Weird History

What Sex Was Like in the Wild West  

Jacoby Bancroft
2M views 9 items

Society has a certain image of the Old West. Though we look back and picture cowboys wandering the wild frontier, guns on both hips, we tend not to wonder what fornication was like in the American West. There appears to be good reason for that, as Wild West facts about hooking up are more scarce than you would imagine. Even in a time when cat houses were a staple in almost every town and city, people still didn't talk openly about what they liked to do in the bedroom. This surely owes, in part, to the puritanical nature of American settlers. Not to mention the matter of hygiene or doctor visits.

Even though it was a taboo topic, there are a few fascinating tidbits relating to hooking up in the Old West. Whether it be how men liked to dress up like women or that oral pleasure was a little too French for most, this list below highlights all the interesting facts about getting it on in the Wild West. Check out the list and see which of these facts you find the most interesting.

Gender Roles Were Fluid and Homosexuality Was No Big Thing
Gender Roles Were Fluid and Ho... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list What Sex Was Like in the Wild West
Photo: NBC Television/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

When you think of the Old West, your mind might conjure images of tough, macho men who embodied stereotypically masculine traits. A cowboy riding valiantly on his horse to rescue a poor damsel that's tied to the railroad tracks, for instance; spitting dip, loading guns, and drinking hard. 

If that's how you view the Old West, you might be shocked to know how cowboys really viewed homosexuality. Wild West society didn't necessarily label people homosexual or heterosexual, but rather allowed each person to be who they need to be in any given moment. In an interview ("Homos on the Range: How Gay was the West?"), University of Colorado at Boulder History Department Chairman Peter Boag, author of the book Same Sex Affairs, said, "people engaged in same sex activities weren't seen as homosexual."

When women weren't present in large communities, say a mining camp full of men for example, some men would fill the role of women for physical pleasure and domestically, and normal gender roles were challenged. In effect, men in the Old West got it where they could.  

America's 'Oldest Profession' Was In Full Swing
America's 'Oldest Profession' ... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list What Sex Was Like in the Wild West
Photo: Karl A. Dimler/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

One thing is very clear about the Old West: harlots were a staple to any town or city. What's surprising is the range of such options throughout the West. Some places were more stereotypical in terms of the treatment of those who worked within them. Others held this kind of work in higher regard, with expansive and elaborate spaces for harlots to do business.  

This kind of work was also indicative of socioeconomic classes in Old West society. Most of these workers were young (30 or younger), largely uneducated and, in many cases, illiterate. Some were immigrants, and pricing was based not only on looks but also nationality and ethnicity. Like the anonymous, easily replaced miners and railroad workers of the American frontier, harlots filled a social and economic function necessitated by capitalism, but, as individuals, were largely irrelevant and forgotten. 

Birth Control Involved Ingesting Poison
Birth Control Involved Ingesti... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list What Sex Was Like in the Wild West
Photo:  Erin/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

In an era of freewheeling attitudes about fornication, you might wonder why people weren't having as many babies. Condoms were available, but very expensive, so many people relied on medications to end any pregnancy.  

These substances contained poisonous ingredients, often from plant sources, that would end unwanted pregnancy upon arrival. For women engaging in this type of work, pregnancy was a major hazard - not only could it end their careers, it was also life-threatening. In fact, many women on the frontier passed during childbirth. Women were often left with the choice of life-ending pregnancies or poison to end an unwanted pregnancy. 

Some Things Were Too Risque for Cowboys

In the book Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940, Chad Heap, Associate Professor of American Studies and Undergraduate Advisor of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at George Washington University, explained that oral pleasure was considered a little too foreign for Americans during the time period, and therefore wasn't readily performed.

There's evidence that even harlots were against it and would shun others who didn't mind engaging in the practice.