Erotic literature and art[ edit ] Romantic scene from a mosaic Villa at Centocelle, Rome, 20 BC—20 AD Ancient literature pertaining to Roman sexuality falls mainly into four categories: Information about the sex lives of the Romans is scattered in historiography , oratory , philosophy, and writings on medicine , agriculture , and other technical topics.
Ovid lists a number of writers known for salacious material whose works are now lost. Ovid calls the book a collection of misdeeds crimina , and says the narrative was laced with dirty jokes. Just as venerable figures of men, painted by the hand of an artist, are resplendent in our houses, so too there is a small painting tabella  in some spot which depicts various couplings and sexual positions: In the 3rd century, celibacy had become an ideal among the growing number of Christians, and Church Fathers such as Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria debated whether even marital sex should be permitted for procreation.
The sexuality of martyrology focuses on tests against the Christian's chastity  and sexual torture; Christian women are more often than men subjected to sexual mutilation, in particular of the breasts. Sexuality was an important category of Roman religious thought.
The Dii Consentes were a council of deities in male—female pairs, to some extent Rome's equivalent to the Twelve Olympians of the Greeks. Cicero held that the desire libido to procreate was "the seedbed of the republic", as it was the cause for the first form of social institution, marriage. Marriage produced children and in turn a "house" domus for family unity that was the building block of urban life.
The February Lupercalia , celebrated as late as the 5th century of the Christian era , included an archaic fertility rite. The Floralia featured nude dancing. At certain religious festivals throughout April, prostitutes participated or were officially recognized. The iconography links deities of love and desire with military success and religious authority; Sulla adopted the title Epaphroditus, "Aphrodite's own", before he became a dictator.
The god Liber understood as the "Free One" oversaw physiological responses during sexual intercourse. When a male assumed the toga virilis , "toga of manhood," Liber became his patron ; according to the love poets, he left behind the innocent modesty pudor of childhood and acquired the sexual freedom libertas to begin his course of love.
Roman art and literature continued the Hellenistic treatment of mythological figures having sex as humanly erotic and at times humorous, often removed from the religious dimension. Incestum[ edit ] A Vestal Incestum that which is "not castum" is an act that violates religious purity,  perhaps synonymous with that which is nefas , religiously impermissible.
A Vestal's loss of castitas ruptured Rome's treaty with the gods pax deorum ,  and was typically accompanied by the observation of bad omens prodigia. Prosecutions for incestum involving a Vestal often coincide with political unrest, and some charges of incestum seem politically motivated: When Clodius Pulcher dressed as a woman and intruded on the all-female rites of the Bona Dea , he was charged with incestum.
In early Rome, stuprum was a disgraceful act in general, or any public disgrace, including but not limited to illicit sex. Raptio The English word "rape" derives ultimately from the Latin verb rapio, rapere, raptus, "to snatch, carry away, abduct" the words rapt, rapture, and raptor still have the same meaning. In Roman law, raptus or raptio meant primarily kidnapping or abduction;  the mythological "rape" of the Sabine women is a form of bride abduction in which sexual violation is a secondary issue.
Before the word "rape" acquired its modern strictly sexual meaning, the verb meant simply to seize something or someone by force; this usage persisted at least into the early 19th century.
The "abduction" of an unmarried girl from her father's household in some circumstances was a matter of the couple eloping without her father's permission to marry. Rape in the English sense was more often expressed as stuprum committed through violence or coercion cum vi or per vim. As laws pertaining to violence were codified toward the end of the Republic, raptus ad stuprum, "abduction for the purpose of committing a sex crime", emerged as a legal distinction.
Healing and magic[ edit ] Votive offerings from Pompeii representing breasts, penises, and a uterus Divine aid might be sought in private religious rituals along with medical treatments to enhance or block fertility, or to cure diseases of the reproductive organs. Votive offerings vota ; compare ex-voto in the form of breasts and penises have been found at healing sanctuaries.
A private ritual under some circumstances might be considered "magic", an indistinct category in antiquity. In his Book 33 De medicamentis, Marcellus of Bordeaux , a contemporary of Ausonius,  collected more than 70 sexually related treatments—for growths and lesions on the testicles and penis, undescended testicles , erectile dysfunction , hydrocele , "creating a eunuch without surgery",  ensuring a woman's fidelity, and compelling or diminishing a man's desire—some of which involve ritual procedures: Keep the tail closed up in the palm of the same hand until it dies and touch the woman and her private parts when you have intercourse with her.
