One often hears references to rampant buggery among sailors in the glory days of the Royal Navy. Sometimes, it’s said, young boys called “peg boys” were on board solely for the purpose of providing pleasure to the officers.
Not an easy question to well, I guess we can’t say get to the bottom of, can we? Get a handle on also has unfortunate implications. So let’s just start. Was buggery, if not rampant, at least fairly common in the Royal Navy in its prime? People certainly thought so at the time. Were ships’ boys sometimes used for sexual purposes by their elders? We don’t really know for sure. Did some British warships routinely put let’s be blunt underage male prostitutes on the manifest? Don’t be ridiculous.
That’s not to say sailors spent all their time singing sea chanteys and tying knots. As in any environment in which males live in close quarters for extended periods (prison and boarding school are the other well-known venues in this respect), both consensual and nonconsensual homosexual behaviour did and doubtless does occur aboard ships Sodomy, incidentally, wasn’t clearly defined in English law but at minimum included anal intercourse between men (authorities differed on whether anal sex with a woman counted) and in some interpretations bestiality, necrophilia, and fellatio.
A peg-boy is a young male who prostitutes himself to homosexuals peg-house a homosexual brothel. There is an unsubstantiated story that boys in East Indian peg-houses were required to sit on pegs between customers, giving them permanently dilated anuses.
Eventually attitudes softened. Though sodomy remained a capital crime the last British naval execution for the offence was in 1829, after that, until legalisation in 1967, the act was punishable by 10 years to life. In short, those convicted of sodomy were sent to prison where, in all likelihood, they were sodomised Most countries outlaw bestiality but homosexual activity is decriminalised.