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Sex at the Wedding: Are Public Consummation & Bedding Ceremonies Making a Comeback?

Published Thursday, Jul. 20th, 2023

Ceremonial coitus, nuptial nookie, wedding whoopie? 


A brief history of the ‘bedding ceremony’ and why we think the public consummation of marriage might make a comeback


If you thought the Best Man’s sloppy toast would be the most awkward part of the wedding day, just wait until the bedding ceremony starts and you’re trying to figure out what to do with your hands.


A ‘bedding ceremony’ – aka the public consummation of marriage – is when wedding guests are invited to watch or eavesdrop on newlyweds during their first romp in the sack as married people. 


This coital wedding custom has been around since the Middle Ages, although it’s been pretty niche for the last 400 years or so. Shortly after a Medieval couple was declared wed by the officiant, friends and family would crowd around the marriage bed, tossing undergarments or making bawdy jokes until it was time for the newlyweds to shake the sheets. Sometimes ‘beddings’ were just good fun. Other times, public consummation was required for the union to be legally binding and ensured it couldn’t be annulled. 


As signed documents replaced getting down as the standard legal safeguard for marriage, bedding ceremonies became less common. And by the late 1600s, they’d mostly left the mainstream… 


Until now, that is. Recent evidence suggests that public consummation ceremonies might make a comeback.  



Funny illustration depicting the wedding night 'bedding ceremony,' showing a group of wedding guests dressed up in formal wear and royal uniforms, filing into the bedroom to watch the couple consummate their marriage

Image: The Wedding Night illustration By Isaac Cruikshank / WikiCommons

Arrive on time to get a good view!



Are Bedding Ceremonies Back? 


Don’t believe us? Take it from this 23 year old groom-to-be, who posted on Reddit about his in-laws’ old-fashioned ‘sex ritual’ in 2020: 


“A few nights ago [my girlfriend and I] were discussing wedding plans and thinking about places to go on our honeymoon… when she tells me that we won't need a bridal suite right away. Obviously I ask why (we're getting married at a pretty nice hotel) and she says that she'd like for us to stay at her parent's house.


I don't really mind this - we're trying to save money for a house deposit anyway - but GF seems like she has more to say so I push for why she wants it. She tells me that there's a really old tradition in her family on the wedding night.


The husband and wife go into the master bedroom together and they are supposed to 'consummate' the marriage. The rest of the family are waiting outside the door so they can applaud them and cheer when they come out. Then a piece of the bed sheet is cut off and sewn into a big tapestry my GF's mother owns.”


Or consider this submission to a faith-based advice column in 2022, from a young Muslim fiance as their wedding night approached: 


“I have been engaged since I was a child. But now that I’ve grown I have been asking questions about what to expect. My sister said that during the wedding night both sets of parents are outside the door while the husband and bride consummate the marriage. This does not seem like an Islamic thing but a cultural thing. Is there anything I can tell my parents so they understand that it’s not okay?”

Or how about this first-hand account from the guest of a Norse Pagan handfasting, posted earlier this year on Quora: 


“At one Handfasting I attended, the couple actually cut themselves out of the circle and went into the house to consummate the marriage while everyone waited. 

When they came back everyone cheered! Afterwards the circle is opened and the guardians are dismissed and the [deities] thanked.’


You know what they say: Twice is a coincidence, but three times or more? That’s a pattern!


So in the spirit of curiosity, the edification of the wedding industry, and our need to entertain ourselves, let’s jump right in! 


You definitely want to be up to speed on this trend before you’re standing outside your cousin’s bedroom in a rented tux, trying to make small talk with her new in-laws…


Line drawing of a bishop blessing the nuptial bed while the new husband and wife lay side by side, said to be a woodblock print from Medieval Era

Image: "How Reymont and Melusina were betrothed/

And by the bishop were blessed in their bed on their wedlock" / OpenSource via OSU

The wonders of the wedding night, depicted in a 15th Century woodcut


History of the Bedding Ceremony in Medieval Europe


There have been many variations of the bedding ceremony over the years, some more salacious than others (and one we’re pretty sure is a forerunner to BDSM religious play). Here are just a few from around Medieval Europe.


