The Romantic & Raunchy History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day may be notorious for stirring up sometimes-contested feelings, but who would have known the only thing more debated is the actual story behind it?

Despite the holiday’s reputation for flowers, car-sized bears, and all things super sexy, any peek into its past quickly reveals that hasn’t always been the case.

From lustful lashing and frisky birds to ritualistic violence straight out of Westeros, the celebration’s road to what it is today has been a long and exceptionally winding one.

Historical accounts get fuzzy when dealing as far back as time’s beginning (well, close), but there still are several theories about how it all started:

Those Racy Romans

As with many things, some historians think Valentine’s Day traces all the way back to Ancient Rome. For three days during the ides of February, Romans celebrated the Pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia. The kickoff began with a group of priests gathering inside a sacred cave to sacrifice a goat (for fertility) and a dog (for purification).

After cutting the goat’s hide into strips and dipping them into the “sacred blood,” the group would hike back into town to slap the women and crop fields with their freshly made whips. The gals, however, were all about it! This whole new meaning to being hit on was though to make them fertile for the coming year.

Later in the day came the occasion’s main event—the lover’s lottery. They say young women would flock to the middle of town and put their names inside a commemorative urn. Once complete, the city’s bachelors would each draw one to pair off with for the rest of the festival (sometimes even beyond).

What about the name “Valentine’s Day?” On at least two separate occasions during the 3rd century, it’s believed Emperor Claudius II executed men named Valentine on the fabled 14th of February. Just like everything else, the causes aren’t exactly known. Some say one of them married young couples in secret against Claudius’ orders, whereas another may have helped people escape brutal Roman prisons.

Despite the lack of clarity, we know they became romantic martyrs of the Catholic Church, ultimately honored by the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.

By the end of the 5th century Pope Gelasius I officially tied the holiday to February 14 in an attempt to weed out the paganism behind Lupercalia, which was outlawed. It wasn’t until a few years later that some of our more modern V-Day traditions were born.


Cupid’s Pandemic of Romantic Proportions

During the Middle Ages, the French and English thought February 14 was also the start of birds’ mating season, thus prompting the association of Valentine’s Day with romance. Not to mention, it was when the first documented V-Day greeting cards popped up as well.

So as you can imagine, sappy sentiment surrounding the holiday only escalated from there. Guys like Shakespeare and Chaucer promoted the occasion through their work as the tradition spread throughout Europe, and eventually America. Later on, the Industrial Revolution spurred the initial trend of manufactured cards, but a little Kansas City business named Hallmark Cards (surprise!) began manufacturing them in 1913 on the widest scale yet.


Current State of Affairs

From that point on, Valentine’s Day commerce has never looked back. Last year alone, the National Retail Federation estimated consumers would spend a total of $18.2 billion in honor of the holiday, with an average of $136.57 dished out per person.

Crazy enough, these numbers are actually down from the record-breaking year prior! There’s been a decade-long increase in V-Day spending overall, so it’s clear to see just how far down the rabbit hole for romance we’ve gone.

As far as how that money is spent, NRF studies have also revealed consumers are opting to cook a romantic dinner instead of going out, as well as springing for “experiential” gifts over tangible items. Hello, hotel sex coupled with a Magic Wand!

Even our fur babies are feeling the generous love! Fortunately, some tables have turned since the days of Lupercalia…


So, if you think your Valentine’s Day can’t get any worse, take note that at least it won’t (hopefully) involve getting decapitated, raffled off via urn, or flogged with a freshly skinned whip (unless that’s what you were hoping for).

The Romans may be remembered for a variety of things, but just imagine what those little trend-setting kinksters would think of how long this particular legacy has managed to stick around.



Alex Anderson is an LA-based lifestyle designer proactively raging against the cultural grain. By day she works in television production, and by night enjoys writing, sewing and seeking guidance from the stars. She also finally has an all black kitty named “Cher.” You can follow her website ( and on Instagram (@AJAndMore)!

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