The Greco-Roman Influence in our Current Sexual Practices

Staying on the theme on previous posts regarding the history of sex, I thought I’d post this excerpt of a video I’ve had a part in the production of. The as-of-yet untitled film takes a look at sexual slavery in ancient Rome and what influences it has had in our present day views and attitudes towards sexual expression. I’m sorry to say that I do not yet have a date as to when this video will be released.

Prostitution in classical Roman culture

The following video is a production of the History Chanel called: Sex in the Ancient World: Prostitution in Pompeii. It’s a fascinating look at how the city circumvented the norms of that time in Roman culture, and become known as a hot bed of sex and debauchery.

The Tumultuous History of Human Sexuality

From the debauchery of the ancient Greeks, to the puritanical persecutions of the early Christians, Western views towards human sexuality have swung widely in their extremes. Such is the history of sex.

It seems apt to begin in Greece, where so much of out sexual lexicon comes from. Aphrodisiac, eroticism, homosexuality, nymphomania, and pederasty are all terms that originated in Greece. Sex was an integral part of the cultural tradition and Greek myths are rampant with stories of the sexual exploits of their Gods. The myths of Homer and Plutarch gave us the image of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who rose from the foaming semen of her father’s castrated testicles. And Hercules, who would ravish 50 virgins in a night, yet also had a homosexual relationship with his young nephew Iolaus.

Pederasty, in which an older man takes an adolescent boy as his lover, was socially accepted in Greece between the 6th and 4th century. In fact, relationships were based more on social power dynamics that they were on sexual orientation. The Greeks though that love should centre around the concept of a powerful top, and a weak and needy bottom. So a relationship between two men of similar age and social standing would be considered odd, maybe even scandalous.

The traditions of the Greeks were carried on by the Romans, but the rapid spread of Christianity saw the church gain a firm grip over the morality of much of Europe beginning in 400AD. The moral codes enforced by the clergy took their form from Hebrew law of the Old Testament. Sexual acts and thoughts were declared a sin that would be punished by eternal damnation. Sex was tolerated within marriage for the benefit of reproduction. However, masturbation, incest, oral sex, anal sex, and homosexuality all became sins and the church instructed people to watch for and to report any possible wrong doing so action could be taken against the offenders.

Much of the sexual intolerance that we have today comes from this foundation that the church built so many centuries ago. There have been periods when these conventions relaxed under social pressure, such as during the Renaissance. But shame is a powerful tool which has been wielded so expertly by the righteous. Each of these eras of sexual liberation have been followed by an equally repressive period in which hedonism is forced underground. And during each of these periods of sexual repression, society finds itself struggling with rising rates of prostitution and a public health crisis of venereal disease such as London, England found itself battling during the Victorian era and leading into the first world War.

Given how history has repeated itself, and these cyclical patterns humans have in their sexual views, I often find myself wondering what stage of the pattern we’re in now. Sometimes it seems obvious, at other times, not so much.


I will be blogging here about sexual health matters and everything related to my forthcoming book