Weird History
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What Sex Was Like in the Wild West

Updated December 18, 2019 2.3m views9 items

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 intimacy was like in the American West. There appears to be good reason for that, as Wild West facts about hooking up are more scarce than you would imagine. Even in a time when cat houses were 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. Not to mention the matter of hygiene or doctor visits.

Even though it was a taboo topic, there are a few fascinating tidbits relating to hooking up in the Old West.

  • Photo: C.E. Finn / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Cross Dressing Went Both Ways

    In his research of the Old West, historian Peter Boag was surprised to discover how common cross dressing was. Women often dressed as men to get ahead and gain advantages denied to them during this time because of their gender. However, men engaged in the practice as well.

    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."

  • Some Things Were Too Risque for Cowboys

    In the 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, explained that oral pleasure was considered a little too foreign for Americans during the time period, and therefore wasn't readily performed.

    There's evidence that even sex workers were against it and would shun others who didn't mind engaging in the practice.  

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Slang Was Vastly Different Than Today's Vernacular

    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. 

  • Assault Was Rampant

    A very sad, very real fact of the Old West was that women didn't have many options. Women were emphatically considered secondary to men in social standing, which created a culture of endemic sexual assault. There were few, if any, avenues of recourse for survivors.

    According to author and women's crisis worker Nancy Williams, "In the last 150 years, we’ve gone from the steam engine to the jet engine, from horses to Lear jets and from outhouses to gold-plated indoor plumbing, yet the progress women have made in defending against sexual assault really hasn’t matched the pace of technology.”