Dec 28 2016

4 Sexual Preferences That Only Recently Became Taboo

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We often imagine our elders as being more prudish than we are today. After all, it's hard to get through a Facebook conversation or family reunion without hearing at least one elderly person rant about teens making love to their iPhones while driving, or sexting each other pictures of vodka-soaked tampons, or whatever it is they're into these days. And even though our ancestors' historical prudishness may have been somewhat exaggerated, they still don't seem like the most laid-back people around.
But it turns out that your tampon-hating great aunt is wrong: Plenty of the things that would make an iPhone-fucking youngster blush would not have caused our prudish forefathers to bat an eye, let alone lose an entire monocle. Like ...
The general consensus on cousin marriage is that it isn't just vaguely gross -- it's downright irresponsible. See, settling down with one's attractive cousin may very well end up producing children, and thanks to the way recessive genes work, we can be sure that at least all of those children will be born with some hideous deformity, like head-tentacles or a liking for coleslaw with raisins in it. Really, it's no wonder that cousin marriage is legal only in a minority of U.S. states, and that one of those states is Florida.
But In The Past ...
Our modern apprehension about Billy Head-Tentacles showing up at our next family reunion is little more than a blip on the historical timeline. For most of human history, hooking up with your aunt or uncle's offspring was not just acceptable; it was the norm. One historian has estimated that 80 percent of all marriages in human history were between second or first cousins, which probably explains how raisins in coleslaw became a thing in the first place.
Things changed during medieval times, when the Catholic church introduced restrictions on marriages between closer branches of one's family tree. But those rules didn't last: After some branches of Christianity decided they didn't like the pope telling them what to do, cousin shenanigans sprung up again all over. Among the more recent cousin-lovers was Charles Darwin, who hooked up with his first cousin Emma in 1839, thus making things awkward for eugenicists for centuries afterward. In the U.S., bans on cousin marriage popped up only after the Civil War, heralding a new era of slightly less confusing Hallmark cards.
And, as weird as it sounds, these family-loving holdouts might have had something of a point: According to recent research, a single marriage between first cousins (as opposed to a long family tradition of it) will raise the chances of birth defects in children by only around 3 percent, which is approximately the same increase in risk that a child gets by being born to a woman over 40. So, if you have a really attractive cousin, feel free to go ahead and marry them. But, like, not too much.
These days, sex is generally considered a private affair between consenting adults. Sure, there are websites out there that cater to people who like having sex in the local public aquarium or wherever, but for the most part this isn't encouraged by wider society. And given how private and prudish we imagine our ancestors were, surely they would have been even more careful than we are about keeping their sex private. After all, they probably didn't even have aquariums.
But In The Past ...
The modern preference for "keeping sex in the bedroom" starts with the assumption that people actually have bedrooms. Separate sleeping rooms, however, are a relatively recent invention: For most of the time that humans have lived in houses, those houses have been tiny, one-room affairs. Members of the household usually slept together in a single bed, or, if a bed was too expensive, in a pile of straw.
For the most part, that meant that if couples wanted to get busy, it had to be in front of other housemates. One record from the 17th century describes a woman not wanting to have sex with her husband, so she placed their two children between them on the bed to block his advances. That part doesn't sound too weird, until you realize that the normal place for the children to sleep was on either side of the couple, whether their parents were having sexy times or not. And you thought you were traumatized from that one time when you were 5 and you walked in on your parents "checking each other for ticks."
Separate sleeping areas started to become common only around the time of the Industrial Revolution. So the next time you're lying in bed listening to your roommate's loud Ant-Man roleplay sex in the next room, just be glad you weren't born before the 19th century. Then again, if you're of the boob-liking persuasion, there were some advantages to living in the past, too. For one thing, plenty of people back then were happy with ...