Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

In Ecclesiastes we find the blame being laid on women in terms which are indistinguishable from the mediaeval:

“I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets and her hands are bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her.”

And two verses later:

“Women are overcome by the spirit of fornication more than men and in their heart they plot against men.”

It is significant of this hostility between the sexes that one of the crimes specifically prohibited was a woman attacking a man’s genitals. (172)

Coupled with this went a drastic tightening of the regulations; whereas formerly the sexes had mingled quite freely, now it became a sin for a man to speak to, or even to look at, a woman, unless it was unavoidable, in which case a chaperon was necessary. (78) Even virginity began to be praised — “Happy is the barren that is undefiled . . . and happy is the eunuch” — whereas previously Rabbinical tradition had regarded celibacy as a crime. Josephus reports of the Essenes:

“They reject pleasure as an evil, but esteem continence and conquest over the passions to be a virtue. They neglect wedlock.”

These changes were accompanied by an almost mediaeval degree of suspicion: according to one teacher, boys should not be allowed to play with girls, and a mother-in-law should not live with her married daughter for fear she might seduce her husband. Ideas of contamination became widespread, just as among the Greeks: a man might not pass within four ells of the house of a prostitute for fear of infection. (78)