Attitudes to Sex and Erotica in the Pirate Era.

Attitudes to Sex and Erotica in the Pirate Era.

A Story by Charlotte V. Patrick

A critical analysis piece that I used when creating both 'The Unmanning of James Kidd' and my final Masters dissertation submission.


Attitudes to sex and Erotica in the Pirate era

Pirates are now famously known for their free attitude towards life, love, gambling and drinking. But this is not really anything that can be confirmed through my research. I have put together a few things to help me write a creative piece based on this subject. (I think the lack of evidential support on the reality of sex in the piracy era is because the pirates have become romanticised over time.)

The Definition of 'Wench':

1. A voluptuous female pirate type woman, usally with a firey attitude, and usually seen around taverns and bars, seaside fishing towns, and wherever pirates roam.

"Argg! That wench be as ugly as a fox!"


"I am a wench. Kiss me."

2. a beautiful women who engages particularly in duties concerning domestic affairs, kitchen cleaning, or ale serving

the object of a pirate's affection

usually found in sea faring ports, in the back of the kitchen scrubbing pots, passed out under a pirate ship's deck, or tending to the wash.

Yaaar!! Call over the tavern wench. Me ale bucket needs a filling. And while you're there, tell 'er that she should clean out the stain she left on my bed sheets last night. Arrrr!

3. A stout, voluptuous maiden. Usually associated with the Rennaissance and taverns, where the wench is pictured as a bar-maid, boldly flirting with the swashbucklers and pirates.

Is a softer, less-
offending version of b***h.

4. historically a non-derrogatory word for a woman who was not a lady. thus a waitress in times of yore was a "serving wench." more modernly synonimous with b***h or s**t but slightly less offensive

Call over the one of the kitchen wenches, i must needs have more ale.

(Resource for definitions of 'Wench' �" Urban Dictionary

The age of piracy was also known for its cross dressing, and power women. This of course includes the famous Mary Read and Anne Bonny, the two most famous pirate women of the era. GLBTQ has a few pages on both this and sodomy in the pirate era.

Since the "Golden Age of Piracy," roughly from 1690 to 1730, pirates have played an important role in the cultural imagination, especially in British and American writing and film. Their status as economic and cultural outsiders has appealed to a broad range of people, but suggestive speculation about pirate sexuality has made the figure of the pirate--both male and female--into something of an icon for gltbq people.

Undoubtedly, the reality of pirate sexuality was far less affirming of homosexuality than our imaginations might like us to believe. Hans Turley cautions us against assuming that pirates must have been sodomites. While it is possible and perhaps even likely that many were, the lack of evidence means that we can only speculate about what sexual life was like aboard a pirate ship in a predominantly male environment.”

The Golden Age of Piracy

The most intense and best known period of pirate activity occurred between 1714 and 1724. During that decade a number of notorious pirates were captured, and their trials inspired numerous written accounts, both true and fictional, that became very popular.

The best known of these works, Charles Johnson's A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, was first published in 1724. The work, which may have actually been written by Daniel Defoe, chronicles the lives of a number of infamous pirates whose lawlessness had created a sensation in the previous decade. In addition to a number of well-known male pirates, such as Captain Avery and Captain Roberts, the book also includes the stories of Mary Read and Anne Bonny, two women who had been captured and tried in Jamaica in November 1720.

It is from this body of writing that our modern sense of the pirate emerges. In the early eighteenth century, pirates were seen as groups of mostly male criminals who banded together in defiance of all cultural norms. Legally, they were considered "the common enemy against all mankind." Swearing no loyalty to any nation, pirates were outlaws who plundered for their livelihood.”

Sodomitical Suggestions in the World of Pirates

B. R. Burg's work from the early 1980s uses contemporary studies of male sexuality in prison to suggest that sex between men on buccaneer and pirate ships was common. Although his work is largely speculative, he challenges the assumption that pirates were heterosexual. As he suggestively concludes, "The single certainty is that the only non-solitary sexual activities available to buccaneers for most of the years they spent in the Caribbean and for almost all of the time they were aboard ship were homosexual."

Although Turley has criticized Burg's work for his imprecise marshaling of evidence, Burg does highlight many areas of pirate life that could easily have involved homosexuality in some fashion.

For instance, Burg contrasts pirates' attitudes towards women and their cabin boys. Even though some captains prohibited both on board their ships, Burg argues that pirates were more tolerant of pederasty than they were of relationships with women. On Captain Roberts' ship, for example, the crew was subjected to the rule that "[n]o Boy or Woman [was] to be allowed amongst them. If any Man were found seducing any of the latter [S]ex, and carry'd her to Sea, disguis'd, he was to suffer Death." As Burg points out, no mention is made of capital punishment for seducing cabin boys.

But as Turley rightfully points out, nothing conclusive can be drawn from such material, and the truth of the pirate experience comes to us highly mediated through fiction, popular history, and legend.

Lesbian Pirates?

Although most scholarship on pirates repeatedly claims that it is primarily a history of men, more recent writing and scholarship on female pirates shows that women also turned to piracy. For them it was a way to defy cultural and gender expectations.

The most notorious pair of women pirates was Mary Read and Anne Bonny. According to Johnson's account, Read was born in England, Bonny in Ireland. After a series of adventures--disguised as a man, Read served in the army, while Bonny grew up as a reckless tomboy in South Carolina--the two women, who had both been married, flouted convention again by dressing in men's clothes and becoming pirates.

After leaving her husband, Bonny became the lover of Captain John "Calico Jack" Rackam and joined him on his pirate ship. Shortly thereafter Read joined their crew. Read and Bonny became friends on board ship in their male personae.

From Read's point of view, Johnson describes her realization that Bonny was a woman, as well: "Her Sex was not so much as suspected by any Person on board till Anne Bonny, who was not altogether so reserved in Point of Chastity, took a particular Liking to her; in short, Anne Bonny took her for a handsome young Fellow, and for some Reasons best known to herself, first discovered her Sex to Mary Read."

As Emma Donoghue writes, even though there is no way of knowing what transpired between the two women, "Their friendship [was] so intimate as to look to an outsider like a love affair." It angered Bonny's lover so much that the pair revealed Read's sex to him, which apparently appeased him. The women remained close and undertook numerous pirating raids together.

In the end, they were captured and tried in Jamaica for their crimes. Although the judge sentenced them to hanging, they "pleaded their bellies"--that is, claimed that they were pregnant--and temporarily avoided execution. Not long after, Mary Read died in prison of a fever. Anne Bonny simply disappeared.

Even though we will never know how sexual, if at all, the relationship between Bonny and Read was, they do stand out as fiercely independent women who were committed to each other in a mostly all male environment.

(Source: an article written by Geoffrey W. Bateman -

Although I have been able to find very few accounts of what sexuality was really like in this era and especially to these anti heroes, I still prefer to think of pirates how they are portrayed in TV, films and books as I feel it makes them more 'untouchable' and desirable. For writing this piece I also had a look at several films including Pirates of the Caribbean and Treasure Island, as well as playing Ubisoft's latest instalment of the Assassin's creed series �" Black Flag, which is about an assassin pirate who runs with all the famous pirates that have been listed above and more. This perhaps is my greatest inspiration for this short creative piece,

© 2016 Charlotte V. Patrick

My Review

Would you like to review this Story?
Login | Register


I'm glad I'm not a parrot! I might have seen things to make my claws curl up!

Posted 6 Months Ago

Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


1 Review
Added on January 14, 2016
Last Updated on January 14, 2016
Tags: historical, non fiction, critical, analysis, sex and erotica