16th Century

Bundling: A Curious Colonial Custom

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When you think of the word “bundling,” I’m sure you think of several layers of clothing to protect yourself from the cold. Or, more likely nowadays, getting your internet, cable and cell phone all under one contract. In Colonial America, Bundling was the practice of putting a courting couple together in bed for the night, fully clothed, to get better acquainted before marriage. It was considered an acceptable way for two young people to spend the night.

A theory for this respectability comes from the story of Ruth and Boaz from the Bible. According to most articles and books I’ve read about bundling, Ruth and Boaz spent the night together on the threshing room floor. The story as written in the Bible has Ruth sneaking in after Boaz has fallen asleep then sleeping at his feet. Her mother-in-law told her this was the way to get Boaz to marry her. Boaz even states that he doesn’t want anyone to know that a woman has entered the threshing room. Not sure why this makes bundling acceptable, but people are known to very loosely interpret the bible when it’s convenient.

The practice of bundling came over to the states with the first colonists. There are some writings still around that talk about the use of bundling in the UK and Holland. The earliest mention in the states goes back to 1634. Bundling, also called Tarrying, gave a young couple the opportunity to spend time together in an intimate setting. Something that NEVER happened in the 17th and 18th century. Keep in mind that during this time you didn’t get to choose who you married, your parents did. You married to align families, to access other resources like land or livestock, or just to make sure you married into a family with wealth, prestige, or adequate resources. Back in the UK and Europe, this was the way everyone approached marriage unless you were dirt poor and had nothing to exchange.

In the new world, you had the added pressure of extremely limited resources. Marriage was more about survival. Couples needed to have children to increase the workforce and build up their wealth and property. This survival culture is most likely why bundling is mentioned more in the prosperous 1700’s than the struggling 1600s. The more people had to offer, the more they had to bargain in exchange for marriage. It was all about coupling finances and property, and the woman was also considered property.

Despite the limited resources, Puritan’s practiced this tradition more than the Virginia settlers. More families settled in New England than in Virginia, which mostly consisted of single men for the first couple of years. This difference meant that while Puritan settlers didn’t have much when they arrived in the new world, they were more apt to keep their marriage traditions from back home. Marriage was decided between fathers and involved discussions of dowry and inheritance, even if there wasn’t much with which to negotiate.

A man with resources (or a man from a family with resources) was able to meet his intended beforehand instead of just meeting each other on the altar. This meeting often meant a long trip requiring an overnight stay. Needing to spend the night gave young couple an opportunity to spend it together with the intention of getting to know each other through late night conversation. To ensure there wouldn’t be any hanky panky, they would not only be clothed but have a barrier between them. Sometimes it was a board that went down the length of the bed (bundling board) or a large pillow (bundling bolster) down the middle, or put in a sack (bundling bag) that could be sewn or tied shut to prevent them from removing it. The rest of the family went to bed, and the young folk were left alone if there was room enough in the house to be left alone.

This practice seemed to be more common in New England. Puritan’s weren’t as conservative as you would think, at least as compared to their Catholic counterparts of the time. Yes, life and work were all for the glory of God, all rules came from the Bible, and sex was not allowed outside the confines of marriage. A significant difference was the Puritan’s belief that sex should be enjoyable to insure pregnancy. If a couple was not having sex or if the husband could not perform his duties, the marriage was annulled. Perhaps this is why bundling seemed like a good idea rather than being thought of as immoral. By giving the couple a chance to warm up to each other, they could ensure a prosperous marriage not only in wealth and property but also in progeny.

Early Americans even thought the practice was practical. Travelers were allowed to bundle with their daughters as a way to save money. This way expensive fuel wasn’t wasted to warm another room, or the room they were in for that matter. Not only could the soon to be betrothed whisper in the dark to save candles, but the traveling salesman could also bundle up with someone to conserve expensive firewood. This economic necessity is most likely why the practice seems to be limited to rural areas.

Despite all its practicalities, things did not always go as planned. There were times when the young lovers crossed the bundling board, or they managed to get free of the sack. When comparing marriage records with birth records, by the late 18th century at least 30 to 40 percent of colonial brides were already pregnant on their wedding day. Surprisingly, as long as they were getting married it didn’t seem to matter. It’s even suspected that if the bride was pregnant before marriage that bit of bundling could prove the paternity of the child as indisputable. The bundling young man had to be the father, making any accusations or need for proof unnecessary. Just marry the girl, and all is forgiven.

