Here's What The Average Person's Sex Life Was Like Under Henry VIII

The House of Tudor ruled England between 1485 and 1603 and its most famous monarch was probably the oft-married, larger-than-life King Henry VIII. Henry was well-known for his many executions. He also had lots of romantic romps (in wedlock, to be fair), but is that what life was like for his constituents in Tudor England? Not by most accounts - in fact, sexuality was even more stigmatized and not nearly as pleasant for men and women as it is for most today.

Marriage in Tudor England wasn't fun for most women, whether or not they were wives or ladies of the night in Elizabethan cathouses. Intercourse wasn't for pleasure, but for the purpose of giving birth to children. Tudor life offered up some really questionable methods of Tudor contraception, and a person's age of sexual activity was pretty much at the onset of puberty for young women... way before either party was likely emotionally ready.

So then, what was childbirth like in Tudor times? Not much better: dirty, isolated, and pretty darn painful. All around, sex was pretty awful back then.


  • Female Contraceptives Included Vinegar-Soaked Tampons And Wax Seals

    Contraception was traditionally illegal in England in Tudor times, and had been for several centuries. Female contraceptives still existed, but they didn't employ particularly advanced methods.

    Women could insert wool soaked in vinegar into their vaginas. Supposedly, the astringency of vinegar closed off the womb to questing sperm. Women also plugged up the entrances to their vaginas with beeswax seals or blocks of wood. 

  • Men Tied Knots Around Their Left Testicles To Ensure They Sired Sons
    Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Men Tied Knots Around Their Left Testicles To Ensure They Sired Sons

    During the Tudor period, the right testicle was believed to contain all the seed necessary to sire a son, and the right side of the uterus produced boys. Accordingly, the left testicle was employed to have a daughter.

    In order to father a son, Tudor men tied knots around the left side of their genitals to restrict the girl-producing sperm and make sure they had boys.

  • Impotence Remedies Included Quail Testicles
    Photo: Hans Holbein the Younger / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Impotence Remedies Included Quail Testicles

    If a guy couldn't get it up, apothecaries brewed up tons of bizarre remedies to cure that ailment. One recipe mixed quail testicles with large-winged ants, bark oil, and amber. Beans also supposedly assisted a man's overcoming dysfunction in the bedroom.

    It wasn't just Average Joes suffering from impotence. By the time of his death, even King Henry VIII might have had ED.

  • Men Could Punish Their Wives By Treating Them Inhumanely
    Photo: Wellcome Collection / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

    Men Could Punish Their Wives By Treating Them Inhumanely

    Unsurprisingly, the Tudor dynasty didn't herald in a wealth of equality for women. Men could punish their wives in almost any way they chose. If women were found guilty of committing adultery, their hubbies could toss them out (in theory).

    Men who thought their wives talked too much could put them in "scolds' bridles" and drag them around. These brutal contraptions were iron versions of horses' bridles with tongue depressors so the woman couldn't speak.

  • The Church Said Intercourse Was Solely For The Purpose Of Procreation

    The Catholic Church promoted only intercourse within marriage. In an effort to control impulses, the church suggested it should solely be for the purpose of procreation, rather than for pleasure.

    A woman's role was to bear children - in particular, sons - so conception was king.

  • Female Orgasms Were Believed Necessary For Conception

    In Tudor times, the female orgasm was considered essential to conception. In theory, the woman would emit "seed" of her own, AKA female ejaculate. That would mix with her partner's seed and fertilize her.