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History of Valentine’s Day – Saints and Sinners


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There is quite a bit of mystery about the origins of Valentine’s Day. Everything from its namesake to its pagan beginnings can’t be definitively proven and seems loosely drawn together. Lots of speculation and conjecture, a few possible leads but nothing that hands down proves how it started. I find the stories behind this holiday fascinating since it draws together stories of multiple martyrs, fertility rites, and medieval poets.

Let’s start with the mysterious martyr, St. Valentine. First, the name was not Valentine but Valentinus, or Valentino in Italian, but we’ll keep the anglicized name that’s most familiar. There are stories attributed to three different men; St. Valentine of Rome, St. Valentine of Terni, and St. Valentine who died in North Africa. They all apparently died on February 14th. There is hardly any information about North Africa Valentine other than he was killed with a bunch of other people in North Africa, so we’ll just stick to the first two stories.

St Valentine of Rome and St. Valentine of Terni could be two different people or the same person. Valentine of Rome might have been a former bishop of Terni. There are several different years attributed to his date of death which may be why there’s confusion as to how many Valentines there actually were. Some say he died during the reign of Emperor Gallienus and others Emperor Claudius Gothicus (Claudius II). Most research states he died either in 269 or 270 AD, which leaves out Gallienus was assassinated in 268.

Valentine’s execution could have been for performing Christian marriages or performing marriages for soldiers. Claudius II forbid soldiers to get married. He thought single men made better soldiers than married men who didn’t want to leave their wives and families to go to war. Many Catholic and religious sites believe he was simply persecuted for being Christian and trying to convert others.

Some stories have him converting a judge by curing his daughter of blindness. Others have him befriending a jailer’s blind daughter then leaving a note behind that read “From your Valentine.” One story has him leave the note for a woman he either became enamored with or befriended while incarcerated.

Other accounts say he charmed Claudius II, but when instead of renouncing his faith he tried to convince Claudius to convert, Claudius became irate and condemned him to death. In all of these stories, he’s beaten and beheaded then buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14th. Today, several locations claim to have pieces of St Valentine’s remains as relics on display. Most notably, the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome displays his flower adorned skull.

In most of the stories I read about Valentine’s Day, Pope Gelasius I declared February 14th the feast of St. Valentine in 496 and listed him amongst the saints “whose names are rightly reverenced among us, but whose actions are known only to God.”  He may still be the patron saint of love and happy marriages, but he was taken out of the General Roman Calendar in 1969 because so little was known about him. He is also the patron saint of beekeepers, epilepsy, fainting, plague, travelers, and young people

Pope Gelasius I worked hard to make Rome the seat of Catholicism. He also did his best to pin that pesky pagan festival, Lupercalia, to the mat after centuries of popularity. Some claim that Pope Gelasius used Valentine’s Day to supplant Lupercalia, and many believe he succeeded. Others argue that Lupercalia’s end came not with St. Valentine’s Day but with a letter to Senator Andromachus. There is very little evidence to support these claims other than a rather stern letter to the senator.

Lupercalia was a Roman fertility festival that is so ancient little is known of its origin. The festival was in honor of Rome’s founders, the twins Romulus and Remus, who were saved by a she-wolf when left for dead. After they had returned home to take back their stolen throne, they turned the wolf den of their youth into a sacred site. From then on, two men representing Romulus and Remus would sacrifice a dog and a goat (the defender of the herd and the herding animal) and clothe themselves in goat skins (which makes me think of the goat leggings in the 1980’s version of Dragnet).

After the post-sacrificial ritual, a feast would ensue, then the two men would run around the town slapping or touching people with goat strips/thongs for purification. Women thought it would ensure fertility and ease childbirth, which explains why they would want to get slapped with a possibly bloody strap of goatskin. And we’re talking strips of goat skin, not thick leather, so think of it as light, festive slaps and not getting beaten.

Lupercalia’s history includes stories that single women/young girls put their names in a pot then single men/young boys drew the names out of women who would then be their companions for the night, or a day, or a year depending on who’s telling the story. Companion is translated in many ways but often to sexual partners, but I can’t find any proof that happened. Some make it sound like it was speed dating, and if you hit it off, you got a life partner.

The earliest writing about this activity dates as early as 1756 and is most likely made up. Lupercalia probably had just fallen out of favor as some ancient festivals do. I’m sure the church thinks it hoodwinked the pagans with its new Catholic approved saint festival but that may not have been the case. It just may have run its course.

