Relationships are getting weaker these days

ÖH Uni Vienna

Katherina and Anna want to get married, but are not allowed to because church and state forbid it. Katherina had previously entered into a marriage of convenience with a man whom she married not for love, but for economic reasons. When she wanted to free herself from social norms after the separation, she was forbidden by law from making her love for Anna public. They could not obtain economic rights. In practice they hardly cared about it and they found their own way to experience a fulfilled and unfolded sex and love life. Could this story play out like this today? Probably yes. There are probably some people who have experienced this story themselves, from friends or the media. In fact, this story dates from the 18th century. Admittedly, the two characters were a woman and a man, Katherina and Joseph Arthaber. She, 40 years old, was not allowed to marry her stepson, 31 years old, in Austria. Therefore, they turned to the Protestant Church in Hungary and were later able to officially marry there

The marriage of convenience

The affection between stepmother and stepson in the 18th century can be explained by the large age difference between spouses and marriage as a political issue. Katharina had to marry Joseph Arthaber's father at the age of 19 and was the same age as his youngest children. At that time, the first marriage was viewed as a marriage of convenience; it was not uncommon for people to marry under duress, while widowers and widows could choose a love marriage in their second marriage.
Romantic love as we have understood it in Europe since the 20th century did not exist at that time, at least not formally. The reception of love is extremely time-bound. Love in the 18th century is connoted with "loyalty, love, community, care for children and good economic management" 2. At that time, nobility marriages were closely related to claims to power and gifts. Nevertheless, young male aristocrats were able to convince the father with skill not to marry the intended woman but to marry someone else. The balance between 'reason' and marriage was an essential part of choosing a partner. Love was seen as a Christian law of conduct and a warning was given within marriage not to “exaggerate conjugal love” 3.

Ban on marriage

While strict commandments and rules for marrying applied to the nobility, weaker classes such as e. B. Do not marry servants and craftspeople. For this reason, historical sources show a high number of children born out of wedlock. However, illegitimate children do not indicate sexual freedom of movement, but illustrate the economic and social exclusion of a part of the population from marital sexuality. In the middle of the 18th century, “an intensification and emotionalization of relationships” 4 gradually developed, parental intimacy began to develop, which they hid from their children. In contrast, in earlier farming conditions, the children often slept in their parents' beds.


Continuities in the social discourse about sexuality are clear. The list is long: we find marriage of reason and purpose in the stories of the Greek deities and they are the norm in Europe in the 18th century too; Discussions about transgender people can already be found among the Habsburgs. Archduke Ludwig Viktor, known as Luzivuzi, liked to wear women's clothes in the 19th century and had love affairs with men. The example of Conchita Wurst shows that discussions about transgender people are still ongoing. The issue of prostitution in the relationship between prostitutes and clients. The Habsburg Leopold Ferdinand von Salvator married a prostitute named Maria Magdalena Ritter, for which he even gave up his title. Even today we can follow the discourse on prostitution in the media and come to the conclusion that the discussion is largely pulling in the same direction as the legislation. Legality and morality are key terms, while love, relationship and economics are rarely discussed.


The criticism that research into sexuality is still more important to this day and that it is pursued by serious historians, while love has "the same reputation as chivalric novels of the 16th century" was also criticized by the historian Edith Saurer in 1997: "The scientification of the debate with Sexuality and the conviction that individual and social life was decisively shaped by it resulted in love becoming a pre-scientific term. ”5 The Viennese historian Franz X. Eder researched the history of sexuality in German-speaking countries until 2009. He worked out that masturbation was frowned upon and outlawed in the 19th century: medical practitioners [sic!] Saw it as a disease; the church worked with the instrument of sin, and educators [sic!] tried to attribute masturbation to an educational problem.6 The reason for the great interest in the study of sexuality is certainly the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. This is certainly to be criticized, but has also produced positive results: z. Take the Kinsey Report, for example, which found, using statistical means, that masturbation is not only widespread, but also leads to the satisfaction of sexual needs.7 Since then, debates about sexuality have been very popular.

1 Saurer, Edith: Love, gender relations and feminism, in: l’Homme 8,1, June 1997, pp. 17–20.
2 Lesemann, Silke: love and strategy. Noble marriages in the 18th century, in: l’Homme 8.2, August 2000,
P. 203.
3 Sieder, Reinhard: marriage, reproduction and sexuality. In: Mitterauer, Michael / Sieder, Reinhard: From patriarchy to partnership. On structural change in the family, C. H. Beck: München 1977, p. 156.
4 Ibid.
5 Saurer 1997, p. 13.
6 Eder, Franz X .: Culture of Desire. Eine Geschichte der Sexualität, C. H. Beck Verlag: München 2002. The topic block Sexuality under National Socialism is so extensive and controversial that it is not possible to deal with it due to the limited scope here. A note for everyone interested: Radonic, Ljiljana: Genitally fixed instead of polymorphic-perverse. In: UNIQUE, November 2012.
7 Kinsey, Alfred: Kinsey Report. The sexual behavior of women, G. B. Fischer & Co: Berlin 1963, pp. 126-163.