Sexuality in the middle ages

Ruth Mazo Karras

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Tracing the history of sexuality in any historical period encounters two major problems. One is a problem of source material. The sexuality of a particular individual is a part of that individual’s subjective experience, which is often unrecoverable. Sexuality as a larger field, the set of larger meanings a given culture constructs around sexual behavior, only exists for us through texts and images created for purposes other than providing information to future scholars. The second problem involves categories. We inevitably think within the categories of our own culture. Where modern Western schemes of categorization put a great emphasis on the gender or age of one’s partner, medieval schemes put more emphasis on whether one played an active or passive role. “Active” and “passive” did not mean pursued and pursuer; a woman could be very aggressive, but was still considered the passive partner in intercourse because she was the one penetrated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Medieval World
Subtitle of host publicationSecond Edition
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781351592291
ISBN (Print)9781138848689
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 selection and editorial matter, Peter Linehan, Janet L. Nelson and Marios Costambeys; individual chapters, the contributors.


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