But Lupercalia was the reason for the season in its time and not the reason why we give notes of affection on the 14th today. That evolved over time from as early as the medieval era when Feb 14th was thought of as the day birds start mating. This made it was the perfect time for thoughts and words of love. The first documented writing about Valentine’s day is a medieval poem by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Parlement of Foules (also known as the Parliament of Birds) was penned in the 14th century and contains a stanza that about Valentine’s Day, “For this was on Saint Valentine’s day when every fowl comes there his mate to take.” There is even mention of Valentine’s Day in Hamlet.

By the 18th century, the passing of elaborate cards on Feb 14th was all the rage. By the 1840’s, Esther Howland created mass-produced cards to sell to the public since many people didn’t have time to make elaborate ribbon and lace laden notes anymore. In 1913, Hallmark started selling mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards ushering in the holiday we know today.

Now we can pass along e-cards to our lovebirds. And while we grumble about commercialization or that it’s just a manufactured holiday (which it is), at least no one in goat leggings is slapping you with strips of bloody goat skin. And if you are, who am I to yuck your yum. Enjoy the holiday in any consensual way you like.

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Origins of the Gay Pride Movement and Pride Parades


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The sixties were a time when many groups started to fight for their rights. Everything from the civil rights movement, women’s feminist movement, and the anti-war movement polarized Americans and got everyone out to organize, march, protest, and campaign. It was a time for big strides in social change on a variety of fronts. It saw the rise of the gay pride movement and the beginning of the now worldwide celebration of Pride parades.

The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were working towards uniting and providing support for the gay and lesbian community since the 1950’s. After the riots at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, it was no longer enough to protest quietly or disguise your identity in a vaguely named organization. The gay rights movement became much more vocal and confrontational. The Gay Liberation Front was created barely a month after Stonewall. Six months later, members of the GLF splintered off to help form The Gay Activists Alliance. Stonewall had become a rallying cry that gained momentum over the year that followed.

Members of the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations decided at their meeting in Philadelphia to have a march in New York on the one-year anniversary of Stonewall. Craig Rodwell, Fred Sargeant, Ellen Brody, and Linda Rhodes were pivotal figures in getting the referendum passed. Back in New York, Rodwell hosted meetings in his apartment and at his bookstore, the Oscar Wilde Bookshop. Brenda Howard attended these meetings and would eventually become a driving force not only for the first march but many more Pride events that followed.

The Christopher Street Liberation Day March took place on Sunday, June 28th along 51 city blocks from Greenwich Village to Central Park. Those attending the first march worried they would not even make it from Christopher Street to Central Park. There was lots of hostility from a largely homophobic public. Despite the fear of being attacked, the march grew in number and jubilance as it made it’s way to Central Park. They chanted and carried signs, making sure to tell the public they were no longer going to stay quiet about their cause. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago also had a march that year. The following year saw more marches around the US, then the first international marches began.

In time, Pride would grow in attendance and host cities worldwide. The 1970s and 1980s were difficult times as the LGBT community had to fight hard against discrimination and also some hard fights within their own communities. Despite this, the passion to change politics and public opinion never waned. Gay Freedom Marches, Gay Liberation Day and Gay Freedom Day continued to be events to bring LGBT issues to the forefront and to make its causes known to a wider audience. The community and burgeoning rights groups would see many challenges in those early decades, from the assassination of Harvey Milk in 1978 to the struggle against increased fear and homophobia during the AIDS crisis in the ’80s.

Pride events quickly evolved from the one-day march to weekend and weeklong festivals. The tone was more political in those early years but even as Pride celebrations became more festive, the undertone of politics and advocacy never went away. By the 1980s, the events changed from “freedom” and “liberation” titled events to the term “Gay Pride.”

Pride would be celebrated around the world, London in July of 1972, Stockholm in 1979, and Berlin in 1979. The ’80s saw an increase in world Pride events with cities like Paris, Dublin, Winnipeg, and Hamburg. Many Gay and Lesbian film festivals started in the US and internationally around this time. Pride events saw a great expansion around the world in the ’90s with the addition of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Israel, Japan, Thailand, Austria, Iceland, many Eastern European countries, and the start of EuroPride which changes the hosting European city every year.

