chapter  7
20 Pages

Between Medicine and Morals: Sex in the Regimens of

WithMaino de Maineri

One of the most fruitful sources for the history of sexuality in the Middle Ages has been the works of learned medical authors.1 Among others, studies of such well-known figures as Constantinus Africanus (d. before 1098/99), the elusive Trotula and Giles of Rome (c.1243-1316) have revealed both consistency and variety in the medieval understanding of sexuality.2 However, confining the study of sex in medicine to works dedicated purely to gynecology has made it a little difficult to gauge the true emphasis given to this subject within medicine as a whole.3 For example, in citing only thirty medieval medical manuscripts devoted to reproduction, M. A. Hewson has neglected the numerous medical works that chose to encompass sex within some larger purpose.4 Helen Rodnite Lemay’s work on the renowned surgeon William of Saliceto (c.1210-1280), which discussed his treatments for genital disorders, has allowed us to see how a physician could view sexual dysfunction as one aspect of curative medicine.5 But how did medieval medical writers envisage sex functioning as part of their patients’ everyday lives? The genre of regimen sanitatis, manuals of everyday preventive lifestyle advice especially popular from the mid-thirteenth century onwards, would seem to be a natural place to look for evidence of how medieval physicians expected their readers to incorporate sex into a healthy routine. On the contrary, Pedro Gil Sotres, in his pioneering work on the regimens, has noted that:

These sources provide a limited image of sexuality, considered solely as a means for the evacuation of a product of the third digestion, the sperm produced by the testicles. There is no mention of pleasure or the emotions involved in sexuality, nothing about fertility or about the moral rules that govern sexual practices.6