Not everyone was cool with bundling. There have been published rants from the clergy. Jonathan Edwards preached against it in the early 1730’s.  In 1781, Reverend Jason Haven even outed some people in the congregation while preaching against the practice. In 1809, Washington Irving mentioned it in his Knickerbocker’s History of New York as a “superstitious rite practiced by the young people of both sexes.” and points out “…that wherever the practice of bundling prevailed, there was an amazing number of sturdy brats annual born unto the state.” Bundling stayed around much longer than most clergy and sophisticated city dwellers liked. The custom spread from New England to New York and Pennsylvania then across the Midwest. There is some evidence that the Amish and Mennonites also practiced the custom for some time.

The custom fell out of favor quicker than you think. It stuck around for a long time but wasn’t very popular after the early colonies became prosperous. By the 19th century, it was still around but rare. You can find people talking about it as late as the 1930’s with stories about bundling “among the plain people.” Being thought of as only practiced by “plain” people will hurt any custom’s popularity.

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The Myths of Chastity Belts

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When I think of chastity belts, I think of the movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights. (Go ahead and judge. I liked this much-maligned Mel Brooks movie) In it, the hero not only will have the key to the fair princess’ heart but to her Everlast chastity belt. We’ve seen and read much about the chastity belt being around since the Crusades. It shows up in books and film, most recently in Mad Max Fury Road. These barriers against infidelity and rape were mostly a tale of fiction until the 19th century. There is no evidence they existed or were used during the crusades. The earliest images were in the 16th century. When you look at the evidence, you find stories about chastity belts are more of a smear campaign against an earlier “dark age” blown out of proportion in the moral mire that was the 19th century. There were, in fact, no medieval chastity belts being worn to protect a ladies virtue.

You might be saying to yourself, “But I’ve seen them! They’re in museums!”

Well, yes, they were in museums. Until they found out they were not from an earlier era but the Victorian era. Most of them have been removed from display. A medieval chastity belt on display at the British Museum turned out to be from the 18th or 19th century. Another that was shown in the Musee de Cluny in Paris, and credited as being worn by Catherine De Medici, was tested and proved to be made in the early 1800s. In typical fashion, we became so enamored with the idea of the chastity belt we never actually looked at how improbable their use really was. We fell for the story about knights locking their wives in metal girdles hook, line, and sinker. As several historians who busted the myth of chastity belts have said, we wanted to believe that the dark ages were a barbaric time compared to our enlightened age.

Oddly enough, the enlightened age that comes up with the preposterous idea was the Renaissance era. The Crusades took place between the 11th and 13th centuries, and there is no evidence of chastity belt use during that time. There isn’t mention of its use until the 15th century. According to Albrecht Claussen, the author of The Medieval Chastity Belt: A Myth-Making Process, the first textual evidence is in Konrad Kyser’s Bellifortis in 1405. The book is about war machinery. Florentine women used them, as Kyser tell us in his book, and includes a hand drawn illustration. It’s in a chapter with instruments of torture, so its authenticity is in serious doubt. That and Kyser’s book also includes fart jokes.

When historians look at illustrations and writings from the 15th and 16th century, it’s apparent the girdle of Venus was more of a joke, a piece of prurient propaganda, or a way to decry the dark ages as brutal and cruel thus lesser than the current era. Most of the illustrations show the lover hiding somewhere in the shadows with a copy of the key. Meanwhile, the poor sap of a husband leaves town thinking he has protected his wife from straying while he’s gone. One can imagine these images of cuckolded husbands were quite the knee slapper.

It only get’s worse as we approach the Victorian era, they loved the idea of girdles of cruelty. How else do we keep our hands, and other’s hands and… stuff… from our sinful nether regions.

This is when the fakes enter the scene.

The Victorians were so against sex for pleasure they took an era they thought of as being pretty with it in the “no sex unless for procreation” department and went with it. They didn’t care if it was true, this was an age where patents were being issued every day for inventions to stop people from engaging in sexual activity. What they didn’t take into account was how dangerous these things would be to wear if they actually existed.

A “metal bikini” with a small opening for bodily functions worn for an extended time would be lead to debilitating injuries and even death. Even lined or padded iron would still chafe and cause painful abrasions on the skin. It would be extremely uncomfortable to move or sit, and they did not leave enough space for bodily functions. There would risk of infections and sepsis. Even if a Knight wanted his wife to be locked up in a girdle of Venus while was off on the crusades, he would return to a wife that has been severely injured or even dead. Not really what they had planned.

