Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

As seems to be usual in periods when sexual restraints are neither excessively severe nor unusually weak, prostitution declined. Henry VIII closed the last twelve London brothels, which had reopened after the closure effected by his father, and from this time we hear little of the brothel, properly so-called, until the Restoration — though we do hear of public baths being used as houses of assignation in the early seventeenth century. Some of the credit for the decline in the use of brothels must be given, however, to the arrival in Europe of syphilis, brought back from Haiti to Portugal by Columbus’s sailors in 1494. The new disease spread over Europe with immense rapidity, reaching France, Germany and Switzerland in 1495, Scotland in 1497, Hungary and Russia in 1499 — carried by the dispersing armies of Charles VIII. Vasco da Gama’s vessels took it to India in 1498 and it reached China in 1505. In 1506 we find the Archbishop of Crete dying of it. (118)

However, by 1560 Fallopius had invented a counter-measure, and had described it in his treatise “De Morbo Gallico“. This was the condom, a linen sheath worn under the prepuce. (128) Though now thought of as a contraceptive device, it is undoubtedly the case that the condom first attained general popularity as a measure against infection, which explains Madame de Sevigne’s oft-quoted but generally misunderstood remark that it was gossamer against infection, steel against love; although by her time it was being made not of linen but of gold-beater’s skin.

In general, the age displays all the signs which we have earlier deduced as characteristic of a period of reaction from father-identification. There is a new love of free learning, finding expression in scholarship and the founding of colleges or students. Clothes become gayer and more elaborate. Social reforms are pressed forward. There is an awakening conscience of responsibility to others, expressed, for instance, in the institution of the poor law. The relaxation of sexual repression releases a flood of creative energy, especially in poetry and the drama, England’s preferred forms of art, but also in painting, architecture and music. By a careless abbreviation we tend to speak of the reign of Elizabeth as a golden age of artistic achievement, but in fact the creative period continued in full flood until at least 1630, when the rising Puritan influence began, for a time, to stem it. To that countervailing force, the dark side of the Elizabethan moon, we must now turn our attention.