Crazy Things You Didn't Know About Vikings' Sex Lives

While popular notions of history often paint Viking men as legendary, violent brutes, their customs and culture didn't always comply with lurid, modern-day expectations. As one example, Vikings often bleached their hair using strong soap and lye to conform to Nordic beauty standards – a method that conveniently also killed lice.

The sex lives of Vikings, rather than being brutish and violent as many may suspect, were actually soft, romantic, and even somewhat awkward. Additionally, compared to the rest of Europe at that historical point, they emphasized the freedom and happiness of the women in their communities far more than was expected – Viking women could choose from various suitors and break things off if they weren't properly satisfied.

Vikings took great pride in their appearance, scent, and their level of desirability. Men would make it a point to bathe at least once a week (which was frequent for the time). Men and women both dyed their hair and dressed in clean, colorful clothing, jewelry, and cloak pins to flaunt wealth and style. They engaged in premarital affairs, though marriage and procreation were still primary goals within their society. In fact, these two milestones were expected, and those who failed to fulfill them were often shunned. 

This list of facts about Vikings' sex lives explores the many ways relationships and love manifested for these seafarers of the British Isles and European coasts.

  • Viking Women Could Divorce Their Husbands If They Weren't Satisfied

    Viking Women Could Divorce Their Husbands If They Weren't Satisfied
    Photo: Fritz Beinke / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    If a Viking woman wasn't satisfied with her husband  – sexually or otherwise –  societal convention allowed her to leave him. The Vikings did have fairly stringent regulations surrounding gender roles however; a woman would have grounds for a divorce if her husband wore women’s clothing or preferred men. She would also be re-gifted her dowry and any inheritances she received throughout the duration of the marriage.

  • Adultery Was Common

    Adultery Was Common
    Photo: J. Doyle Penrose / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Extramarital affairs were a common occurrence in the Viking Age. Despite their ubiquity, infidelity was generally frowned upon and was eventually considered a crime for both men and women. If a woman was caught having an affair, her husband was believed to be justified in killing both her and her lover.

  • Vikings Frequently Used Euphemisms In Reference To Sex

    Vikings maintained some semblance of propriety when discussing "the deed," so euphemisms were frequently utilized to neutralize the lurid subject. For example, a man would “turn towards” a woman, and what happened next was solely subtextual. "Crowding together in bed,” “enjoying each other,” and a man “resting with” a woman were also common occurrences. In leiu of a partner, a person may have even "amused one's self." The most explicit recorded euphemism Vikings used occurred when a man would “brolta a maga,” which translates roughly to “romp on her belly.”

  • Those Who Did Not Marry Were Shunned

    Scandinavian men and women who never married because of their sexual orientation were shunned from society, a regressive view that mostly stemmed from the society's emphasis on reproduction and farming. As long as a Viking married a partner of the opposite sex and produced offspring, however, their extramarital activities were generally ignored.

  • Their Views On Homosexuality Were Contradictory

    Their Views On Homosexuality Were Contradictory
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Despite the orientation-based shunning previously mentioned, Vikings maintained conflicting views on homosexuality. Their censure of same-sex relationships was not based in any perceived violation of natural laws as Western culture assumes; rather, men who "submitted" to other men in a sexual context were believed to be more likely to reflect this submission in other areas of life, such as farming or commerce.

    A Viking male who submitted to others' thoughts and desires was believed to be weak and unassertive, qualities that were antithetical to Vikings' ideals of manhood. While these expectations speak to Vikings' perspectives on heterosexual relationships, their views on homosexuality weren't enforced regulations, but rather cultural norms based in what they perceived to be proper decorum. 

    Lesbianism is hardly mentioned in Viking lore, most likely because Viking communities were more preoccupied with the notion of men being penetrated for pleasure.

  • Vikings Married Young

    During the Viking Age, girls married as young as 12 years old. This was probably because the average Viking life span was so only 40 years, on average.