history What Sex Was Like in the Wild West

Jacoby Bancroft
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Society has a certain image of the Old West. Though we look back and picture cowboys wandering the wild frontier, guns on both hips, we tend not to wonder what sex was like in the American West. There appears to be good reason for that, as Wild West sex facts are more scarce than you would imagine. Even in a time when prostitution was a staple in almost every town and city, people still didn't talk openly about what they liked to do in the bedroom. This surely owes, in part, to the puritanical nature of American settlers. 

Even though it was a taboo topic, there are a few fascinating tidbits relating to stripping down and doing the naughty naked tango in the Old West. Whether it be how men liked to dress up like women or that oral sex was a little too French for most (Francophiles raise your hands), this list below highlights all the interesting facts about sex in the Wild West. Check out the list and see what American west sex facts titillate you the most. 

Gender Roles Were Fluid and Homosexuality Was No Big Thing

Gender Roles Were Fluid and Ho... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list What Sex Was Like in the Wild West
Photo: Frederi Remington/Public Domain

When you think of the Old West, your mind might conjure images of tough, macho men who embody stereotypically masculine traits. A cowboy riding valiantly on his horse to rescue a poor damsel that's tied to the railroad tracks, for instance. Spitting dip, loading guns, drinking hard, and wailing on whores. 

If that's how you view the Old West, you might be shocked to know how cowboys really viewed homosexuality. Wild West society didn't necessarily label people homosexual or heterosexual, but rather allowed each person to be who they need to be in any given moment. In an interview ("Homos on the Range: How gay was the West?"), University of Colorado at Boulder History Department Chairman Peter Boag, who wrote the book Same Sex Affairs, said, "people engaged in same sex activities weren't seen as homosexual."

When women weren't present in large communities, say a mining camp full of men for example, some men would fill the role of women sexually and domestically, and normal gender roles were challenged. In effect, men in the Old West got it where they could.  

Prostitution Was as American as Apple Pie

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Photo: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec/Public Domain

One thing is very clear about the Old West: prostitution was a staple to any town or city. What's surprising is the range of prostitution throughout the West. Some places were much how you would expect, dirty and cheap, women walking the streets with a sheet to lay on the ground for f*ck time. Other towns had a more esteemed opinion of prostitution, and were home to grand and eloquent brothels run by bigwig Madams. 

Prostitution was also indicative of socioeconomic classes in Old West society. Most prostitutes were young (30 or younger), largely uneducated and, in many cases, illiterate. Some were immigrants, and pricing was based not only on looks but also nationality and ethnicity. Like the anonymous, easily replaced miners and railroad workers of the American frontier, prostitutes filled a social and economic function necessitated by capitalism, but, as individuals, were largely irrelevant and forgotten. 

Birth Control Involved Ingesting Poison

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Photo: Adolphe Willette/Public Domain

In an era of rampant prostitution, you might wonder why people weren't popping out kids left and right. It's not like serious protection was used. Condoms were around, but very expensive, so most prostitutes used abortifacients, a generic term for any substance that induces a miscarriage (literally, from the Latin, "that which will cause a miscarriage"). 

Abortifacients contained poisonous ingredients, often from plant sources, that would kill unwanted pregnancy upon arrival. For prostitutes, pregnancy was a major hazard - not only could it kill your career, it might kill you; many women on the frontier died during childbirth. Women were often left with the choice of either dying during childbirth or poisoning themselves to kill an unwanted fetus. 

Oral Sex Was Too French for Cowboys

Oral Sex Was Too French for Co... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list What Sex Was Like in the Wild West
Photo:  Édouard-Henri Avril/Public Domain

Oral sex. Something everyone enjoys, yes? Well, actually, as it turns out, no. In his book Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940, Chad Heap, Associate Professor of American Studies and Undergraduate Advisor of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at George Washington University and regular contributor to Reddit subsection Ask Historians, explains that fellatio was considered a little too foreign for Americans during the time period (it was a too "French," if you will), and therefore wasn't readily performed. There's evidence that even prostitutes were against it, and would shun other working women who didn't mind giving dome. 

Cross Dressing Went Both Ways

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Photo:  Wilhelm von Gloeden/Public Domain

In his research of the Old West, historian Peter Boag was shocked to discover how common cross dressing was. It's easy to understand why women would feel the need to dress as men to get ahead, but Boag found plenty of instances of men dressing as women, which seems counter intuitive to the modern image of cowboys strutting about like John Wayne. 

During a talk on sexuality and gender issues of the American West at the University of Wyoming, Boag stated, "what I was unprepared for when I started uncovering all these female to male cross dressers, I also started to uncover hundreds of stories of men who dressed as women." 

Privacy During Sex? Think Again

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Photo:  Édouard-Henri Avril/Public Domain

It was common in the Wild West for families to live in small houses, usually made up of one large room. So, naturally, when it came down every member of a family sharing one space, privacy went out the window. In which case, it's fair to question how you'd have sex when sleeping in a bed with your children or other relatives. 

Writing on the development of privacy, and sex as a private practice, in Europe, author Brian M. Watson explains that, during the Reformation, figures such as Martin Luther created a sanctity of privacy surrounding the act of sex, something previously nonexistent. In the United States, sexual privacy - and privacy in general - was afforded by class. Money meant privacy, and most in the Wild West didn't have any money. 

So then what happened in those one room houses? You did what they had to do to get off.

The Slang Was Vastly Different Than Today's Vernacular

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Photo: Frederic Remington/Public Domain

Bumping fuzzies, screwing, fooling around, going to pound town, knocking boots, etc. These are all modern-day slang for describing the birds and the bees. Back in the Old West, there was an entirely different vernacular when it came to getting down and dirty. You can read a list of Wild West slang right here; one of the oddest terms on the list, pirooting, means intercourse. Try in out some time. "Hey bae, you down for some pirooting tonight?" 

Some other terms on the list include "g'hal" (a rowdy woman), "get the wrong pig by the tail" (pick the wrong person for some purpose - "When she asked to peg me, I knew I got the wrong pig by the tail."), and "rat trap" (the frame on a woman's dress or skirts).

Sex Education Didn't Do Much Educating

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Photo: Henry Scott Tuke/Public Domain

If you wanted a proper education about how humping parts worked or what an STD was, the Old West was not the place to be. Packets called "marriage manuals" were available for such purposes in the late 1800s. On top of being inaccurate, these packets stressed the importance of only having sex within marriage. They also highlighted how masturbation was unhealthy because the use of a man's seed for anything other than procreation was frowned upon in the eyes of the Lord. If you wanted to know anything beyond that, you'd have to learn by doing.