(A paper written for Gender and Family History. This class focused on Europe and the Middle Ages.)
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth, the King James Bible tells us. God went on to create birds and animals and fish, and then he noticed that the man had created was lonely. In an odd oversight, the God had somehow neglected to make a mate for man. Placing the man into sleep, God took a rib out of man, and turned the rib into woman. (Gen. 2) And God said that this was good.
While this is a quaint story, two important ideas can be discerned that should hold weight for both Christians and Jews. First, the impetus for the creation of woman was the need for a companion to man. Next, woman was made from the side of man, symbolically making her equal to man. Much later, in the New Testament, Paul declared that it was better for those unmarried to stay unmarried, so they could concentrate on worshiping God (1 Cor. 7:33), but that marriage and sex in marriage were not wrong. In the discussion, Paul clearly speaks of physical desires of sex with no mention of procreation, and says this is not wrong.
In the writings of Augustine, the encroachment of the Church into new territory can be seen. Not content with merely stipulating that marriage must occur for sex, and further delineating who can marry whom, the Church has begun to decide what the motivation for sex should be, with sex not done for the express purpose of procreation now being labeled a sin. This erosion of marital liberties continues even further, as seen in the later Penitentials.
In the Penitentials, the Church now mandates which sexual acts are sinful, not only by participant, but even by position. Specific penalties are given for a laundry list of acts, and sadly, even marriage done exactly as commanded by the Church now carries some measure of sin, as evidenced by the decree that that newly married couples do penance for forty days. It is obvious by this time that the Catholic Church has created a dichotomy for women. On the one hand, women apparently have some taint of evil, and it is their natural lot to suffer; on the other, Catholicism now is focusing on prayers to Mary, the perfect mother of God. It is possible that this is some reflection in Europe of what will be thought of as Romantic love, which was also dualistic, with an ideal woman with whom relations were never consummated and physical relations with women who were barely more than objects.