practitioners and the contraceptives they described in their medicinal writings. These "drugs" were largely herbal compounds, and popular contraceptive and abortifacient herb are illustrated in the margin.





Abortion and Abortifacients: This page presents an alphabetized list of medieval practitioners and the abortifacients they prescribed in their medical texts. Also as above, popular abortifacient and contraceptive herbs are illustrated in the margin. CW





Other Methods of Contraception: This page explores the use of chastity belts in the Middle Ages and the lore of female purity as well as other interesting birth control methods. Some images of medieval chastity belts are included.






Sexuality and Morality: Clerical and secular positions on acceptable sexual practices are presented. Church doctrine, precedents, and time lines of notable changes in theory are discussed, followed by morality issues, as interpreted by major theologians, regarding the use of contraceptives, fertility-enhancing agents, and abortifacients. These issues are discussed in parallel from a secular vantage. JH





Last revised: 9 May 1998