Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

It may be said that the Church was always interested in another heresy: dualism. The Manichees, like the Zoroastrians before them, decomposed good and evil, and postulated a God of Light forever in conflict with a God of Darkness. The Church could not allow that any pre-Christian religion had been corrects even when it had itself begun to fall into the same error. It sought to distinguish itself by the claim that, whereas in Manichaeism the outcome of the conflict was uncertain, in Christianity the devil only operated by permission of God, so that the outcome was sure. It then proceeded to make this claim ridiculous by persecuting heretics with rack and stake, saying that this violence was made necessary because it might have brought the whole world to ruin. Once the Church adopted its desperate plan of encouraging decomposition, persecution of Manichaeism became inevitable, because it made the whole Christian position ludicrous. But although Manichees decomposed, they did not project, and so were not led into the sexual and sadistic obsessions which entrapped the Church. They were not only more logical in doctrine, but psychologically were more mature than the unhappy neurotics who led the ranks of Christendom.

Enough has now been said to make it clear that the Middle Ages were far from being the period of orderliness and morality which they are sometimes represented as being. They represent rather a cross between a charnel house and an insane asylum, in which sadism and perversion, cruelty and licence, flowered on a scale which has seldom, if ever, been equalled. In comparison, the spontaneous animality of the Celtic predecessors is comparatively attractive. It is the permanent self-delusion of patrists to suppose that standards of behaviour are declining; and it is this desire to see the past as a Golden Age that bias cast over the horrors of medieval society a delusive glamour, just as effectively as did the witches.

In the picture I have drawn I have attempted to outline the forces at work and to show their interaction: Eros and Thanatos, sex and repression, projection and decomposition; father, and mother identification. In the next section I shall adopt a slightly different viewpoint, and shall try and show how these forces interacted in the five centuries which separate the Middle Ages from the present day, relating them to the more significant movements in general history. Merely to summarize the eccentricities of sexual behaviour in the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Age of Reason might provide a chronique scandaleuse, but would not be very enlightening. Let us attempt, therefore, to see attitudes to sexual matters as part of the changes in social ethos generally.