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Sex in the Middle Ages

Journey back to the Middle Ages to see how something as private and personal as sex affected medieval society at every level, from the king to the common man.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting This is a short and easy to digest course. The fact that different lecturers take turns adds variety and interesting perspectives. While not an earth-shattering course, I found it interesting to learn about sexual norms, taboos and myths in the Middle Ages.
Date published: 2024-07-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Evolution doesn't work very fast Interesting course. 2 of the 4 presenters are excellent. A frank summation by one of the presenters in the last lecture is he source of this review's title. So much time passed yet so little change. And yes, this is by women and has no interest in sugar coating male domination and abuse then and now.
Date published: 2024-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from fun and interesting This is an engaging and entertaining course on sex, showing that people in the Middle Ages were just as into it and weird about it as people are today. I found it fun and interesting.
Date published: 2024-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I can't fathom the negative reviews While I'm not 100% onboard with the multi-professor format, I found this series as informative and fascinating as anything I've gotten from the teaching company. They really brought the topic to life and succeeded in giving a complete overview of medieval sexuality, contradictions and all. As with so much else in medieval Christendom, there was a sanctioned ideal of belief and behavior and, right alongside it, an equally large or larger heterodox sphere in which worldly and humanistic rules applied.
Date published: 2024-04-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Some interesting material, but superficial This course contains some interesting material about Christian thinking on sexuality, such as the role of original sin, St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. It also has some good lectures on the French Fabliaux tradition and the Canterbury Tales. However, it's superficial in its coverage, doesn't cover these topics in much detail, and has a rather flippant tone which I didn't think was appropriate. Also, the music was distracting and irritating. All in all, not of the same standard as other Great Course I've done, which have mostly been very high quality.
Date published: 2024-03-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from NOT about sex for middle-aged people I thought this was going to be about sex for people in their 40s and 50s, but it wasn't.
Date published: 2024-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Middle Ages live on Let's try this again. I can't use the word sex in my review without generating a Profanity flag? It's a good course. If you enjoy history, give it a try.
Date published: 2024-02-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from An easy A The question: should a professor receive a paycheck for paraphrasing a story from the Decameron?
Date published: 2024-02-09
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In the 12 episodes of Sex in the Middle Ages, Professor Jennifer McNabb and a panel of experts in medieval history and literature will take you back to the period between the fall of Rome and the rise of the Renaissance to explore the ideals and realities of sex and sexuality. As you’ll learn, the rise of Christianity as not just a religion but a powerful political institution irrevocably influenced both the practical and moral dimensions of sex for centuries. And you may be surprised to see how much medieval views of sex continue to influence us today.


Jennifer McNabb

In my years as a scholar of Europe, I’ve peeled back layers of legend in search of the complex reality of life.


University of Northern Iowa
Jennifer McNabb is a Professor of History and the head of the Department of History at the University of Northern Iowa. She received her PhD in History from the University of Colorado Boulder. She has published and spoken widely on the history of sex and marriage, and her articles have appeared in The Sixteenth Century Journal and Women’s History. She won a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for curriculum development and served as president of the Rocky Mountain Medieval & Renaissance Association.

By This Professor

Renaissance: The Transformation of the West
Sex in the Middle Ages
Sex in the Middle Ages


The Ins and Outs of Sex in the Middle Ages

01: The Ins and Outs of Sex in the Middle Ages

McNabb discusses the foundation for medieval views of sex and sexuality. You’ll consider the influence of Christianity as it became the dominant religion of Europe and why many sexual taboos can be traced back to “Original Sin” as told in the biblical story of Adam and Eve.

28 min
Let’s Talk about Medieval Sex, Baby

02: Let’s Talk about Medieval Sex, Baby

The medieval Church set the rules for sex, and the number-one rule was that it was solely for procreation within the bounds of marriage. Consider medieval ideas about procreation and see how everyday people thought about their own bodies and how they worked. Also, look at some of the medieval techniques to increase fertility or to prevent pregnancy.

23 min
Breaking the Rules of Medieval Sex Taboos

03: Breaking the Rules of Medieval Sex Taboos

Find out what medieval people did behind closed doors, as you examine the ways they often broke the rules about sex and what could happen to them when they got caught. From masturbation and prostitution to unmarried sex and homosexuality, there were a great many ways for someone to get in trouble with the authorities.

28 min
Sex and the Medieval Church

04: Sex and the Medieval Church

Much of what we know about the lived experience of sex for medieval people comes from people who weren’t supposed to be having it: the Christian clergy. Consider the influence of the Church, the clergy, and clerical lawyers on marriages and sex lives of the ordinary people that sought their help.

29 min
Sex, Status, and Violence in the Middle Ages

05: Sex, Status, and Violence in the Middle Ages

Add further depth and nuance to your understanding of medieval sexuality. Dig deeper into issues of status and gender as you consider forbidden liaisons and sexual violence. Look at the divides of class, gender, and religion and consider how the power dynamics of the Middle Ages further complicated matters of sex and marriage.

29 min
Medieval Fabliaux and Obscene Literature

06: Medieval Fabliaux and Obscene Literature

Medieval literature plays a powerful role in shaping modern perceptions of life in the Middle Ages. Turn to what might be the less familiar form of medieval storytelling: the fabliaux, which offered medieval people, as it offers us to today, a bawdy, explicit vision of sex and physicality in the Middle Ages.

25 min
Medieval Romances and Courtly Love

07: Medieval Romances and Courtly Love

Continue your examination of medieval literature by studying courtly love, focusing on some of its most famous characters and stories: Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Then, turn to an author writing in the English vernacular—Geoffrey Chaucer—who gloried in sex as both a plotline and a punchline.

26 min
Sex Lives of the Medieval Rich and Famous

08: Sex Lives of the Medieval Rich and Famous

For the elites of the Middle Ages, marriage was not only a way to avoid the sinful nature of sex, but it was also a way to shore up political alliances and economic security. Examine the rules—and double standards—of sex among the monarchs and aristocrats and meet some of the most famous (and infamous) medieval couples to learn about the ways sex defined relationships and could affect entire kingdoms.

24 min
Sex in Medieval Christendom

09: Sex in Medieval Christendom

Sex may have been the cornerstone of medieval marriage, but it certainly wasn’t limited to the bounds of holy matrimony. Explore the realities of sex among a variety of medieval people, from the everyday trade of brothels to the sex lives of intellectuals, including the famous story of Abelard and Heloise.

25 min
Sex beyond Medieval Christendom

10: Sex beyond Medieval Christendom

Widen your perspective on medieval sex by looking beyond the bounds of Christianity’s rules. Learn about the approaches to sexual activity in other cultures and regions throughout Europe. Medieval Europe was never homogenous in its ideas about sex, nor were the boundaries ever stable between peoples of different faiths and cultures.

26 min
Medieval Mythbusting: Sexual Odds and Ends

11: Medieval Mythbusting: Sexual Odds and Ends

People in the Middle Ages held some very interesting theories about the human body and sex. Examine some of the myths and legends in the Middle Ages associated with sex. Learn why numerous ideas about medieval sex have had a lengthy afterlife, even when they have little basis in fact or are anachronistic.

26 min
Legacies of Sex in the Middle Ages

12: Legacies of Sex in the Middle Ages

Explore the ways in which our own culture—pop and otherwise—takes inspiration from medieval ideas about sex and relationships, even as we wrestle with some of the darker elements of their legacy.

26 min