This means that metal padlocked belts adorned with spike-edged openings may have inspired the ones worn by Immortan Joe’s wives but are just as much a product of fiction as the film. The irony is these barriers to pleasure are now used in BDSM. Chastity belts exist today although worn for a limited time in Dominant/submissive play. They are built to deny access to the genitals or to prevent an erection so that the Dominant has complete control of those options. So take that, Victorian prudes! Today chastity belts are not used to prevent sex but to enhance it.

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Sexuality in Fashion: The Codpiece

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I am a huge fan of the 1980’s British TV series, Blackadder. Comedian Rowan Atkinson plays Edmund Blackadder with each season taking place in a different time period. A scene in the first series involves The Black Adder’s (the 15th century Blackadder) clothing choices while getting ready to attend the announcement of the new Archbishop. He chooses the most ostentatious of clothing items, most notably his codpiece called The Black Russian since it always terrifies the clergy. The reveal of his magnificent codpiece shows a large stiff upward-curving shape.

The first Blackadder’s clothing choices are not too far from what some nobles might have done back in the day. Sexual display in male dress manifests in different ways over the millennia and many a noble was keen on some sexual display. They also like to show their power and virility. One of the more impressive displays from the past is the codpiece. These ornate protuberances started out small and practical then rose to decorative prominence then fell out of favor. How men decided to make their crotch such a fashionable focal point is an interesting evolution.

Western fashion before the 15th century consisted of tunics and hose. Hose being woven cotton, not the sheer nylon we use today. It started as two separate leg coverings that attached to a linen undergarment. The undergarment and chemise (shirt worn under the tunic) covered the crotch, which was also covered by the tunic. The tunic (called a doublet by the 15th century) kept creeping up until it barely covered the bottom, thus exposing the open space between the hose. When the tunic got short enough to be a risk when sitting or getting on a horse, they came up with the idea of sewing the hose together in the back and adding a triangular piece of fabric to the front. The front covering was attached to the hose at the bottom to create a flap then tied to the hose at the top with ribbons or cord. The new style of hose now tied to the doublet. As the doublet got even shorter the triangular flap, now more exposed, got bigger and more decorative. Dubbed the codpiece, it began to bulge and grow until it was almost as big as Edmund’s Black Russian as it became a symbol of virility, sexual prowess, or just to show off

The word codpiece comes from the Old English/Germanic word for bag, pouch or husk and the Middle English word for scrotum. The codpiece reached its peak in the mid-1500s, around the 1540s. At the beginning of the 16th century, hose became divided into upper stocks and lower stocks. They were attached to each other, but the upper stocks were made to look like a separate garment. The upper stocks evolved into breeches while the codpiece became more padded and pouch-like, so it protruded between the hose. It also may have emerged as a handy dandy pocket to store items like jewels, letters, or even, as legend has it, the occasional orange.

While the codpiece growth coincides with the spread of syphilis, it may not have been used or developed because of it. According to Anthropologist Grace Q. Vicary, the codpiece was padded out so that it didn’t press against a painfully syphilitic penis or provided space for an ulcered member wrapped in bandages. The codpiece also kept the unguents from staining the garment. This does not seem to be the case as surviving codpieces were not shaped in a way to accommodate these theories. It wouldn’t be the first time venereal disease inspires fashion as this happens more often than you think.

The codpiece was mostly the fashion accessory of the rich, the ranked, and the royal. Many Henry VIII portraits show him with a fashionable protuberance. He may have been enamored with a full stuffed codpiece because of certain insecurities. Henry was unable to produce a healthy male heir despite a parade of wives. His fascination with large codpieces was a way to let people know he did not lack in the bait and tackle. The rise of the codpiece is also seen in military dress, and some surmise may have started first in armor before clothing. Metal codpieces were a popular piece of military garb, so Henry had one as part of his ceremonial armor.

