TLT (The Lesbian Talkshow)

The Lesbian Historic Motif Project: What Medieval Lesbians Did In Bed

September 23, 2017

What Medieval Lesbians Did in Bed 

This episode looks at the historic evidence for the specific sexual techniques enjoyed between women in the middle ages and Renaissance. Caution: although this essay isn’t intended as erotica, it does include a lot of detailed technical descriptions of bodies, sex acts, and sex toys. The content is very definitely Not Safe For Work. 

In this episode we talk about 

  • What are the sources of historic evidence for this question? 
  • Which sources can we trust for what women were actually doing, and which ones are more likely to be about what men thought they were doing? 
  • Did the repertoire of sexual techniques change over time? Was it different indifferent places? 
  • What was the range of activities that medieval people considered to be “sex”? How did it differ from modern definitions? 

More info 

The Lesbian Historic Motif Project lives at: 

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This major sources used for this podcast are discussed in more detail at the Lesbian Historic Motif Project: 

  • Benkov, Edith. “The Erased Lesbian: Sodomy and the Legal Tradition in Medieval Europe” in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages. ed. by Francesca Canadé Sautman & Pamela Sheingorn. Palgrave, New York, 2001. ( 
  • Borris, Kenneth (ed). 2004. Same-Sex Desire in the English Renaissance: A Sourcebook of Texts, 1470-1650. Routledge, New York. ISBN 978-1-138-87953-9 ( 
  • Brown, Judith C. 1984. “Lesbian Sexuality in Renaissance Italy: The Case of Sister Benedetta Carlini” in Signs 9 (1984): 751-58. (reprinted in: Freedman, Esteele B., Barbara C. Gelpi, Susan L. Johnson & Kathleen M. Weston. 1985. The Lesbian Issue: Essays from Signs. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 0-2256-26151-4) ( 
  • Crompton, Louis. 1985. “The Myth of Lesbian Impunity: Capital Laws from 1270 to 1791” in Licata, Salvatore J. & Robert P. Petersen (eds). The Gay Past: A Collection of Historical Essays. Harrington Park Press, New York. ISBN 0-918393-11-6 (Also published as Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 6, numbers 1/2, Fall/Winter 1980.) ( 
  • Lansing, Carol. 2005. “Donna con Donna? A 1295 Inquest into Female Sodomy” in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History: Sexuality and Culture in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, Third Series vol. II: 109-122. ( 
  • Matter, E. Ann. 1989. “My Sister, My Spouse: Woman-Identified Women in Medieval Christianity” in Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, eds. Judith Plaskow & Carol P. Christ. Harper & Row, San Francisco. ( 
  • Merrick, Jeffrey & Bryant T. Ragan, Jr. 2001. Homosexuality in Early Modern France: A Documentary Collection. Oxford University Press, New York. ISBN 0-19-510257-6 ( 
  • Mills, Robert. 2015. Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 978-0-226-16912-5 ( 
  • Murray, Jacqueline. 1996. "Twice marginal and twice invisible: Lesbians in the Middle Ages" in Handbook of Medieval Sexuality, ed. Vern L. Bullough and James A. Brundage, Garland Publishing,. pp. 191-222 ( 
  • Puff, Helmut. 2000. "Female Sodomy: The Trial of Katherina Hetzeldorfer (1477)" in Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies: 30:1, 41-61. ( 
  • Schibanoff, Susan. “Hildegard of Bingen and Richardis of Stade: The Discourse of Desire” in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages (ed. by Francesca Canadé Sautman & Pamela Sheingorn), Palgrave, New York, 2001. ( 
  • Traub, Valerie. 2002. The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England.Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 0-521-44885-9 ( 
  • Velasco, Sherry. 2011. Lesbians in Early Modern Spain. Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville. ISBN 978-0-8265-1750-0 ( 

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A transcript of this podcast is available here.