Weird History

11 Gross Facts About The Surprisingly Prolific Sex Life of Benjamin Franklin 

Katia Kleyman
Updated June 14, 2019 58.3k views 11 items

Founding Father, author, inventor, foreign diplomat — and sex fiend? Benjamin Franklin is one of the most respected figures in American History, but Benjamin Franklin's sex life was raucous.

Any examination of Benjamin Franklin's affairs starts in his youth. At age 14 in 1720, he was a curious and hormonal teenager who was intrigued by the "doxies" and "ramblers" lining the streets of Boston. When he was 17, Franklin moved to Philadelphia, where he began his printing business and started his courtship of the 15-year-old Deborah Read, the woman he would later marry. But by 1724, Franklin was off to London, and Deborah became an afterthought as he spent his evenings in the beds of countless women of ill repute. He returned to Philadelphia two years later, and eventually married Deborah in a common-law ceremony in 1730. The vows of marriage did nothing to stop his philandering ways.

Benjamin Franklin sex facts show how this esteemed figure in the early United States harbored plenty of personal secrets. Throughout his life, Franklin's sexual appetite was a hot topic of gossip amongst American, British, and French high-society. By the time he passed in 1790, he had left a number of salacious stories behind him. From the "fine establishments" of Philadelphia to the salons of Paris, here are some facts about Franklin’s long and fruitful love life.

He May Have Had 15 Illegitimate Children
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One of Franklin's illegitimate children is well accounted for. In 1731, a year into Franklin’s marriage with Deborah Read, he had a son with one of his mistresses. Some historians believe the mother of the child was a woman named Barbara, a maid in Franklin’s house. Deborah accepted the child, William Franklin, into her home and raised him as her stepson. William grew up to be a political figure in his own right, becoming the governor of New Jersey. Deborah and Franklin also had two children of their own, a son who passed at the age of five due to small pox, and a daughter named Sally, who lived into her sixties.

Some historians, like Thomas A Foster, author of Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past, think Franklin may have fathered 15 illegitimate children in his life; however, historians can't confirm any other details about his potential offspring.

He Might Have Belonged To A Sex Club
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While Franklin was in London from 1757-75, some historians believe he was a member of the Medmenham Monks, also known as the Hell Fire Club. This was a group of libertine men who were known for their perverse sexual proclivities and their rejection of religious constraints.

While his actual membership cannot be confirmed or denied, historians point out Franklin had close friendships with some of the club’s most notorious members, including its founder, Francis Dashwood.

He Was Still Charming Ladies Into His 70s
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Franklin arrived in Paris in 1776 just as he turned 70. The United States had just become a nation, and he had been sent over to serve as its commissioner to France. While he was there, even in his advanced years, he still charmed plenty of women At one ceremony, he was honored by 300 French women, who honored him by placing a crown of laurels on his head and kissing both his cheeks. 

His sex drive likely didn’t wane, either. A young composer and musician, Anne-Louise d'Hardancourt Brillon de Jouy, caught his eye and he tried to seduce her, with no luck — she affectionately referred to him as "Cher Papa." Franklin then fell for and courted a rich noble widow named Madame Helvetius. She had an estate in the French countryside, where Franklin got very comfortable in the company of her and her guests. Franklin even proposed marriage to Madame Helvetius, but she turned him down.

He Frequented The Red Light Districts
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Photo: The Yorck Project/Wikimeida Commons/Public Domain

Franklin publicly promoted a life of upstanding morality and virtues, as seen in his Poor Richard’s Almanack. In his autobiography, he described 13 virtues every decent man should live by, noting that men should "rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation." Privately, he allegedly did no such thing. When Franklin first moved to London in 1724, he was a regular at the city’s parlors. This was a habit that he kept up into the later years of his life. At night, he would always be seen at a pub in the company of women.

"In his morning litany he could pray to be kept from lasciviousness, but when night came lust might come with it," wrote biographer Carl Van Doren. "He went to women hungrily, secretly and briefly."