In Scandinavia and the Netherlands, wedding guests separated themselves by gender and led the new husband and wife to private bedrooms, where they stripped off the couple’s clothes and offered last minute advice on lovemaking. The naked newlyweds were then carried to the master bedroom and plopped down onto the nuptial bed. 


Wedding guests surrounded them, either praying that they’d “quench the lusts, not inflame them” (1), or else cheering them on with lewd comments and playful laughter, until the attendants finally pulled the bed curtains closed and the couple got down to business in relative privacy. 


In England, newlyweds were joined by a Priest or Bishop, who stood at the head of the bed dressed in vestments as the couple climbed under the sheets. The Priest blessed the bed and read a few verses of scripture while the newlyweds laid side by side, waiting patiently. 


After this holy permission to consummate was given, wedding guests gathered on either side of the bed to get the couple drunk on ceremonial wine (called a ‘benediction posset’), pelting them with dirty stockings and dirtier jokes while they drank. When the newlyweds were sufficiently tipsy, guests left them alone to complete the act.


And in Germany, wedding guests threw a big, noisy party in an adjacent room while the couple consummated their marriage. Friends and relatives banged on drums, made naughty noises, and sang loud, crude songs for hours to drown out the sounds of excited copulation… 


Similar to turning the stereo up to give your college roommate some privacy.


In many places, newlyweds would sometimes rejoin the wedding party after consummation, and were welcomed back with lively cheers, more wine, and (undoubtedly) a lot of back-slapping and high fives. 



Bedding Benediction Posset Recipe

Want to recreate this Medieval cocktail for a modern bedding ceremony or unity toast? 

Traditional wedding night possets were made of curdled cream (sexy!), egg yolk, and wine or sherry, flavored with sugar and spices. This might sound gross, but it’s not that far off from the nogs, fizzes, and flips you’d pay $30 for in an East Village craft bar. (Imagine what they’d charge if the server wore a Priest’s cope and vestments!) 

AMM’s Bedding Benediction 

2 oz Sherry or Muscadine Wine 
1 oz Raw Sugar Simple Syrup
1 Egg Yolk (Egg whites are optional)
1 oz Cream (or Oat Milk)
Nutmeg and Cinnamon to taste 

To make this modern posset: Fill a pint glass or shaker with ice cubes and add the ingredients. Shake or stir the mixture vigorously (so that everything combines), and strain into a cocktail glass. Sprinkle a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon on top. Toast, sip, and get to it! 

Close up photo of two royal newlyweds toasting a benediction posset with Renaissance style goblets



Did Someone Mention Throwing Stockings?


Yep! As we mentioned earlier, some consummation ceremonies included the fun activity of tossing stockings (or tights) at the newlyweds. Wedding guests would gather around the bed and take turns trying to hit the couple with these flimsy undergarments. Superstition said that if a guest was successful, they’d be the next person blessed by marriage. 


Interestingly, this might be where the modern garter toss tradition started… but it’s still unclear why we don’t toss boxers or briefs.  



Close up of a woman arranging a bride's garters

Was Medieval tights-tossing the start of the garter toss tradition? Perhaps!


Symbolism and Meaning of the Bedding Ceremony 


In many places, the bedding ceremony was meant to symbolize the community’s support for a couple’s marriage – as the festive examples above demonstrate. These ceremonies also symbolized the couple’s spiritual and physical union (“becoming one flesh”), the start of a new family, and the hope that the marriage would produce many children in the years to come. Some were pious opportunities for devotion and prayer, and others were a little more lively. 


But public consummation also carried legal weight, especially among the upper classes, and this was much less romantic. (You’ve been warned…)


In Scotland, a couple was considered legally married if they were caught in bed together – meaning that sex itself was a type of marriage ceremony, even if the couple hadn’t intended to marry when they were found out.


And across Europe, marriages among the upper classes could be annulled if they weren’t consummated quickly. Because so many marriages were arranged as political or financial alliances, these bedding ceremonies were watched closely by witnesses to guarantee their legitimacy. Unfortunately, many of these ceremonies weren’t voluntary, and many involved children.


Sometimes, bedsheets were checked for blood following a bedding ceremony in order to ‘prove’ a bride’s virginity, and then displayed publicly to announce the consummation. (This tradition was based on the myth that most women experience bleeding the first time they have penetrative sex, due to tearing of the hymen. This isn’t true.)


