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.
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.
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 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.”
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.