So let’s get all Salt-n-Pepa and talk about sex, baby. Better yet, let’s talk about sex throughout human history. After all, Iwan Bloch, considered by many to be the first sexologist, believed that “historical knowledge offered an important key to understanding contemporary problems of sexuality”. History can also provide valuable perspective on how attitudes about sex and sexual mores have changed over the centuries, and how religion has shaped some ideas we might have about sex today. Here are eight things you never knew about sex in different cultures and eras and were afraid to ask.
Sex Attitudes: Rome And Orgies
Let’s start in ancient Rome, which has the reputation for being permissive when it came to all things sexual. Its anything-goes rep might be somewhat warranted. In ancient Roman culture prostitution was legal; what might be considered “pornographic” art was collected in upper-class households; it was not uncommon for Roman men to be attracted to teenagers of both sexes; and pederasty—the homosexual relationship between a male adult and an adolescent male—was commonplace and acceptable so long as the younger partner was not a freeborn Roman. Though effeminacy was frowned upon in men, there was no distinction in Roman society between homosexuality and heterosexuality. In fact, the language did not even contain words for the concepts.
The Kama Sutra
India must certainly be credited with advancing sexual ideals throughout its history. The country has played a significant role in the history of sex by being the birthplace of published books that treated sexual intercourse as a science. And it continues to be an origin for new sexual attitudes through modern-day groups that focus on it philosophically. The first evidence of attitudes towards sex comes from the ancient texts of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, some of which are the oldest surviving literature in the world. Of course, the most publicly known sexual literature of India are the texts of the Kama Sutra.
The version by Vatsyayana, one of the most popular, was first translated into English by Sir Richard Burton and F. F. Arbuthnot. Essentially, in the time when these texts were written, sex was considered a mutual duty between a married couple in India, where husband and wife pleasured each other equally, but where sex was considered a private affair.