Ok – that’s not a particularly sexy title. I admit it. But it is a valid point when one writes historical fiction. Writing bed-scenes when your writhing couple didn’t own a bath or shower and wouldn't do for several hundred years could be a turn-off for the reader.
These days we are all Germ Free Adolescents, washing our hair every day and brushing our teeth whilst wearing scented panty liners but history, in general, is not famous for its hygiene. We all know the stories of people carrying posies around so they couldn’t smell the world around them, or scattering rue and rosemary on the rushes to keep down the fleas. I believe the rumour is that Elizabeth I took a bath twice a year, whether she needed it or not.
Once the Romans left England, plumbing because a lost art, and wasn’t really rediscovered for about two thousand years. In the interim times, well, let’s say that the natives were sometimes a little revolting.
There weren’t a lot of cosmetic dentists around in earlier times, and although the toothbrush had been invented in the 15th century, it didn’t really catch on that well (just as well we STILL don’t have to brush using badger or pig’s bristles…), and flossing? Forget it, that’s not caught on in England even today... (joke… joke…).
The Romans definitely had it right, and I don’t know why there’s not a huge slew of authors writing in this era because it’s very easy to get your men naked ("Fancy a trip to the Baths, Lividius?" "Don’t mind if I do, Maximus, old Beanus.") and nice and clean and ready for action.
The Greeks too, were sticklers for cleanliness, and not only that, they were accepting of male love, so no problems there.
It’s when you push ahead a few centuries that you begin to have problems, particularly in more northerly locations where people are covering themselves in skins and bear fat and not peeling off until Spring. Cowboys - out on the range for months on end in a dust bowl, Shakespearian Luvvies sharing their beds with lice and bed-bugs, naval commanders rogering the cabin boy who hasn't seen warm water or fresh fruit for an Atlantic crossing.
So how do get your hero’s todger out of his breeches and into the willing hand of his boyfriend or girlfriend without worrying whether their bed holds more life than just the humans? Ha ha! It’s possible, and with a little bit of suspension of belief without being totally anachronistic, too.
Say for example, you have a couple of lusty young shepherds who have been working on the farm all day in an 18th century small-holding and they look at each other over the sheep dip and they are sweating, the curls sticking to their foreheads, both covered in sheep-muck – and….Hmmm. Problem.
So – here are your basic guidelines for smexxing it up in days gone by:
1. Remember your characters come from a time when hygiene wasn’t a great issue. They were used to smells; they aren’t going to be put off when it comes down to it. Concentrate on manly sweat, and accurate scents that might be there, rosemary, juniper and cinnamon. Celery and cardamom (often chewed to freshen the breath)
I hope the following scene from Transgressions (due out Spring 09 from Perseus Books) illustrates and illuminates.
Our heroes have been on the road for several days, deserting their brigade after Naseby, the battle that just about finished the English Civil Wars. They are muddy, and smelly, and when the finally reach shelter a bit of how’s your father is just what the Cavalier ordered, but I was all too appreciative of just how dirty they would be.
“Patience,” Tobias murmured again "Close your eyes, keep them closed." David did as he was told, and he was rewarded with a brief caress feathering over his scrotum. Tobias' weight lifted, there was a noise David didn't at first recognise, then a delicious feeling of warm wetness sweeping up each leg and ending with a soft massage of the skin between his thighs. He squirmed in abandoned pleasure, spreading his legs wider and wider to allow Tobias more access, with what he now realised was a sponge.
"Don't stop..." David arched from the bed, hoping the sponge would be moving up further still.
"I have no intention of it. You appear to have got mud everywhere." Tobias' voice was wryly amused. "Your face, Master Caverly, is filthy. The sponge was rinsed again and David felt his face being wiped gently, and wherever the sponge touched, so did Tobias' lips. As the lips passed David's mouth, David attempted to capture the teasing tongue but Tobias was moving onwards and would not be stopped. As sponge, fingers and hands explored his chest, swept over aching erect nipples and dragged slowly and blissfully downwards, David stopped thinking completely. All he could concentrate on, with his eyes closed tight, was where that tongue would go next. It teased into a newly washed navel, then tickled its way down the trail of every hair till he felt the sponge rest lightly on the base of his cock.
"How you got mud here, I can't imagine." David gasped as the sponge slid across the head, then arched as gentle fingers pulled back the foreskin and once again the cool sponge slid across the tip, which felt like it was on fire, and ten times bigger than usual. He gasped again as water dripped down upon it, running in rivulets down the shaft and pooling around his balls before sliding deliciously between his arse cheeks. With his sight removed, every touch was a delight his skin felt alight with sensation and the anticipation of where the next touch would come from. It was hard not to pull Tobias down and to forget his orders but he did it; for love of the man and for love of the sensations he was causing him.
When he felt his cock pulled in the sweet warmth of Tobias' mouth he had to bite his lip to stop himself from spending immediately. He pushed his hips up, just a little, to stop that teasing tongue from wasting time around the crown and Tobias let him enter him more fully. Tobias' kept his head still, and encouraged, David began a series of slow, self-indulgent and wonderful thrusts into his friend's welcoming mouth. It was like nothing he'd experienced before and although he'd never taken a man in passion, he wondered if it could possibly be as beautiful as this. Was this the pleasure that Tobias took from him? That Hal had - that Jon had? Gradually he had to increase his speed, he wanted release and his thrusts became faster and deeper. When he felt Tobias' hand between his legs, he spread his knees as wide as he could, thinking the man would enter him, but Tobias kept his head in place and slid a wet finger into David's entrance, sending David spiralling out of control as he felt him climax ripping through him. He shouted Tobias' name, pushing the man's head down even further onto his cock and emptying himself into Tobias' mouth.
Finally to paraphrase Bing Crosby:
Have good clean fun!