Early Christian beliefs about sex might not seem surprising at first: sex was generally seen as evil, and it was only acceptable after marriage. But dig a little deeper into the rules of sex for early Christianity, and you’ll find all kinds of weird stuff.
When it came to Christianity and premarital intimacy, the rules were strict—and sometimes they were just as strict once you were married. Doing it on the wrong day or in the wrong position made even marital sex a sin, according to early Christianity.
Medieval Christianity wasn’t as buttoned-up as some people believe: just take a glance at medieval sex art, for example. And some things haven’t changed much since the Middle Ages, as modern blasphemous sex art shows. As for adultery in the Middle Ages, who knew that sex with your wife could be adulterous? And that’s only the beginning—wait until you see what early Christians called “the worst evil.”
Wisdom Held That 'It [Was] Better To Marry Than To Be Burnt'
Certain sexual sins in early Christianity were pretty straightforward: no sex before marriage. No inter-familial relationships. No rape. And definitely not whatever’s happening in this 14th-century manuscript.
But other sexual sins are pretty weird by modern standards. Many of them boil down to one principle, enshrined in early Christianity: sex and lust were polluting, and they should be avoided if at all possible. Saint Paul recommended celibacy, but he agreed that those who could not "contain themselves" should find a spouse, "for it is better to marry than to be burnt." That's right: lust sent you straight to Hell.
If you just had to have sex, it could only occur under very specific conditions. And any kind of sex that could not lead to procreation was a sin.
No Sex On Sundays—Or Thursdays, Fridays, Christmas, Or Feast Days
The early Christian church went out of its way to limit sex—even between married couples. Religious laws and proclamations issued by the Catholic Church tried to restrict when people could have sex, and they ended up banning most of the year. No sex on Sundays, one rule proclaimed. That was the Lord’s Day, and it shouldn’t be contaminated by lust. And don’t plan to have sex on Thursdays or Fridays, either, because those days should be spent preparing for communion.
Sex was also banned during Lent, before Christmas, and at the Feast of Pentecost, which together added over five months during which sex was disallowed. On top of that, early Christians were not supposed to have sex on Feast Days. In the early church, you pretty much had to check your calendar before getting it on.
Don't Be Tempted By Thighs – They're Sinful, Too
Never heard of intercrural sex? Don’t worry, it’s a sin according to early Christians. Intercrural sex was “copulation between the thighs.” This sort of thigh rubbing to completion was an “act against nature,” according to the church—even if it occurred between husband and wife. But intercrural sex was more often associated with same-sex practices, which the church found problematic because they could not lead to conception.
Thomas Aquinas labeled all sex besides vaginal intercourse “sodomy,” regardless of the gender of the people involved, because those sex acts could not cause pregnancy.
Even Thinking About Sex Was A Sin
There is one evil, an evil above all other evil, that I am aware is always with me, that grievously and piteously lacerates and afflicts my soul. It was with me from the cradle, it grew with me in childhood, in adolescences, in my youth it always struck me, and it does not desert me even now that my limbs are failing because of my old age. This evil is sexual desire.
Anselm described it as “the storm of lust that has smashed and battered my unhappy soul, emptied it of all strength, and left it weak and empty.” So yes, even thoughts could be sexual sins to early Christians.