Whenever we think about the Renaissance, it’s impossible not to picture impressive dresses, banquets, and plays. I mean it’s the Tudor era and the time of the bard, when the one and only Shakespeare was writing altogether with the greatest sonneteers. And that’s just England, but if you go down in the map we can also talk about Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and the greatest Italian geniuses who gave us emblematic pieces of art. There’s no doubt that when talking about the Renaissance, we get a vibe of culture and artistic development. It was the moment when some of the conceptions of life we have nowadays were established. It's the begining of modernity and what many believe to be the end of obscurantism.
While it’s true that the Renaissance didn’t occur globally at the same time (each country had their specific periods, being Italy the one that developed earlier), it turned out to be a set of ideas that sooner or later impregnated the European way of thinking. Whether we focus on art, literature, music, science, and even everyday life, at some point in the history of each country we can find how these ideals traveled and became regular perceptions of life. Think for instance of the ideals of beauty. Although each country had its own preferences and aimed for something in particular, it was a common belief that women with fair skin were the ideal of aesthetic, and many would wear lead and other products to rinse their skins. That obsession with lighter hues was also seen in the hair, and women would literally take sun baths to make their hair look lighter (believe it or not, they would also use dove dung to get that finish).
There’s a branch of history that, instead of focusing on dates and the greatest developments that occurred in a determined period, studies the everyday life customs and practices, how people lived and what they believed in. So, naturally, sexuality plays a huge role in understanding each society in every determined point in history. Many TV shows and movies, have shown us the peculiarities of the sexual life in the Renaissance in two main ways. The present both the romantic way of wooing a woman through poetry as well as steamy sexual demonstrations (ahem, just watch one episode of the Tudors). So, basically, while we love to think of relationships in terms of the first variant, people in the Renaissance, like in any other time, explored their sexuality in a passionate rather than in a demure way. For instance, there’s a book called The Ways (banned by the Church for some years and recently rescued) that depicted explicit engravings and highly erotic poetry that was read by both men and women.
However, if we think in term of the everyday, there was a practice they held that makes the study of the Renaissance life quite interesting and that's the relationship of food and sex. You know how it's said that eating certain foods can increase your libido. Well, aphrodisiacs have been around forever, and each society gives certain foods that status. The Renaissance society wasn't the exception. There are treaties listing all the properties of food, and the list of aphrodisiacs was really extensive. Certain birds like pheasants or sparrows, as well as other animals’ genitalia, were considered a great fuel for desire.
Now, these weren’t as effective as what they considered flatulent foods or "windy" meats. It was thought that eating beans or legumes would increase the libido. Basically, the science of the time believed that when these foods created gas, they would inflate the penis and testicles, guaranteeing erection. Moreover, while performing the sexual act, air was the impulse to inject the sperm and conceive. Sounds logical, right?
Well, beans and other flatulent foods didn’t only work in that physical way. It was also believed that the wind they provoked worked to heat the body and boost desire. Now, let’s remember that at the time one of the main reasons to engage in sexual activities was procreation (at least in an official way), so windy meats were used to treat infertility, since it was believed that sexual desire and pleasure played a fundamental role in the conception of a child. Also, they used these foods mixed with carrots, shallots, and some kinds of nuts to nurture the seed (sperm) and have a healthy baby.
The benefits of windy meats were amazing but extremely dangerous and toxic for women. Contrary to men, the treatment for fertility was eating berries and other fruits to prevent the wind from damaging their womb. Besides that, it was strongly believed that flatulences were one of the main cause (besides being cursed by a demon or punished by God) of barren wombs, and if a woman wanted to bear a child, windy meats were out of the question.
Now, while many took these as an absolute truth, other scientists disagreed with the use given to windy meats. For instance, it was said that while it indeed helped increase the libido and get stronger and more potent erections, at the end of the day the penis was filled with air, which was useless for conception. So, perhaps, that was what many men and women actually wanted, although we know things don’t really work that way.