#TBT Sex Ed History – Dude, Are Those Penises In Your boat? And Other Questions for Medieval Europeans

Say what you will about medieval Europeans, but they knew their way around crude humor. Whether the jokes be scatological or sexual, they were often exceedingly dirty and delivered with the same gusto as a fifth grader telling a brand new fart joke. 

For most of the middle ages, most aspiring comedians were limited to the more corporal art forms of acting or singing. Producing any sort of lasting visual image was often an arduous, expensive process. Unless they were very wealthy, medieval Europeans only really encountered art like paintings or mosaics in churches or other common spaces.  

However, things changed in the 1300 and 1400s when wearable, lead-tin alloy badges were mass produced and sold to the lower classes. Finally, it was possible to purchase and don a little piece of art that was all your own! The first badges were primarily religious in nature and sold to pilgrims seeking holy sites. It wasn’t long, though, before things took a turn from the pious to the profane and people started making genital badges.

To clarify, these are not badges that you wear on your genitals. Rather, they are badges that look like genitals, and they are wonderfully absurd. I’m talking vulvas wearing hats and penises with wings. Every single badge looks like it might have been dreamed up by a teenager whose entire understanding of medieval Europe has come from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the sauciest bits of The Canterbury Tales. I’ve gathered some of my favorites to share here.

While these badges were clearly meant to communicate something, it’s often unclear what exactly that something was. Some badges are relatively easy to interpret – the vulva dressed as a pilgrim is likely a cheeky nod to the women who sought out both the spiritual and the salacious on their holy journeys. 

Others, like the boat with penis passengers, are baffling mysteries. What are those penises doing on a boat? Why does one have wings? Is it supposed to be humorous? A satirical critique? A token of good fortune? A titillating gift for a lover? All of the above? Hopefully, further research by archaeologists and historians will help them put these genitals in their proper place in history. In the meantime, we can always giggle at a picture of a penis riding a horse.

To see more badges, visit https://www.kunera.nl/