Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

This development was obviously inimical to the survival of Christianity, since every religion depends for most of its following on the fact that children usually follow the religion of their parents, and a sect which did not reproduce itself would be in danger of dying out. The Church therefore strictly forbade it. Moreover, as we saw in the case of the Cathars, the Church was more concerned to struggle with sex than to eliminate it, and always avoided a resolution of the battle, since this removed its raison d’être.

Just as later in the mediaeval period, this fear of sex was generalized into a fear of all pleasure.

“The acquisition of knowledge, the exercise of our reason or fancy, and the cheerful flow of unguarded conversation, may employ the leisure of a liberal mind”, says Gibbon in one of his most exquisite passages. “Such amusements, however, were rejected with abhorrence, or admitted with the utmost caution, by the severity of the fathers, who despised all knowledge which was not useful to salvation, and who considered all levity of discourse as a criminal abuse of the gift of speech.”

Let the Age of Reason speak further:

The unfeeling candidate for heaven was instructed, not only to resist the grosser allurements of the taste or smell, but even to shut his ears against the profane harmony of sounds, and to view with indifference the most finished productions of human art. Gay apparel, magnificent houses, and elegant furniture were supposed to unite the double guilt of pride and sensuality: a simple and mortified appearance was more suitable to the Christian who was certain of his sins and doubtful of his salvation. In their censures of luxury the fathers are extremely minute and circumstantial, and among the various articles which excite their pious indignation, we may enumerate false hair, garments of any colour except white, instruments of music, vases of gold and silver, downy pillows (as Jacob reposed his head on a stone), white bread, foreign wines, public salutations, the use of warm baths, and the practice of shaving the beard, which according to the expression of Tertullian, is a lie against our own faces, and an impious attempt to improve the works of the Creator.

The fathers ordained the minutest details of dress— for instance, a signet ring must be worn on the little finger only— and prescribed the mechanics of sexual intercourse. As Gibbon says:

“The enumeration of the very whimsical laws which they most circumstantially imposed on the marriage bed would force a smile from the young and a blush from the fair.”