It is pretty much common knowledge that women throughout history were, for the most part, living in a man’s world and unjustly treated in accordance with today’s standards. Although most of us have a basic understanding of how women have been mistreated, it may not be common knowledge of how women’s sexuality was viewed during medieval times in England.
Let us first consider the options a woman in Medieval society had. First, and foremost, a woman’s life was almost always dictated by a man, whether it be her father before marrying age, her husband, a widow (where she would still carry her dead husband’s title, debts, etc making her still beholden to him even after death), a nun where a woman was married to God (yet another “man”, not to mention the monks and abbotts who often dictated to the convents, but the Pope too) or as a spinster who never married. Freedom from a man was a very difficult thing to come by, as you can see. And remember, do not lose your virginity before you are married to the eligible bachelor (who most likely is more than twice your age) that your parents handpicked themselves.
The first basic concept that must be understood is that there was a man who proclaimed that women were vessels of sexual desire who needed to have sex on a regular basis. This “Doctor” (who was just a third-century writer by the name of Galen) stated that a woman’s womb was a cold and unnatural place, which was thought at the time to be confirmed by the bible with the whole Adam and Eve issue, and so women needed a man’s “hot” seed to ensure that she didn’t become a shriveled-up, barren, old hag. Because of this one man’s notion of women, it became common knowledge that women desired sex as much as a man because she physically needed the seed for her womanhood.
With this information, people, by which I mean men, believed that all women lusted and desired sex at all times and certainly always enjoyed it. This belief could possibly be the reason that women would often give birth half a dozen to a dozen times even though mortality rate during childbirth was a staggering 1-50 in medieval England. Men thought women needed sex, and the fear- mongering delivered by a crackpot Doctor drove women to believe it too, leading women to believe that they needed it too. A vicious circle of duality.
As a married woman this would not be a very difficult obstacle to overcome, but imagine what that was like for a single young lady. The fear-mongering was so in-your-face that midwives provided a service of releasing the orgasm in women. The orgasm was thought to be the reason that would drive a woman to lose her virginity prior to being married and this service was provided to save her virtue. This methodology was introduced because of another finding our beloved Doctor instilled into the heads of the medieval Englishman: women needed to have an orgasm in order to conceive a child.
Another real issue for the single lady was rape by an unsavory fellow. This is particularly alarming. Two outcomes happened as a result of rape: no child or a child. Both options were not good for the woman but sides very generously for the man. If you were lucky enough to walk away from the situation without your womb quickening, then it was near-to-impossible to even prove the rape had occurred as there was no evidence. It became a game of whose word to trust, and well, it was a man’s world so we all know how that ends. Now what happens if you are part of the unlucky lot who conceived an ill-begotten child? I’m glad you asked. Let us remember the good doctor and his views on a woman’s sexuality. In order to beget a child, a woman must reach orgasm, and for a woman to achieve an orgasm she would have had to enjoyed herself thus deeming the rape an act of mutual consent.
That was reality. No matter which way the web was spun on the issue of rape it was always to the benefit of the man and the detriment of the woman. If you could hide the pregnancy or keep the rape to yourself then you could protect your reputation, but chances are it will become known that you have been sullied and your eligibility as a good wife will be, unfortunately, a thing of the past.
What is a woman to do? Marry at 12, move in together at 14 and start trying to conceive as soon as possible, as was the custom. Do not go anywhere without a male escort, this to ensure your good name and reputation stay in tact. If your husband dies, marry as soon as you possibly are able to, after a respectable period of mourning, of course. Have sex often so you do not become barren. And lastly, please do try to take care and not die in childbirth.