How much of a problem was sex in ancient times ?

ameteurhistorian

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
2,512
USA
All societies had promiscuity, polyamory, homosexuality, prostitution, contraception, and well...sex, as well as more sordid, less pleasant practices like pederasty, child-prostitution and marriages, abortion, and so on. It's not matter of what or when, but how and why different societies and civilizations handled the above.

The idea that ancient societies were libertine or had no taboos about sex is simply false. Rome, an example many people point out to as the pinnacle of decadence, had the Vestal Virgins, laws that punished Patricians that sired too many bastards or had too many affairs, legalized prostitution that did not empower or give respect to the actual prostitutes like in some other societies, and would have the daughters of citizens enslaved or executed if they so much as held hands with the wrong guy. In some ways, yes, Rome was rather loose, but it was also iron-clad restricted in others.

Most societies wanted to ensure the safe passage of property and titles through the family line, so as a general rule, women's sexual lives were more restricted than those of men whom generally had more options. It was all about protecting property and inheritance. Trying to ascribe moral or ethical judgements doesn't actually address the topic at its core.
 

kazeuma

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
2,373
I might as well ask this out of curiosity - when or why is touching one's self for sexual gratification considered evil or immoral?
 

ameteurhistorian

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
2,512
USA
I might as well ask this out of curiosity - when or why is touching one's self for sexual gratification considered evil or immoral?
Some consider it wasteful, unproductive, or a sign of having an ego. This all comes out of the idea that sex should only be done for reproduction, so anything pleasurable, especially for the individual, is seen as an aberration.
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,676
Cornwall
Some consider it wasteful, unproductive, or a sign of having an ego. This all comes out of the idea that sex should only be done for reproduction, so anything pleasurable, especially for the individual, is seen as an aberration.
Quite right too. Good Catholic stuff upheld by priests for centuries - in between masturbation and molesting small boys!! :lol:
 

pikeshot1600

Ad Honorem
Jul 2009
9,958
Quite right too. Good Catholic stuff upheld by priests for centuries - in between masturbation and molesting small boys!! :lol:
"Don't knock masturbation. That's sex with someone I love." - Woody Allen.

Now there is a different persuasion molesting a different underage gender.
 

Yôḥānān

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
3,888
Portugal
I think the Greek philosophers looked at this issue similarly to Buddhists but the issue is not new nor reserved to Christianity and even less Judaism. I think it is important to notice that while philosophy or even Medieval Christianity seem to place the ideal in either castity or abstinence, Judaism only regulates it.
“And no one who has not been a philosopher and who is not wholly pure when he departs, is allowed to enter into the communion of the gods, [82c] but only the lover of knowledge. It is for this reason, dear Simmias and Cebes, that those who truly love wisdom refrain from all bodily desires and resist them firmly and do not give themselves up to them, not because they fear poverty or loss of property, as most men, in their love of money, do; nor is it because they fear the dishonor or disgrace of wickedness, like the lovers of honor and power, that they refrain from them.”“No, that would not be seemly for them, Socrates,” said Cebes.
Plato, Phaedo, section 82c
 
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Lawnmowerman

Ad Honorem
Mar 2010
9,842
Sex is like oxygen, it's not important until you're not getting any.

This is as true today as it was 10,000 years ago.
 

abram

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
2,181
oklahoma
That's exactly my point! Taboos vary widely but they very much exist! Prostitution thrives in areas where there are STRONG taboos (or laws!) against men just helping themselves to any girl they fancy. Taboos might severely restrict what a girl or woman can do, but have less effect on a man's actions. Places where people can have sex in public are generally specially designed for that purpose, as a way of deliberately getting around established laws and values.

Polygamy does not mean "sex with anyone", it's typically a form of marriage. With rules and taboos. Holy prostitutes are specialists who perform under particular circumstances. Their presence in a culture does not mean that ALL girls are free to bang any man they like in public.

And yes, religion was simply a strong part of regular daily life, and very much still is, in many places.



Um, there were half a dozen Roman emperors whose sexual lives were infamous *because they trampled on law, custom, and taboo*. The Romans were in general far more prudish than even the Greeks! You can't judge a whole culture on the misdeeds of such a very few people.

There are always rules and taboos. They are *different* from place to place, but they exist.

We might even try to be a little less judgemental and derisive of those who have chosen to be a little less permissive than you might like.

