ODE TO THE PAST (with the occasional nod to the present)

Sexuality in the Ancient World

March 6, 2015

Tags: ancient-egypt, ancient-greece, ancient-rome, ancient-world, sex, sexuality

Birds do it. Bees do it. In the ancient world, everyone did it, including the gods.

We're talking about sex, of course. Sexuality has evolved drastically in the past three millennia, mostly because of the advent of Christianity. Today, we have many taboos that never existed in antiquity. In those days, sex was a beautiful thing and as such enjoyed very few restrictions. In some societies, it even was a required part of training for battle.

Here are a few interesting facts about sexuality in ancient times:
+ The ancient Egyptians were very open about their sensuality. Men and women bathed daily and engaged in rituals that would beautify the flesh, making it attractive to suitors. Eroticism was rampant and informed every part of life, and even the afterlife.
+ Seduction was an art in ancient Egypt. Men and women adorned their bodies with perfumed oils, unguents and paints. They had special colors for the eyes and often mixed their own kohls, which helped dilate the eyes, for maximum sensual impact.
+ Sexual aids and aphrodisiacs in ancient Egypt are well documented in papyri. Two examples: "Grind the leaves of acacia and honey and apply as a bandage" for male impotency; "Rub your phallus with the foam of the mouth of a stallion and sleep with a woman" for female pleasure.
+ In ancient Greece, and to a lesser extent Rome, homosexuality was condoned, as long as it wasn't perverse or did not infringe on the rights of free citizens. As part of military training, Greek males indulged in unions with each other to strengthen their bonds and release sexual tension.
+ In ancient Rome, brothels were rampant. In Pompeii alone, there were 25 of them. The services of prostitutes were fairly cheap, allowing any and all to afford the indulgence.
+ Roman males were expected to maintain an aura of masculinity at all times. For that reason, they could not engage in public displays of affection. Likewise, one of the most important qualities of women was self-control.


  1. June 14, 2015 7:06 AM EDT
    Daphne, with sex of all kinds going on in Egypt, I was just wondering if and how they practiced birth control. Did they go to an Oracle and find out the days to feel safe and days to abstain. By the way, I think the psychologists of today's were probably oracles in past lives. Looking forward to another great book!
    - Sally Drell
  2. June 14, 2015 9:36 AM EDT
    Good question, Sally! The Egyptians were among the first people to use birth control. I've seen references to all sorts of oddities: mercury, cotton wool soaked in a paste of dates and acacia bark, even crocodile dung. Oh, those fun-loving Egyptians ...
    - D.J. Niko

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