The largest celebration is in Sao Paolo, Brazil with 3,000,000 participants and was named the largest pride parade in the world by the Guinness World Records in 2006. EuroPride has the next largest participants while San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have the largest numbers in the US. Taiwan is the largest in Asia, Tel Aviv is the largest in the Middle East and Toronto is the largest in Canada. The smallest had 100 participants in Sligo, Ireland.

You can now find Pride events in almost every country, from the largest cities to smallest islands, and the numbers continue to grow. Check with your local LGBT organizations, LGBT Community Center or online resources for lists of Pride events near you.


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Sex Toy History: Unusual Vibrators


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An interesting part of vibrator history is that they were often not manufactured nor marketed for masturbation. Many products used as sex toys were advertised as therapeutic massagers of the non-sexual kind. Household items sold with the word “vibrator” on the box were meant for relaxing muscles but often purchased as a “pervertable” (an everyday object used for sexual pleasure) rather than their original advertised use. Even the original Hitachi Magic Wand’s public relations department argued for decades that it was just to massage the kinks out of your shoulders and back, and not for use on more intimate parts of the body.

When you’re researching vintage vibrators, you usually find a parade of the usual suspects. In between the late Victorian hand crank massagers and the mid-century power tools, I found a couple that teetered on the sex toy edge. While I can’t find proof that they were used for solo sexy time (then again we can’t prove vibrators marketed for health care were all sex toys anyway) there’s something about them that just screams pervertable to me.

Vibra Bed may not be a conventional vibrator but the image on the box of a woman enjoying her “relaxing” time in bed made me wonder about the Vibra Bed’s intended use. I found two versions; the first has a late 60’s illustration then another with an early 70’s photo. In the box, you find a mid-sized square device you can attach to the bed to replicate those vibrating “magic finger” motel beds. Because everyone goes home from that no-tell motel going “Gosh I wish I had that vibrating bed action at home!” (Well, maybe a few did. Who am I to yuck somebody’s yum)

Vibra Bed made its first appearance in 1970. The good and services part of the trademark document lists it as a “vibrator for attachment to a bed or sofa for causing vibration of parts of the human body.” An ad in the Pittsburgh Press says it can be used with a sofa or chair. How well this small box works to make your entire bed, sofa, or chair into a vibrator is a question for the ages. Might be a nice full body massage after a long day or it could be about as effective as my cell phone going off repeatedly. Dynamic Classics Ltd., which went bankrupt in 1996 after losing a government lawsuit, had several items under trademark that were either fitness or travel oriented but nothing quite like Vibra Bed.

Sex Toy History: Unusual VibratorsAnother interesting find is the Filter Queen Vibrator by Health-Mor Inc. Filter Queen is known for its canister style vacuum cleaners. They carry a wide assortment of accessories including an attachment that turns your vacuum into a vibrator. The box shows how the hose vibrates and recommended use on various parts of the body. The attachment was invented by Eugene F. Martinec, vice president of manufacturing and inventor of many accessories for Health-Mor, and patented in 1962. At $14.50, this accessory is quite expensive, about $115 today. This price makes it more than twice the price of a Magic Wand and not as exciting. It looks like it came as part of an entire filter queen kit sold door to door, so may not have been purchased separately very often. Filter Queen is still in existence today, but no longer sells the attachment. Although an authorized dealer in Canada still offers the vibrator on their website.

An item that just screams sex toy to me is the Vibra-Finger gum massager. The vibrating end of thisSex Toy History: Unusual Vibrators massager comes shaped like a rather realistic looking finger. Apparently, dentists highly recommended gum massage to combat Pyorrhea or soft irritated gums. It cost $6.95, had a 30-day money back guarantee, and a one year warranty. The instruction booklet recommends a 60-second massage after brushing your teeth and lets you know you can purchase replacement fingers for a $1 each. I’m not sure why these fingers had to look so disturbingly life-like, it doesn’t seem necessary to perform the cleansing and refreshing massage

Vibra-Finger advertised in several newspapers from what looks to be the 1950s. I couldn’t find any information about either the Dentagene Company or Atlas Industries, both listed as the parent company on the ads. Nor could I find a patent for it. When it was invented and first distributed, is a mystery.

I was surprised to find all of these items for sale on eBay, Etsy and online stores specializing in collectibles. Their distributors may be long gone, but the product is still lingering about.

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Hi! I'm Miko Alicea. I'm going to take you on a journey through time. An exploration of the history of sex.

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