For the average person, sex is a private event that takes place behind closed doors. But sex in history has had a dramatic effect on the world. Over the course of time, when these private events went public, they unleashed consequences that were as explosive as the act itself. Ask Cleopatra, the Marquis de Sade, or Heidi Fleiss, and they’ll tell you: sex has been getting humans in and out of trouble since the dawn of time. And there are a lot of ways sex changed the course of history.
Despite its very basic use as a means of reproduction, history evinces that sex can be used in any number of ways to achieve a desired goal. Throughout history, sex has brought power to some, taken power from others, built up empires, and torn them right back down.
So, in the words of Salt-N-Pepa: “Let’s talk about sex, baby... let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be.” This list chronicles the times sex changed history and shook things up for better or for worse, and the world was changed forever.
Vibrators Originated As A Cure for Female 'Hysteria'
In a strange twist of fate, a man’s tool of control ultimately becomes a woman’s tool of pleasure. Before the 20th century, doctors believed that women were incapable of experiencing sexual arousal. When women came in complaining of erotic fantasies, anxiety, nervousness, and wetness between their legs, doctors diagnosed this as “hysteria.” The treatment for hysteria? A massaging of the genitals until a woman suffered a “paroxysm,” and then her symptoms of hysteria went away. The only downside for the doctors was the chronic hand pain from treating so many hysterical women. The doctors were immensely happy when an alternative came along in the form of the electromechanical vibrator, at least until women started buying the cure for themselves.
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek Discovered Sperm Cells Using His Own Semen
Microscopes fascinated 17th-century scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. He examined anything he could get his hands on – and that included his own bodily fluids. When he exhausted blood, saliva, tears, and spit, he sought out the last liquid on his checklist: semen. After collecting samples from his wife, he discovered under the microscope that his semen contained living cells, which he called “animalcules.”
Van Leeuwenhoek’s discovery changed the way scientists understood reproduction; before, they only knew the process that included an egg, but after, they had a more complete picture of the union of egg and sperm. He was way ahead of his time in the fields of microbiology and reproductive biology, but the credit for the seed of the idea goes in part to Leeuwenhoek’s own, personal seed.
Interracial Marriage Was Legalized Because Of Premarital Sex And A Brave Couple
When two young adults fall in love and do what young adults do, sometimes things get complicated with an unexpected pregnancy. When the year is 1967, the place is Virginia, and the couple is interracial, the needle flies off the complication meter and up into the stratosphere. Such was the case for Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter, when Mildred became pregnant, and the couple decided to make things official.
Interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia, so the couple married in nearby Washington, DC. When they returned, an anonymous tip drove police into the couple’s bedroom, where they arrested the pair. Their case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which finally struck down the law against interracial marriage. Almost 50 years later, the Loving case, among others, was used in 2015 as a precedent to help strike down the laws against same-sex marriage.
Christopher Columbus Possibly Brought Syphilis Back from the New World
According to a study published in 2008, scientists theorize it’s possible that the introduction of syphilis into Europe came at the hands of Columbus’s expedition. When Columbus and his men returned home, they might have brought the gift of syphilis with them.
However, later analysis of bones at Pompeii that appear to show evidence of congenital syphilis call into question the theory that Columbus and his crew brought the ailment to the European continent.