Weird History This 14th-Century Book Was So Explicit That It Was Banned By The U.S. Government  

Genevieve Carlton
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One 14th-century book has been on banned book lists for nearly half a millenium. The Decameron, a risqué book of stories featuring adultery, convent orgies, and the "resurrection of the flesh" (i.e., an erection), landed on banned book lists for centuries, well into the 20th century when the US government ripped up copies and sent them overseas.

And that's not all. The medieval book was so juicy that the Decameron was in Playboy. In 1953, Playboy magazine's first issue featured a "humorous tale of adultery" that just happened to be 600 years old. And the original 1953 Playboy magazine with Marilyn Monroe on the cover wasn't the only one to showcase the Decameron. For the first year, Playboy included a story from Boccaccio in every single magazine.

So why was the Decameron banned? Let's just say it wasn't for fart jokes. Instead, one lover flings a woman over a barrel to have sex right in front of her husband, while another man locks his enemy in a chest and has sex with the enemy's wife on top of it. And that just scratches the surface of the racy stories in this medieval book - this isn't Mother Goose.

The Stories Featured Alongside... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list This 14th-Century Book Was So Explicit That It Was Banned By The U.S. Government
Photo: Playboy/Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

The Stories Featured Alongside A Nude Marilyn Monroe In The First Playboy Magazine


In 1953, Playboy's first issue featured Marilyn Monroe on the cover, promising nude photos of the famous actress inside. But the magazine, the first brick in Hugh Hefner's empire, didn't just star Marilyn Monroe and other beautiful nude women. The very first issue also included a "humorous tale of adultery."

That tale, about a man sleeping with his friend's wife and nearly getting caught, was written 600 years before Playboy existed. It was part of the Decameron, a book of one hundred stories written by Boccaccio in the 1300s. Although the medieval period often has a reputation for being religious and strict, Boccaccio's Decameron is full of explicit sex, shocking acts, and hilarious tricks. For the first year, Playboy featured a story from the Decameron in every issue.

Boccaccio's Crafty Women F... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list This 14th-Century Book Was So Explicit That It Was Banned By The U.S. Government
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Boccaccio's Crafty Women Fool Their Husbands And Have Sex Right In Front Of Them


One of the dirtiest stories in the Decameron is about a woman named Peronella who tricks her husband with her lover's help. While Peronella and her lover are in the middle of having sex, her husband bursts in and the lover barely manages to hide in a barrel. The husband explains that he just sold the barrel for five silver ducats. To hide her affair, Peronella explains that she has found a man to buy the barrel for seven ducats, and he was currently inside the barrel inspecting it.

Her lover pops out of the barrel and says he'll only buy it if the husband scrapes the inside. Not one to pass up a sale, the husband climbs in and starts scraping. Peronella leans over the top of the barrel to give her husband orders, while her lover sneaks up from behind and lifts her skirts. After all, the lover "had not, that morning, fully satisfied his desire." Once the lovers had finished and the barrel was scraped, the lover even ordered the husband to deliver the barrel to his house.

A Holy Man Tricks A Virgin Int... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list This 14th-Century Book Was So Explicit That It Was Banned By The U.S. Government
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

A Holy Man Tricks A Virgin Into Sex, And Both Have A Great Time


A lot of the stories in the Decameron feature sex - and especially sex between monks and nuns. As The New Yorker declared: "This is probably the dirtiest great book in the Western canon." And nothing is quite as obscene as the tale of Alibech and the devil. Alibech is a teenage virgin when she stumbles upon a holy man in the desert and asks if he will teach her about Christianity.

The holy man convinces Alibech that the greatest enemy in the world is the devil - but he tells her that the devil is his penis. And, he explains, the only way to beat the devil is by putting him back in hell - in other words, having sex. When Alibech's first time is uncomfortable, she exclaims that the devil really must be evil, but the holy man says they just have to keep trying, so they have sex multiple times.

Instead of suffering any divine consequences, Alibech becomes heir to a fortune and the story ends with the narrator encouraging young ladies in need of God's grace to learn how to put the devil in hell: "this is highly acceptable to him and pleasing to both parties."

A Young Gardener Sleeps With N... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list This 14th-Century Book Was So Explicit That It Was Banned By The U.S. Government
Photo: The Little Hours/Gunpowder & Sky

A Young Gardener Sleeps With Nine Nuns In One Story


The 2017 film The Little Hours uses the Decameron as inspiration. It tells the story of a group of sexually frustrated nuns who realize that a mute gardener is the perfect person to sleep with. It all begins when two of the young nuns are walking past the gardener and begin to confide their secret desires in each other. One says she's heard that "all the other sweets that the world has to offer signify not a jot in comparison of the pleasure that a woman has in connection with a man." So why not experiment on the gardener? After all, he won't tell on them. 

But three of the nuns spy the sexual experiment in progress and decide they want to participate. Soon, the gardener is sleeping with all eight nuns in the convent, as well as the abbess. When the exhausted gardener finally asks the abbess for a rest, she's shocked that he can speak. He proclaims it must be a miracle sent from God, and the abbess arranges for the gardener to stay in the convent, sleeping with all the nuns, for years.