For many, "the deed" is a private event that takes place behind closed doors. But sex in history has altered politics and its effect on the world. Over the course of time, when private events went public, they unleashed heavy consequences. Stories like Cleopatra's or the Marquis de Sade's are strong examples for how "doing it" changed the course of history.
Despite its very basic use as a means of reproduction, history evinces that intercourse can be used in any number of ways to achieve a certain goal. Throughout history, engaging in physical relations has brought power to some and taken it from others, built up empires and torn others apart.
Learn about the times intercourse changed history, and shook up humanity's timeline.
A man’s tool of control ultimately became a woman’s tool of pleasure throughout history. Before the 20th century, doctors believed women were incapable of experiencing arousal. When women came in complaining of 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 experienced a “paroxysm,” relieving her symptoms of hysteria.
The doctors experienced chronic hand pain from treating so many hysterical women. Later in history, an alternative came along in the form of the electromechanical vibrator.
Microscopes fascinated 17th century scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, which led to his discovery of bacteria. 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: "man juice." He collected various samples, and he discovered under the microscope the fluids contained living cells, which he called “animalcules.”
The discovery made by van Leeuwenhoek changed the way scientists understood reproduction. Before, they only knew the part of the process involving an egg; but after, they had a more complete picture of the union of egg and sperm. Though van Leeuwenhoek was way ahead of his time in the fields of microbiology and reproductive biology, the credit for the seed of the idea goes, in part, to van Leeuwenhoek’s own seed.
When two young adults fall in love, sometimes complications arise with an unexpected pregnancy. When the year is 1958, 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 in 1967. Almost 50 years later, the Loving case, among others, was used in 2015 as a precedent to help end laws against same-gender marriage.
According to a study published in 2008, scientists theorize the introduction of syphilis to Europe came from Christopher Columbus’s expedition. When Columbus and his men returned home, they might have brought syphilis back with them.
More recent analysis of bones at Pompeii, however, show evidence of congenital syphilis — calling into question the idea that Columbus and his crew brought the ailment to the European continent.