Its root, pounded to a paste and drunk in vinegar for ten consecutive days, has the astonishing effect of turning a boy into a eunuch. Then join the sapling together again and seal it with cow manure and other dressings, so that the parts that were split may intermingle within themselves more easily. The speed with which the sapling grows together and its scar forms will determine how quickly the swollen veins of the boy will return to health.
The extent to which theorizing about sex actually affected behavior is debatable, even among those who were attentive to the philosophical and medical writings that presented such views. This elite discourse, while often deliberately critical of common or typical behaviors, at the same time cannot be assumed to exclude values broadly held within the society. Epicurean sexuality[ edit ] "Nor does he who avoids love lack the fruit of Venus but rather chooses goods which are without a penalty; for certainly the pleasure from this is more pure for the healthy than for the wretched.
For indeed, at the very moment of possession, the hot passion of lovers fluctuates with uncertain wanderings and they are undecided what to enjoy first with eyes and hands. They tightly press what they have sought and cause bodily pain, and often drive their teeth into little lips and give crushing kisses, because the pleasure is not pure and there are goads underneath which prod them to hurt that very thing, whatever it is, from which those [torments] of frenzy spring.
Yeats , describing the translation by Dryden , called it "the finest description of sexual intercourse ever written. His didactic poem De rerum natura is a presentation of Epicurean philosophy within the Ennian tradition of Latin poetry. Epicureanism is both materialist and hedonic. The highest good is pleasure, defined as the absence of physical pain and emotional distress. Desires are ranked as those that are both natural and necessary, such as hunger and thirst; those that are natural but unnecessary, such as sex; and those that are neither natural nor necessary, including the desire to rule over others and glorify oneself.
In the Epicurean view, sexuality arises from impersonal physical causes without divine or supernatural influence. The onset of physical maturity generates semen, and wet dreams occur as the sexual instinct develops.
The engorgement of the genitals creates an urge to ejaculate, coupled with the anticipation of pleasure. The body's response to physical attractiveness is automatic, and neither the character of the person desired nor one's own choice is a factor. With a combination of scientific detachment and ironic humor, Lucretius treats the human sex drive as muta cupido, "dumb desire", comparing the physiological response of ejaculation to the blood spurting from a wound.
Both man and woman, he says, produce genital fluids that mingle in a successful procreative act. The characteristics of the child are formed by the relative proportions of the mother's "seed" to the father's. A child who most resembles its mother is born when the female seed dominates the male's, and vice versa; when neither the male nor female seed dominates, the child will have traits of both mother and father evenly.
Some Greek Stoics privileged same-sex relations between a man and a younger male partner   see " Pederasty in ancient Greece ". However, stoics in the Roman Imperial era departed from the view of human beings as "communally sexual animals"  and emphasized sex within marriage,  which as an institution helped sustain social order. Roman-era Stoics such as Seneca and Musonius Rufus , both active about years after Lucretius, emphasized "sex unity" over the polarity of the sexes.
Dimorphism exists, according to Musonius, simply to create difference, and difference in turn creates the desire for a complementary relationship, that is, a couple who will bond for life for the sake of each other and for their children. The argument, then, is not that sexual freedom is a human good, but that men as well as women should exercise sexual restraint. The only justification for sex is reproduction within marriage. The elements derive from the semina, "seeds," that are generated by heaven; "love" brings together the elements in the act of creation, like the sexual union of male and female.
The toga , by contrast, distinguished the body of the sexually privileged adult Roman male. The disapproval of nudity was thus less a matter of trying to suppress inappropriate sexual desire than of dignifying and marking the citizen's body. When statues of Roman generals nude in the manner of Hellenistic kings first began to be displayed, they were shocking not simply because they exposed the male figure, but because they evoked concepts of royalty and divinity that were contrary to Republican ideals of citizenship as embodied by the toga.
In art produced under Augustus, the programmatic adoption of Hellenistic and Neo-Attic style led to more complex signification of the male body shown nude, partially nude, or costumed in a muscle cuirass. In the 2nd century BC, Cato preferred not to bathe in the presence of his son, and Plutarch implies that for Romans of these earlier times it was considered shameful for mature men to expose their bodies to younger males.