Sex and Sexuality

Larry Scanlon

in The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Latin Literature

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195394016
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Sex and Sexuality

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  • Classical Studies
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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This article analyzes the ways that Latin texts not only reflect but also fundamentally inflect the production of a central aspect of the interior self, namely, sexuality. Two tenacious misconceptions about sex and sexuality in medieval Latin culture are contended with: first, the claim that medieval culture, because of its pervasive devotion to Christianity, had little interest in sex and sexuality; second, the claim that Latin was the language of authority. A sketch of the treatment of sex and sexuality in medieval Latin culture is outlined by concentrating on the ideal of natura, its peculiarly double discursive structure, and its parallel articulations in two quite distinct ecclesiastical traditions: the contemplative and the penitential. Both of these traditions emerge largely, though not exclusively, out of monasticism. They constitute the most individuated of medieval clerical discourses. The Church's authoritativeness was never pure and not always evenly distributed. At surprising points, it could be relatively open or inclusive. Therefore, the role of Latinity in relation to the Church's sexual teachings was as often dispersive and inclusive as it was repressive.

Keywords: Christianity; sexuality; natura; monasticism; church

Article.  9259 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Gender and Sexuality ; Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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