A Sexual-Decision Flowchart That Makes Everything Simpler for Medieval Men

A visualization of early Christian rules about sex; or, why sex is still a weird thing today.
More

Say you're a Godly fellow of pure heart and intention in the seventh century, and you've met a lady, and the two of you would like to have some sex. There are so many rules, though. Where does one begin?

Brundage (University of Chicago Press)

Penitentials were handbooks carried by some priests in the Middle Ages that delineated various sins for private confession and their penances. They were full of strict limitations as to what constituted pious behavior. They went on and on. To digest it all, James A Brundage, a scholar of the Crusades, aggregated the complex rules about sex into this excellent flowchart.

Brundage originally published the chart in his book Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe, which is now a standard text in Medieval history, lauded on several sites like The History Blog. The book's publisher, upon learning of my appreciation for this chart, allowed me to share it here as well.

Penitentials were condemned by the Catholic church in 829, but some were still around centuries later. This sort of sex-as-infraction attitude still reverberates. Just to be safe, if you are going back in time, print it out and put it in your vest pocket. (The first question on my "Are you ready for time travel?" flowchart is "Are you wearing a vest?")

Jump to comments
Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The AtlanticHe is the host of If Our Bodies Could Talk.

 
 
More

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In