Seven Ye Olde Sex Words That Prove Our Ancestors Were as Dirty as We Are

Thursday July 04, 2019 Written by Kate

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Is your sexual lexicon feeling a little old? Are you tired of repeating the same euphemisms you used back primary school? Try throwing it back a few centuries with these very old-school sex words, collected by UK-based historian Dr Kate Lister over at her Twitter account @whoresofyore.

Lister, a lecturer in the history of sexuality at Leeds Trinity University, compiles all manner of erotic ephemera from the sensual to the smutty, and stores it all for prosperity in the Whores of Yore online archive. Her aim is to provide a platform for academics, sex workers, activists and the public to engage with the history of sex, and to add context to modern debates about sexuality and sex work. If you need any evidence our ancestors weren’t the prudes they’re sometimes made out to be, imagine them talking about “bumfiddles” and “ballinocacks”. 

Here’s a list of some of our favourite nearly forgotten sex words and what they mean:

Mettle (c1608): semen; to “fetch mettle” is to masturbate

Gristle (17th century): penis

Hat (18th century): a woman’s privates, because they are “frequently felt”

Vaulting school (19th century): a brothel

Bumfiddle (c1600): (n.) the vulva; (v.) to have sexual intercourse

Bumbaste (c1653): to have sex

French lessons (c1850): fellatio