The padded codpiece is found in art from Germany, Italy, Austria, France and Spain. As the codpiece increased in size, it’s resemblance to the male member in the rest of Europe increased, especially in Italy. Paintings such as Portrait of a Halberdier by Jacomo Pontmoro, Pietro Maria Rossi – Count of San Secondo by Parmigianino dated 1535-39, Guidobaldo II della Rovere by Agnolo Bronzino dated 1530-32, and Portrait of Antonio Navagero by Giovanni Battista Moroni dated 1565 show that Italy was quite fond of the upwardly mobile, highly phallic, codpiece. You can find German woodcuts and paintings with the slashed look that was fashionable at the time, as were puffed out codpieces. Portrait of a Young Man by George Pencz, a German artist, dated 1544 has quite an impressive codpiece that seems to defy gravity.

As we enter into the Elizabethan era, from the mid to late 1500s, we see the codpiece start of whither. Well, not exactly whither but get overshadowed by other pieces of clothing. Emphasis goes away from the codpiece as the peascod belly doublet rises. The peascod belly, or goose belly, is a doublet padded in a way that resembles the chest of a bird. There is even peascod shaped armor. The puffed and padded doublet extended downward with most of the padding at or below the waist. Trunk hose now separate from the hose covering the leg, billowed out so that the fullness obscured the codpiece. Between the full belly and the full breeches, the codpiece faded into obscurity by the end of the 16th century.

Emphasis on genitalia in some way persisted until we get to the staid Victorian era. Around the 1920’s, fashion brought attention back to the body. The codpiece was resurrected in the 20th century, as seen in A Clockwork Orange, Kiss, and Cameo. We can still see it as a symbol of sexual voraciousness and the well endowed in the entertainment industry as bands from a variety of genres like heavy metal, alternative, and R&B sport modern codpieces. The prevalence for codpieces in Renaissance armor is seen on Star Wars characters and superheroes. It hasn’t made its way back into everyday clothing, but every once in a while it shows up on the runways. As a culture, we’re still obsessed with size and virility, except nowadays it’s more about pleasure than progeny.

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Early History of the Prostate

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The word prostate has its roots in the Greek word prostates which means “one who stands before,” “protector,” or “guardian.” This may be due to its position to the front of the gallbladder. The Greek word was not used for the organ we now know as the prostate. In fact, it wasn’t a medical term but may have been the origin of the words “President” and “principal.” It would take centuries before a form of this word would be used for a part of the body. Use of the term “prostate” may have been used earlier than we thought, predating written evidence we have today.

Niccolo Massa was the first to make notations about the prostate while performing anatomy dissections in 1532. Massa published his observations in the book Liber Introductorius Anatomiae, an anatomy textbook. In it, he describes in the inner workings of the human body in great detail. Massa makes a very brief reference to the prostate but does not call it by that name.

Andreas Vesalius’s book, De Humani Corporis Fabrica published in 1543, has a more detailed description of the prostate. These early writings did not accurately portray how the prostate worked nor its actual purpose. They recorded merely speculation at this point, with some interesting ideas of how the prostate worked.

1600 may have been when the first actual use of the word prostate is found in a document. French physician Andre Du Laurens used a version of the word, “prostatae” in his book Historia Anatomica Humani Corporis. This is the wrong gender ending to the word, but it was used that way due to an error in interpreting the prostates composition and function. They were trying to find a name that identified it as doubled. It would take centuries before this error would be considered incorrect and a consistent term is adopted.

I found surprisingly little information about the prostate between the 17th century and the 19th. It’s not until the 19th century that you start to see more written evidence. Jean Cruveilhier, a French physician and anatomist who has several diseases to his name, wrote about the prostate in the early 19th century. Later in the century, Leo Testut would also write about the prostate. They seem convinced the prostate consisted of several lobes. Jean Cloquet and Marie Philibert Constant Sappey described it as a unique zone.

When we get into the 20th century, Joaquin Albarran described the sub-urethral glands in 1902. Bernard Joseph Cuneo wrote about the prostate in 1911, Oswald S Lowsley in 1912, Gil Vernet in 1953 then LM Franks, in 1954. John McNeal wrote about the prostate in 1968 and 1978. He had established that the prostate is histologically and anatomically heterogeneous. It has three zones, transitional, central and peripheral ones. McNeal not only mapped the structure of the prostate he is also known for pioneering prostate cancer pathology.

One big issue I found while trying to look up the origin of the term prostate is that it’s hard to say exactly when the term got its start. Most write-ups about the word credit du Laurens as the first to use the term as prostatae. Another abstract refutes this and says that other anatomists and physicians knew of the prostate’s existence as early as Herophilus of Alexandria in the 300s BC. Herophilus is credited as being the first anatomist, so it is possible he was the earliest person to write about the prostate. Often the prostate was described as a glandular assistant. Despite being looked at in cadavers for centuries, it was only until the mid 20th century that prostate cancer was fully mapped out, and ways to improve prostate health became a priority.

