Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Sexuality In The Aztec Empire Was Actually Even More Repressed Than Puritan England

Aztec sexuality and their cultural attitudes toward it were fairly repressed. They maintained strict mores regarding intercourse, and any related actions outside of their concept of marriage were not only forbidden but were often cause for capital punishment. Despite this reluctance, sex work, one of the oldest and most widespread professions in the world, was common in Aztec culture. Their understanding of the practice was far different from that of the modern western world, however; within Aztec society, such work was very ritualistic and — within those confines — accepted in mainstream culture.

Conversely, homosexuality in the Aztec empire was strictly prohibited and, despite being almost unheard of due to repressed attitudes, was an offense often resulting in capital punishment. Though many relevant sources on the topic of Aztec sexuality are unreviewed, the information that is available shares many prudish aspects of sex in the Aztec Empire.

Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

  • Male Sacrifices Were Given Four Wives
    Photo: PauloCalvo / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Male Sacrifices Were Given Four Wives

    In a Reddit AMA, user 400-Rabbits moderated a panel about Aztecs; he described himself as a “four-field anthropologist,” and led a discussion on Aztec sexuality.

    Intercourse outside of marriage was frowned upon, but it was used ritualistically, especially in sacrifice. Within the thread, 400-Rabbits said a male sacrifice who spent a year as an avatar (or ixptla) of the god Tetzcatlipoca, who created the world with Quetzalcoatl, would be given four wives one month before being sacrificed.

  • Female Sacrifices Were Given To The King As Concubines

    Female sacrifices suffered a more horrific fate: a woman acting as an avatar for the mother goddess, Toci, would be handed over to the tlatoani (roughly translated as "king" or "ruler") as concubines prior to her execution.

    Her end was also gruesome: the priest impersonating Toci in the sacrificial ceremony would flay — and then wear — her skin. Toci, as presented in the iconography of the time, was often pictured as wearing human skin.

  • Homosexuality Was Punishable By Execution
    Photo: Stebunik / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Homosexuality Was Punishable By Execution

    The Aztecs' response to homosexuality was particularly brutal: some references claim that same-sex attraction may have been punished via impalement

    Despite these views, references to "cross-dressing boys [concubines]" and their related duties hint toward a double-standard in regard to ritualistic sex practices. 

  • Masturbation Often Wrought Burning Consequences

    Self-stimulation was considered unacceptable among the Aztecs. As Gary Jennings outlines in his book Aztec, those who were caught masturbating were punished by having ground chili peppers rubbed into their genitals.

    This punishment is starkly contrasted with some other cultures' practices: some Native Americans purposefully rubbed hot peppers on their genitals to prolong pleasure during intercourse.

  • Men Could Be Executed For Adultery
    Photo: Peter Isotalo / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Men Could Be Executed For Adultery

    In the Aztec Empire, a staunchly patriarchal society, male sexuality was far less controlled than female sexuality; however, adultery was cause for execution, and “a young man slipping away from school to [have intercourse] could be beaten, burned, and have his head shaved, though this may [have been a punishment] for the shirking his duties at the telpochcalli."

    For both the noble and common classes, marriages were typically arranged by an "ah atanzah" (or matchmaker), and both men and women were expected to abstain from sex prior to marriage; however, as men's virginity was more difficult to prove or disprove — presumably because the Aztecs relied on the presence of a woman's hymen, which can be torn without intercourse — young men often escaped the punishments that accompanied premarital sex.

  • Polygyny Was Legal But Reserved For Nobility

    While commoners were expected to be monogamous, rich men and nobles married many wives, though the secondary wives were considered concubines. In this sense, polygyny was accepted but was something reserved for the noble classes. Motecuzoma, for example, had hundreds of wives.

    When Hernán Cortes invaded in 1519, polygyny offended his and his soldiers' Christian beliefs. By the 1600s, the Spanish conquerors converted virtually everyone to monogamy.