The friction can’t stand to think about it. A replica of the linen condom secured with a delicate blue ribbon is one of the scariest props for a new exploration of the history of sex and intimate life in Scotland.

The other material used to shape prophylaxis in the 17th century was animal gut, which was dried and then rehydrated at the crucial time. Edinburgh-born columnist James Boswell writes about soaking one in a river before sex. He was adamant about their use to ward off venereal disease, but still recorded many painful bouts of infection in his diaries.

A replica of the linen condom featured in the tour. Photograph: National Trust for Scotland

The tour, rated 16+, takes place throughout the summer in Gladstone’s Land, a restored building atop Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. In a first for the National Trust for Scotland, which is more generally associated with heritage gardens, it presents a thematic history of privacy, sex work and contraception, spanning the 17th to the early 20th century and using sources from across Scotland.

It will be led by cultural historian Kate Stephenson, who is also the Property Trust’s Visitor Services Manager and a passionate advocate for what the private interactions of ordinary men and women can tell us about a story. wider.

The event will be a “real mix”, she explains. “We talk about sex work and we take it very seriously – we are very honest about some of the issues these women face, like venereal disease, violence and extreme poverty. “

“But some of them are very funny and look really modern, even though they’re 300 years old. We’re talking about who has sex with whom, in what position, how often. We talk about contraception, but there again it has a more serious side because it gives a lot of freedom to women who can go out and have fun and not be tied to this notion of virginity.

A recurring problem is the difficulty in finding a private place when living spaces were so cramped. “It was a huge problem. Curtains around the bed would have helped privacy, but often the beds were shared with children, with pets, especially in the 17th century, so people seem to have seized the opportunity when they got it.

The sources include a 17th-century pornographic novel, The School of Venus, which describes “making sure you lock the door if you do anything during the day.” Stephenson also refers to excerpts from the diary of a wig maker who had sex with his wife in the back of the store during the commercial lulls. “It was all to do with ripping off those moments of intimacy when you found them because life in general was not private.”

The tour also examines the history of LGBT + relationships and the emergence of the first queer subculture – the Molly Houses – with the persecution of gay men since the early 1700s.

Despite their vicious stalking in England, there were no convictions for gay sex in Scotland in the 18th century. Stephenson believes this was in part due to the Scottish law’s corroboration requirement, which increased tolerance for what happened behind closed doors.

There are more and more calls to drop this legal test because of its impact on domestic and sexual violence prosecutions: “It went from something that actually protected a community to something that is now a bit. an obstacle in terms of prosecution.

Putting together the tour raised as many questions as it answered, Stephenson concludes, as the story of sex and intimacy is based on fragments, both in terms of written evidence and surviving artifacts. .

“There is still a taboo around this. There are some amazing researchers working in specific fields, but no one has really joined in public before. That’s the wonderful thing about the tour, that people are going to bring us more examples and we can expand it as we find out more.



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