It’s interesting to see how long it took for doctors to uncover the mystery of “guardian” of the gall bladder. Now we have a whole month devoted to the prostate as September designated as National Prostate Health Month. Not bad for a walnut-sized gland that does more for your health than just provide an alkaline fluid for sperm.

 

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Condom History – Evidence from the 16th and 17th century

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The early history of condom use is murky with conjecture and myth. We don’t have much substantial evidence other than some anecdotal evidence and some paintings that show people were using linen, leather or animal intestines as condoms. Our first physical evidence was found in excavations in England and Sweden. Both finds date back to the mid 17th century and are examples of the use of animal intestines for protection. While they may have been used as birth control, they were more than likely used primarily as a barrier against STIs. The 15th century saw a surge of syphilis and gonorrhea infections. It was a growing problem with deadly consequences and was still a concern by the 17th century. Condom use was a way to reduce the spread of disease. They often soaked condoms in a solution that was thought to prevent infection then dried before use. Looser than the condoms of today, they were often tied on with a ribbon. They were also cleaned and reused, something we would never think of doing today.

The 16th century brought us one of the first texts to mention more modern condoms. Italian anatomist Gabriele Fallopio, or Fallopius, treatise De Morbo Gallico (The French Disease) was the first document to mention a condom-like device in 1564, published two years after his death. Fallopio is best known for his namesake the fallopian tubes, but he was also involved in the research and writing of many other important medical discoveries. In this pamphlet, he described a device made out of linen, first soaked in a chemical compound, that would prevent the spread of syphilis. Fallopio states in the text that after clinical trials with over a 1,000 men he concluded that none of them had contracted syphilis.

The 17th century was about the time we start to hear about condoms being used to prevent pregnancy. Most literature about condom use spoke of disease prevention and not pregnancy prevention. You get the first birth control reference in about 1605. Unfortunately, it was written by a Catholic theologian to denounce condoms as immoral due to its contraceptive use. The use of a condom for contraception would come up in a bawdy French novel, L’Escole des Filles, and in a report by the English Birth Rate Commission as a reason for a drop in the fertility rate by the mid-1600s. This fertility rate statistic marks a turning point in our written history as we start to get more straightforward evidence of condom use in reliable documents as well as the first surviving examples of early condoms.

One of these finds is an entirely intact condom found in Lund, Sweden. It is made of pig intestine and is estimated to date back to around 1640. Found along with the condom was an instruction manual written in Latin, also intact. Astonishingly, a translation of the text reveals it recommends washing the condom in warm milk to prevent disease. I’m not exactly sure how warm milk prevents STIs, perhaps it lulls the bacteria to sleep. Early condoms would often be soaked in some sort of preventative solution then dried, but I couldn’t find milk used anywhere else in my research. Not sure why this particular manual decided to recommend it. While milk does have some healing properties, I can’t see how warm milk could be a preventative measure against disease. Early condoms had to be soaked first, usually in water, to make them pliable for use. This instruction sounds like it is supposed to be applied after use when cleaning rather than soaking in it before use.

Another archeological find was at Dudley Castle near Birmingham England. During excavation, the fragments of 10 fish and mammal intestine condoms were found in a cesspit. They were deposited there after being discarded in the garderobe. A garderobe is a medieval latrine that was often also used as a closet since the resulting gasses from being used ostensibly as an indoor outhouse was thought to keep fleas, moths, and other pests away from the garments. These fragments were found after sifting through the remains in the cesspit. They date to about 1642, a time during the English civil war when Dudley castle was often under siege. After repeated attacks by Cromwell’s forces, it was surrendered in 1646 and partially demolished sealing the cesspit. This provided the perfect environment to preserve the condoms. It is thought the condoms were used by the soldiers guarding the castle. Of the ten condoms found, five of them were found layered inside the other.

The struggle for both disease protection and contraception would continue for centuries. From the time of these earliest surviving examples, advancements would be slow. Who used these earliest surviving examples is unknown. It’s often thought that only the rich or the aristocratic could afford to purchase condoms. What about the social station and pocket money of a castle guard? Were fish bladder and animal skin condoms readily available and affordable to everyone? It’s possible that the butchers had enough left over intestines to create new condoms easily. You only need some lye or sulfur to loosen up the intestines. The fact that they were often reused may have made them seem more affordable. There’s not enough written evidence yet to know. We have to look into the next century to get a better idea of how condom use is reflected in the masses.

