A Peculiar History of Coffee And Sex

Donovan Choy

Donovan Choy

Donovan Choy is a MA graduate in PPE. He is also the Editor and Head of Content at Adam Smith Center, Singapore.

New technologies and inventions are often met by the public with great distrust. It’s not hard to see why. Humans have a natural propensity to fear treading new and unknown terrain. We fear the perennial gale of Schumpeterian creative destruction; the disruption to existing market structures, displacement of existing jobs, or the potential hazards it might pose to familiar standards of safety.

Take coffee for example. When coffee was becoming popular in 1670’s Britain, men who took to it quickly found women activists opposing the enjoyment of their newfound beverage. In 1674, they published and distributed The Women’s Petition Against Coffee pamphlet, citing arguments that would be considered bizarre today.

They complained that coffee was rendering men impotent, and causing them to lose interest in sexual intercourse:

FOr can any Woman of Sense or Spirit endure with Patience, that when… she approaches the Nuptial Bed, expecting a Man that with Sprightly Embraces, should Answer the VIgour of her Flames, she on the contrary should only meet a bedful of bones, and hug a meager useless Corpse rendred as sapless as a Kixe, and dryer than a Pumice-Stone, by the perpetual Fumes of Tobacco, and bewitching effects of this most pernitious COFFEE…

If you were a Londoner living then, you could be forgiven for getting the impression that coffee was the devil’s drink:

… the continual flipping of this pitiful drink is enough to bewitch Men of two and twenty… It renders them that us it as Lean as Famine, as Rivvel’d as Envy, or an old meager Hagg over-ridden by an Incubus. They come from it with nothing moist but their snotty Noses, nothing stiffe but their Joints, nor standing but their Ears…

And vehemently denied the invigourating effects of why most people consume it today:

They pretend ’twill keep them Waking, but we find by scurvy Experience, they sleep quietly enough after it.

British men weren’t too pleased. They promptly formulated a response in the Mens Answer to the Womens Petition Against Coffee:

Could it be Imagined, that ungrateful Women, after so much laborious Drudgery, both by Day and Night, and the best of our Blood and Spirits spent in your Service, you should thus publickly Complain?… Why must innocent COFFEE be the object of your Spleen? That harmless and healing Liquor, which Indulgent Providence first sent amongst us, at a time when Brimmers of Rebellion, and Fanatick Zeal had intoxicated the Nation, and we wanted a Drink at once to make us Sober and Merry…

And compared to wine, apparently was the medicinal equivalent of today’s viagra:

Tis base adulterate wine and surcharges of Muddy Ale that enfeeble nature, makes a man as salatious as a Goat, and yet as impotent as Age, whereas Coffee Collects and settles the Spirits, makes the erection more Vigorous, the Ejaculation more full, adds a spiritualescency to the Sperme, and renders it more firm and suitable to the Gusto of the womb, and proportionate to the ardours and expectation too, of the female Paramour.

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No one today (asides from Mormons perhaps) would take the claims of either side seriously. And as history has proven time and again, technologies and innovations are almost always resisted initially only to be commonplace sometime later.

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Donovan Choy

Donovan Choy

Donovan Choy is a MA graduate in PPE. He is also the Editor and Head of Content at Adam Smith Center, Singapore.