By exploring their sex lives, The Fires of Lust: Sex in the Middle Ages brings ordinary medieval people to life, revealing details of their most personal thoughts and experiences. It was possible, some believed, to die from having too much—or too little—sex, while the Roman Catholic Church taught that virginity was the ideal state. 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. NOTCHES sat down with Katherine Harvey to discuss the ways in which her book provides us with an important and intimate connection to the past.
Katherine Harvey is a medieval historian and Research Fellow based at Birkbeck, University of London. She is the author of Episcopal Appointments in England, c. 1214-1344 (Ashgate, 2014), and The Fires of Lust: Sex in the Middle Ages (Reaktion, 2021). She tweets from @keharvey2013
Justin Bengry is a founder of NOTCHES as well as Lecturer in Queer History and Director of the Centre for Queer History at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he convenes the first MA in Queer History. Justin tweets from @justinbengry
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