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Sexuality in Fashion: When Men Were Peacocks

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Some time ago my kids and I were visiting a park where the peafowl ran free. I say peafowl because peacocks are only the males of the species; peahens are the females. It was spring so many brilliantly trained peacocks seemed to be everywhere that day, ready to impress. They strutted around with tails fanned out, giving them a shivering shake every now and then, as the smaller neutral feathered peahens seemed to be going about their business nonplussed. Several moms were standing with us in an open field watching nature’s show when I noticed some mom’s referring to the peacocks as “she” and “her.” It seemed they thought the courting male fowl to be female.

It’s always frustrating for me when I hear parents give their children misinformation instead of just saying, “I don’t know” then seeking out the right info. Dare I say something and correct these women in front of their children?

I couldn’t help myself. I had to. For science.

When I pointed out the fanciful birds were indeed male, they were surprised. It was strange to them that the female would be dull colored and the male so extravagantly plumaged. Because I couldn’t shut my mouth at that point, I also pointed out that pretty much the entire animal kingdom is set up that way. I eventually wound up explaining that males are colorful to help attract a mate and females are camouflaged to protect them, important vessels of procreation as they are, from predators. What I didn’t get to is that men have also been peacocks in our past, we just don’t remember. I’m not just talking about the swinging 60’s, the glam 80’s or even the metrosexual new millennium. Men centuries ago have had periods where they rocked wigs, highish heels, makeup, and fanciful dress. These were mostly affluent nobles but a rising merchant class meant the middle-income crowd could also indulge in fanciful fashion.

For most of ancient times, men and women dressed pretty much the same. In the 15th and 16th century, dress in the upper class becomes more elaborate. By the Tudor and Elizabethan time period men are slashed, puffed, sporting thigh high pumpkin hose and stockings. Then the 17th century arrived. Noblemen and aristocrats begin a journey into ostentatious display the likes of which we have rarely seen. The elaborate jewel pearl encrusted Elizabethan era becomes the sumptuous fabrics and ornate lace collars of the Jacobean era. Men are all about the ruff but not in the curled shaped upright ruff, instead, it’s wide, flat and made with exquisitely edged lace. There are even fancy lace cuffs appearing at the sleeves. The leg coverings saw short breeches descend from their height at the thigh, to knee length and full, then relaxing to a more natural form. Sashes and fancy garter ties are now all the rage. The heeled shoe makes its appearance, as does the high-topped boot that soars to such height it become fashionable to have them hang and sag around your calves.

As we head into the 17th and 18th centuries, men are wigged out, wearing makeup, high-heeled, and looking fabulous. Early 17th century Jacobean moves to the jaunty mid-century Cavalier, made popular by the Three Musketeers movies. Cavalier brings long curled locks, fancy long poufy sleeve peeking out from the end of coat sleeves, longer more elaborate coats, ribbon loops, the birth of the cravat and Jabot as neckwear, and petticoat breeches which were so wide they often looked like short skirts.

It culminates with the Restoration era where long curly locks are replaced by bigger long curly wigs, garter ties with bows become festooned with ribbon loops, jackets bloom with more ribbon loops, hats grow wider brims and longer feathers, shoes are heeled with fancily decorated as are the ever widening cuffs. Makeup becomes popular, mostly to hide scars due to smallpox along with the use of beauty patches that also help to cover scars. If you’ve ever seen The British Fops Lucien Callow and Fagan on Saturday Night Live, this is what they were making fun of. The Restoration era is the Fops heyday.

Dandy fashions continue into the rococo period to the early 18th century, but with fewer ribbon loops. The last stand of men’s fashionable extravagance, at least until the 1960s, would be the “macaroni” of the mid 18th century. Trendy men’s court fashion becomes its most metrosexual until it calms down to a more sedate dandyism spearheaded by Beau Brummel. Men’s fashion would become increasingly dull and drab as attitudes towards masculine dress become more rigid in the 19th and 20th centuries.