Still, most consummation ceremonies in Medieval Europe weren't witnessed directly, and were simply a sign of the community’s encouragement and support for the newly married couple. The most these couples had to worry about was probably just performance anxiety. 


Famous Bedding Ceremonies and Popular Culture


If you’ve heard of beddings before, it might have been on Game of Thrones. The popular fantasy series includes several ‘beddings,’ described as a Westerosi tradition in which newlyweds consummate their marriage publicly following a formal wedding ceremony and large feast. 


Below is a short video featuring author George R.R. Martin, describing the purpose of the bedding tradition. As Martin’s Walder Frey put it once, “The septon has prayed his prayers, some words were said, and Lord Edmure has wrapped my daughter in a cloak. But, they are not yet man and wife. A sword needs a sheath, and a wedding needs a bedding.”(2)





Perhaps the most well-known consummation ceremony – made famous for not happening – was between royal teenagers Marie-Antoinette and Louis Auguste de Bourbon (Louis XVI). Although several films suggest that it happened on the wedding night, this couple didn’t actually consummate their marriage until seven years after the wedding… Which led to centuries of gossip and speculation about the king and queen’s sex life.


But Marie Antoinette and Louis weren’t alone – many royal couples throughout history have skipped the bedding ceremony for one reason or another.


(Fairly often that reason was one of the newlyweds having drunk too much posset, so keep that in mind if you’re planning one of your own.)



Painting by Jan Steen shows a drunken couple slumped happily in the bedroom while their friends play in the background

Image: The Drunken Couple by Jan Steen / Wikioo

Too much posset


Modern Consummation Ceremonies 


As you can see, history has some fairly mixed opinions on bedding ceremonies. What does that mean for the future?


Well, let’s be real. Old-fashioned bedding ceremonies – in which newlyweds are stripped and carried to bed, or blessed by a priest, or watched like a hawk while they fumble with each others’ buttons – will probably never be popular again. And that’s a good thing! 


The problem with these old-fashioned consummation ceremonies isn’t the sex, it’s the lack of consent. Marriage should always be consensual and celebrated consensually, and hopefully in a way that’s fun, festive, and as low-stress as possible… No couple needs an obligatory sex ritual complicating their day. Right?




Everything old is new again, and attitudes around sex, sexuality, and privacy are changing fast. Young couples are less concerned with society’s taboos around sex than previous generations. This means that we’re likely to see more ‘wedding whoopie’ in the years to come, with couples leaving their ceremonies for a quick romp, and being welcomed back by cheering guests; or close friends piling into bed with the newlyweds to drink a few glasses of wine before moving the main party to another room. 


We’ll also probably see symbolic reimaginings of the bedding ceremony – community oriented wedding elements that hint at consummation without asking guests to witness it first-hand: 


Imagine guests tossing cute boxers, sexy garters, or colorful tights at the newlyweds as they walk back down the aisle during the recessional. 


Imagine the newlyweds performing a ‘unity toast’ with a benediction posset after the officiant declares them married. 


Imagine newlyweds lounging on an oversized floor cushion as they sign the marriage license, surrounded by cheering friends and family. 


Or imagine giving the couple fancy sheets, lingerie, or satin pillows as a wedding gift; or renting them a fancy hotel suite that they can return to after the ceremony. 


You get the idea! All of these elements are symbolic interpretations of a traditional bedding ceremony, without the actual bedding. 


Over the years, the wedding industry has seen an increasing number of creative non-traditional weddings. We’ve seen more couples than ever before choose civil ceremonies, plan nude weddings, include elements of kink in their ceremony, celebrate themed or cosplay weddings, or ask close friends or family members to officiate in intimate ways.


Will bedding ceremonies be next? 



A smiling bride and groom jump on a luxuriously looking four poster bed with curtains and satin bedspread





1.  Wittewrongel Petrus, Oeconomia Christiana ofte Christelicke huyshoudinghe (Amsterdam, voor de weduwe van Marten Jansz Brant en Abraham van den Burgh: 1655) vol. 1, 142

2. Game of Thrones S3E9 The Red Wedding


General Reference: 



Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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