Flowchart: Medieval sexual decisionmaking for penitentials

BoingBoing reader Drew says,

In his book "Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe," James Brundage creates a truly fantastic flow chart explaining when one can and (mostly) cannot engage in the physical act of love.

At the time, a lot of Christian theology basically took the form of lists of things one wasn't allowed to do, so this flow chart probably isn't far off from the real decision making process prescribed by the church.


Previously on BoingBoing:

  • Flowchart: Is it f*cked up? What to do, if so.
  • Infographic: Criteria for proper tactical usage of phrase "Oh, Snap!"

    Reader comment: Pixel says,

    I made an HTML version of the flowchart from that book several years ago, I hadn't been able to credit it at the time because I was given the flowchart as a Xerox from the book by a friend. Link.
  • 2

    1. Weird coincidence, my girlfriend was just given this flowchart as a handout in a “History of Sexuality” class.

    2. Its certainly a funny way to put it, but the chart makes something complicated which was simple.

      The medieval Church had a simple expectation: that sex was proper and good when the situation was proper and good. I think what this meant was intuitive to people then, and is intuitive to people now, that they don’t have to look at a chart to understand. But the reason there is this chart is because you have someone who doesn’t believe in the standard trying to pick it apart. Thats also why there was a lot of theological writing on it at the time, because of parishioners not caring for the standards of the parish priest. The Church had a lot less control in the Middle Ages than people think, or would be suggested by some law records. Some times people would engage in Pagan festivals, to the extremes of getting drunk and having open sex—and all priests could do about it was whine and sternly condemn them like nuns with rulers. The Church also disagreed with a lot of other practices of the time like public bathing.

      Taking theological writing and law from the Middle Ages too seriously is taking books written on manners during the Victorian era too seriously. The reason there were so many books isn’t because being mannered and proper isn’t something you can know intuitively ; its because people didn’t feel up to conforming to schoolmarms who took it too seriously. And there were a lot more rude and ill mannered people than you would guess by our image of their expectations.

      Every age has standards it takes too seriously and we have our own. What is that today?— I would say being “sexy”. Which means everything from having a stable job, dressing sexy, being creative and talented, to being fashionable, and caring for the environment and fighting global climate change. Instead of real authentic people who fit the ideal, we have 1. a lot of posers, and 2. fake Miss Americas who walk down an aisle in swimsuits, do talent competitions, say they care for the homeless, and working as a spokesperson to help charities.

      Its not bad being proper and good, its not bad having manners, and its not bad being sexy. Its bad when standards interfere with real life.

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