Matthew
Very well put. Margaret Meade and other celebrity anthropologists made us aware of some seemingly idyllic tropical islands where sex was pretty casual, but even there there were limits. All societies seem to have incest taboos, although they define it differently. Egyptians condoned brother-sister incest among their royalty. Since the Pharaohs were gods, they could do as they pleased. They were also pretty lax about bestiality, portrayed on their tombs. But they drew the line at male homosexuality, which could keep a person out of the afterlife. Hittites prohibited father-son and father-daughter incest--making it a capital crime. Code of hamurabi sex
 

abram

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
2,181
oklahoma
That's exactly my point! Taboos vary widely but they very much exist! Prostitution thrives in areas where there are STRONG taboos (or laws!) against men just helping themselves to any girl they fancy. Taboos might severely restrict what a girl or woman can do, but have less effect on a man's actions. Places where people can have sex in public are generally specially designed for that purpose, as a way of deliberately getting around established laws and values.

Polygamy does not mean "sex with anyone", it's typically a form of marriage. With rules and taboos. Holy prostitutes are specialists who perform under particular circumstances. Their presence in a culture does not mean that ALL girls are free to bang any man they like in public.

And yes, religion was simply a strong part of regular daily life, and very much still is, in many places.



Um, there were half a dozen Roman emperors whose sexual lives were infamous *because they trampled on law, custom, and taboo*. The Romans were in general far more prudish than even the Greeks! You can't judge a whole culture on the misdeeds of such a very few people.

There are always rules and taboos. They are *different* from place to place, but they exist.

We might even try to be a little less judgemental and derisive of those who have chosen to be a little less permissive than you might like.

Matthew
Very well put. Margaret Meade and other celebrity anthropologists made us aware of some seemingly idyllic tropical islands where sex was pretty casual, but even there there were limits. All societies seem to have incest taboos, although they define it differently. Egyptians condoned brother-sister incest among their royalty. Since the Pharaohs were gods, they could do as they pleased. They were also pretty lax about bestiality, portrayed on their tombs. But they drew the line at male homosexuality, which could keep a person out of the afterlife. Hittites prohibited father-son and father-daughter incest--making it a capital crime. The Code of Hammurabi goes on and on about sexual offenses, including[FONT=Arial,Helvetica]
[/FONT][FONT=Arial,Helvetica][FONT=Arial,Helvetica]Law 129: If a man's wife be surprised (in flagrante delicto) with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife and the king his slaves[/FONT]
Law 154: If a man be guilty of incest with his daughter,
[/FONT][FONT=Arial,Helvetica][FONT=Arial,Helvetica] he shall be driven from the place (exiled). [/FONT] [/FONT][FONT=Arial,Helvetica][/FONT][FONT=Arial,Helvetica]
Law 155: If a man betroth a girl to his son, and his son have intercourse with her, but he (the father) afterward defile her, and be surprised, then he shall be bound and cast into the water (drowned).
Law 157:If any one be guilty of incest with his mother after his father, both shall be burned. Etc.
[/FONT]
 
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abram

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
2,181
oklahoma
So how did Christianity become so prudish? I think it got a triple dose: (1) from Judaism, (2) from asceticism rooted in the eschatological pessimism of the turn of the millenium, and (3) from early feminism.

The Israelites seem to have been preoccupied with three problems: (1) non-procreative sex, or "wasting the seed"--understandable for a tiny nation trying to preserve and build its population in a rough neighborhood; (2) assaults to manhood: turning a man into a woman at a time when conquering armies used to sodomize the defeated troops as a matter of course; and (3) cult-based fertility rites associated with the religious competition: Canaanites, Philistines, Phoenicians, Babylonians, etc.

The early Christians, though, added an ascetic dimension rooted in the eschatological pessimism of the first centuries BCE and CE. Judaism of the era was in a funk over the disillusionment resulting from foreign occupation, first by the Seleucids and then by the Romans, after their return from Babylonian captivity and expectation that at last they would be able to enjoy their independence. The Essenes in particular, obviously influenced by Persian thought, preached an apocalyptic struggle between the powers of Light and Darkness; and also encouraged asceticism to get ready for it. John the Baptist came out of the wilderness clad in animal skins, telling people to purify themselves for the imminent Kingdom of God, and Jesus seems to have been associated with that ministry. In Paul's writings, in which the ideal of celibacy is strong, there is a lot of emphasis on being like athletes in training. The Hellenistic philosophies of the time, Stoicism and Neoplatonism, reinforced this renunciation of the baser fleshly appetites. It also seems that women were quite prominent in first century Christianity, and a puritanical sex ethic seems to have been a big draw for them as part of their women's lib. The Acts of Paul glorified the doings of Thecla, feminist superhero follower of Paul who defied the male chauvinists of the day and urged her sisters to withhold their sexual favors and lead chaste lives. After the women brought their husbands into the faith, things started to change, but it's taken awhile to dig ourselves out.
 
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