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

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

    He May Have Had 15 Illegitimate Children
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    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

    He Might Have Belonged To A Sex Club
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    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

    He Was Still Charming Ladies Into His 70s
    Photo: W. O. Geller / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    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

    He Frequented The Red Light Districts
    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."

  • He Had "Rank Animal Instincts And Passions"

    He Had "Rank Animal Instincts And Passions"
    Photo: The White House Historical Association / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Given his habit of frequenting cathouses and writing dirty notes to young women, Franklin's sexual habits were likely more adventurous than his peers. In 1907, one of Franklin’s biographers, Albert Henry Smyth, ran with this notion while describing the Founding Father:

    "It is no use blinking the fact that Franklin’s animal instincts and passions were strong and rank, that they led him to the commission of deplorable errata in his life, and that the taint of an irredeemable vulgarity is upon much of this man," he wrote.

  • He Preferred Older Women As Lovers

    He Preferred Older Women As Lovers
    Photo: Jules Bertaut / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Franklin was in the newspaper business for many years of his life, and may have been one of America’s first advice columnists. In 1745, Franklin wrote an essay in response to a young man who asked him how best to tame his sexual appetite. The essay was titled Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress, and in it, he argued that older women make the best companions.

    "In all your Amours, you should prefer old Women to young ones," he wrote. He also wrote, "The Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement." According to Franklin, older women are "so grateful."