Sex in ancient Egypt functioned along a very different axis of pleasure and propriety than it does in a modern Western context, but that doesn't mean ancient Egyptians did everything they could think of - or that ancient Egypt was one nonstop party. For example, ancient Egyptians thought visual depictions of animals doing it were less offensive than human-human intercourse. Representations of intercourse with animals, with corpses, and with siblings all have a place in the story of sexuality in ancient Egypt. If you thought the Romans and Greeks were unique when it came to bumping uglies, wait until you see the ancient Egyptians.
Notably, the ancient Egyptians had strict rules about things like adultery and used early forms of birth control. They also kept records of their practices, which paved the way for advances in sexual intercourse in the centuries since.
Necrophilia Happened During The Embalming Process
Most people know ancient Egyptians practiced mummification, but the embalmers who performed the process didn't always respect the bodies. Ancient writer Herodotus recorded rumors of at least one embalmer sleeping with the corpse of a beautiful woman, which led to worries about intercourse between embalmers and the bodies of famous or particularly attractive women.
People frowned upon the practice, and if colleagues discovered an embalmer was using a corpse for carnal purposes, they denounced him. According to Herodotus, to guard against necrophilia, families did not immediately surrender the bodies of deceased women who had been great beauties. Instead, the families waited a few days so the corpse would be somewhat decomposed.
They Used Crocodile Dung And Acacia Gum For Birth Control
Like modern civilizations, ancient Egyptians wanted to have some degree of control over their family planning. It led to them creating methods of birth control. One approach detailed on ancient papyrus suggests they used gum made from acacia tree sap to "cover the mouth of the womb" during intercourse. And there is at least some corroboration for the effectiveness of this approach, as acacia gum contains lactic acid, a known spermicide.
In another method, they applied a combination of honey and sodium bicarbonate to the inside of the vagina. Another option was a diaphragm of sorts made of crocodile dung, dates, acacia, and honey.
- Photo: Louis le Grand / Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Cleopatra Reportedly Made A 'Vibrator' Out Of Bees
Cleopatra's purported sexual appetite is the stuff of legend - and Shakespeare. When the Romans came around, Cleopatra had an illegitimate son with Julius Caesar. Later, she became romantically linked to Mark Antony, which ended up costing her life. But when her bedchambers were empty, Cleopatra allegedly found other ways to entertain herself.
Rumor has it she filled either a hollowed-out gourd or an empty papyrus box (sources differ) with angry bees, then used the makeshift device as a vibrator. To be clear, the bee vibrator story has always been a rumor of unknown origin and not verifiable fact, but the theory goes that the bees swarming around inside the contraption would have caused it to vibrate and move around, making it ideal for Cleopatra's supposed purposes.
Bestiality Plays A Unique Role In Art
Notably, Egyptian hieroglyphics dating as far back as 3000 BCE depict humans sleeping with animals. Egyptian gods and goddesses often took the shape of animals, so there was a divine connection to the idea of human-animal intercourse as drawn in the glyphs. Also, ancient Egyptians considered physical acts depicted between a human and an animal less visually offensive than the same between two humans.
So some argue what looks like hieroglyphic bestiality is a coded representation of human-human intercourse.