It’s interesting to note that the times that men are letting their peacock flags fly, are when sexual mores are more relaxed. The renaissance saw an increased acceptance of sex for pleasure, although usually within the confines of marriage. While cheating had to be kept on the down low, mistresses and boys on the side start to become more apparent in the literature of the time. The 17th and 18th centuries find the aristocracy enjoying what seems like a great deal of sexual freedom. Men marry to procreate and pass their fortunes and titles onto their progeny while pursuing mistresses and courtesans for pleasure. There is a sense that men flirted more and sex was more acceptable.

The 18th century is a time where a more modern attitude towards sex takes root. When sex gets tightly buttoned up in the Victorian and Edwardian eras (19th to early 20th century) men’s dress becomes less ornate. During the sexual revolution of the 60s, we see the return of the dandy and a blurring of the gender lines in fashion. It makes me wonder if the absence of the metrosexual in preference for the more conservatively adorned hipsters has something to do with the current clash of sexual identity. Only time with tell. I’m hoping the peacocks return to parade and shake their stuff again.

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History of the Sex Doll: Before Plastic

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By Dvortygirl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dvortygirl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Sex dolls have come a long way in the new millennium. They’ve gone from a homemade companion to odd inflatables to the Real Girl. The need for artificial female companionship (the penetrative kind) has been around for centuries. For some the accompaniment of their own had is simply insufficient. Before modern silicone technology made the real doll possible, most sex dolls were made of vinyl or plastic. But what did we do before the advent of vulcanized rubber in the 1840’s and polyvinyl chloride in the 1920’s? We did the best we could with what we had, apparently.

It’s hard to find much documentation about dolls used for sexual acts before the 20th century. Most likely because those early dolls did not survive the test of time due to the materials they were made out of. Also, people just didn’t document that sort of thing. Stories have been told but not much solid written or printed evidence. We have to go on hearsay and there’s very little of that too.

Cloth was a material used to create dolls for centuries, sex dolls included. There are stories of dolls made of cloth or leather and stuffed with straw or bits of cloth as early at the 15th century. Most notably is the Dames de Voyages (or Damas de Viajes) said to be used by French and Spanish sailors of the 17th century. They may not have been the only sailors to use them. Lonely sailors were looking for “companionship” during long voyages on the high seas of this era. Women were not allowed on board ships as they were thought to be unlucky. Instead, figures were fashioned out of fabric and stuffed to give fullness. At the same time, the Dutch were traveling to Japan. The Japanese gave the name “Dutch Wives” to the dolls supposedly made of leather the Dutch sailors had with them for their long journeys to the east. The term is used even today as slang for sex doll.

The Japanese may have been inspired by the Dutch Wives to make their own sex doll. The Azumagata Ningyo (substitute wife/woman doll in Japanese) was written about in the 18th century but images or written records no longer exist. It may have been sold as early as the mid 17th century. It’s said that this doll made of tortoise shell; cloth and leather could be purchased in Ryogoku, a popular shopping district. I also found mentions of a sex doll referred to as a do-ningyo. This doll was in the shape of a young girl with a velvet vulva. Tahi-joro (traveling whores) was another term for these dolls. I’m somewhat unsure if the azumagata ningyo is shaped like a person or is just a pillow shape with an entry area that is lined with tortoise shell and velvet, silk or leather. Ningyo means doll in Japanese so I’m leaning towards a female shaped doll of some sort.

A fascinating thing that came up often in my research was that these dolls seemed to be reserved for those of higher rank in nearly every culture that used them. They were reserved only for those of a high rank, those higher up the chain of command or higher up the social ladder. These dolls sound extremely rudimentary so it’s hard for me to imagine a low ranking sailor or lower class citizen couldn’t enjoy the comforts of a rag doll with strategic openings. One wonders at the hygienics involved in something that may not ever get washed, or washed well, especially after a lengthy time of being repeatedly used. Did many share them or did you have an exclusive relationship with your raggedy love doll? If they were shared there is a certain “ew” factor when it comes to cleanliness and I don’t even want to think about the ease of transmitting STIs among your shipmates.

The French, Spanish, Dutch and Japanese probably weren’t the only ones to come up with this tool for fornication. It paved the way for more realistic looking dolls once rubber is improved with the invention of vulcanization. It’s a shame none of these earlier dolls survived. It would be amazing to see what level of detail, or not, was given to the cloth doll. Unfortunately, we will probably never know what they really looked like or how they were made. Sex with simulacra will continue to evolve along with technology. It will be interesting to see where this this technology takes us.

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