How much of a problem was sex in ancient times ?


Ad Honorem
Jun 2015
All societies had promiscuity, polyamory, homosexuality, prostitution, contraception, and, 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.
Rome was definitely complex in its attitudes towards sex though. It tolerated prostiution, and allowed soldiers to see prostitutes regularly. They also permitted patrician men to have sex with their male slaves, and Emperors were noted for their orgies. However, this doesn't mean everybody did it in the street, but they acknowledged sex had its place.


Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
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.
Here I thought it was because some idiotic priest suggested that a demon (succubus / incubus) could use the spilled seed to engender the Anti-Jesus.
May 2017
As others pointed out, prohibitions and sexual taboos were mainly features of Abrahamic religions, while the same didn't apply to pagans. For example, the cult of Ishtar-Inanna in Mesopotamia and Syria involved 'sacred' prostitution.
Jun 2013
In ancient times average family problems with sex solved very simply. As soon as girls menstruation started they would start looking for a husband. Men having sex never was big problem. Modern problems with sex are created by postponing socially acceptable sex for an unreasonably long time.
Actually not really. The husband also had to be able to support a family. Something that has been beyond most men throughout history. And almost always beyond young men in their sexual prime, they need time to raise the cash or inherit wealth.
As Arkteia has been into, sexual restrictions is ultimately due to the lack of birth control an unwanted unsupported pregnancy can destroy not only the girl's life but that of her family, so the solution is simply t keep women sexually unavailable until a guy can pay up, and in return they get the women and progeny.

There is some idea that arranged marriages was rooted in misogyny. But it's simply a solution on how keep men accountable for dalliance. Marriages throughout history has foremost been a business enterprise. Love a distant second concern too the very real question whether the couple will starve to death in bad times and it's the patriarchs setting up the marriage who will serve as a security net if so, obviously they will be careful.


Ad Honorem
Oct 2011
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.

Thanks for this post Abram. Just wanted to add my two cents here.

Complete celibacy has long been associated with great holiness, in both Eastern and Western religious tradtions. Those who have experienced a True Conversion often lose their hunger for sex. In fact, they generally lose their lusts for all things material and physical, being wholly satisfied with their spiritual nourishment.

In the Christian tradition in particular, this natural and effortless letting go of the material, was gradually mixed up with willpower and internal warfare, presumably by those who hadn't truly experienced God directly, but were instead attempting to imitate the holiness of the saints by their own willpower.

Whereas among the true saints and buddhas, spiritual satisfaction was so great that refusing material pleasures was effortless, simple, and free of resistance.


Forum Staff
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
It all depends on how we consider sex: a mean or a goal?

In cultures where sex was a mean there was no taboo about it. We can think to Ancient Egypt where even incestuous sexual relations between two Royal persons were not only accepted, but sacred ... since they ensured the purity of the Holy Royal Blood.

Not to talk about some deities ... one for all: Min.

The most evident attribute of this God was quite visible ...

And note that he handled a whip ...

To this we can add that the masturbation of a God didn't disturb them.

I could say that an Ancient Egyptian wouldn't understand us about our attitude towards sex ... he would consider us a bit crazy limiting a natural function of the human being.


Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
Well, if Zeus himself was going around committing rape & other sexual assault - often also passed off and/or glossed over as 'seduction' by some writers who preferred things to sound much more polite - virtually all the time, sometimes in the guise of a bull, a complete stranger who appeared in a field all out of absolute nowhere, etc. etc. etc., then how cud sex ever hv been taboo.
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Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
I could say that an Ancient Egyptian wouldn't understand us about our attitude towards sex ... he would consider us a bit crazy limiting a natural function of the human being.
So wud an ancient Greek, I wud be tempted to believe. I mean, you just look at their statues, it wud be quite obvious what they were thinkin of practically all the time.
Sep 2017
I think that, if an individual has an unhealthy mindset about or isn't comfortable with their own sexuality then it's going to be a "problem" regardless of the historical period being discussed.

Abrahamic religions from the 1st century CE onward served as one of the only coherent means of education for a lot of their worshippers and so they effectively propagated an unhealthy mindset about sexuality. A critical reading of the works of Paul the Apostle or Augustine of Hippo supports the interpretation that those two had deep rooted psycho-sexual issues. Following Augustine's confessions the thread becomes more and more common.

Pagans on the other hand don't have that organized framework, so they're not being dragged down by the issues of influential individuals and they're also not giving other individuals who are on the fence a reason to seek them out.


Ad Honorem
Sep 2012
Most religions have attempted to "regulate" sex, introducing all kinds of taboos and prohibitions

Typically humans introduce regulations -whether religious or legal- when something bothers them (for example when there were enough non smokers, smoking started to be regulated)

Should we then conclude that in ancient times humans were hyper active sexually (and the collateral damage would have been among other things all kinds of fights over sexual partners) and that then created a need for strict regulations ?
The first well known attempt to regulate sex is from the Rigveda, in the Yam- Yamee Samvad or the dialogue between the two siblings Yam ( also spelt as Yama ) and his sister Yamee. Yamee desires sex with her brother Yama, who refuses it saying that it is wrong to have sex between a brother and his sister. Importantly he states that such a relation is prohibited by the Gods. Consequently, Yamee has to face refusal by her brother.