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Katherine Harvey

Jan 26, 2022

The Fires of Lust

Sex in the Middle Ages

Reaktion Books 2021

Today we are with Katherine Harvey, author of The Fires of Lust: Sex in the Middle Ages (Reaktion Books, 2021). An illuminating exploration of the surprisingly familiar sex lives of ordinary medieval people. The medieval humoral system of medicine suggested that it was possible to die from having too much--or too little--sex, while the Roman Catholic Church taught that virginity was the ideal state. Holy men and women committed themselves to lifelong abstinence in the name of religion. Everyone was forced to conform to restrictive rules about who they could have sex with, in what way, how often, and even when, and could be harshly punished for getting it wrong. Other experiences are more familiar. Like us, medieval people faced challenges in finding a suitable partner or trying to get pregnant (or trying not to). They also struggled with many of the same social issues, such as whether prostitution should be legalized. Above all, they shared our fondness for dirty jokes and erotic images. By exploring their sex lives, the book brings ordinary medieval people to life, revealing details of their most personal thoughts and experiences. Ultimately, it provides us with an important and intimate connection to the past.

Jana Byars is the Academic Director of Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender.

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Jana Byars is the Academic Director of Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender.

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