Eskimo sexuality is very tribal and, before outside influences changed it, Eskimo customs and traditions like wife-swapping (sound familiar, Mongols?) and wild parties (hey, the Romans did that too!) were common. To offer one's wife to a guest was an aspect of hospitality that had spiritual and practical implications, and the very somber and respected tradition of wife-swapping was often accompanied by shamanistic rituals.
Despite the open sexuality and frank conversations about marriage within Eskimo culture, other topics, such as those who identify as LGBTQ, have remained taboo (although not quite the "disease" it was thought to be during the Depression). However, ideas about gays and lesbians are changing within Eskimo communities.
Even the term "Eskimo" itself is not without its challenges. Sometimes considered to be an over-generalization or even offensive, the term "Eskimo" refers to natives of Arctic regions of the north and subarctic parts of of North America, Greenland, and Siberia. Eskimo is an umbrella for specific groups and tribes known as Inuits, Aleuts, Yupik, or numerous other names depending on location as well as linguistic and cultural background.
Keeping different tribes and unique aspects in mind, here's some general history about sex, Eskimo-style.
Eskimo Men Let Their 'Brothers' Sleep With Their Wives
Within the close relationships between men in Eskimo cultures, there was sharing of food, supplies, and other goods, especially when they were out on a hunt. Men considered their companions to be "brothers" and shared everything, including, sometimes, their wives. This custom had additional implications. Sometimes, when a man was out on a hunt, "his friends think they’re doing his wife a favor by dropping in to ease her loneliness," according to one polar memoir. Wife-swapping could take the form of co-marriage, which was a more structured arrangement between two couples that exchanged partners.
'Eskimo Kisses' Aren't Really Romantic Gestures
You may have heard of "Eskimo kisses" or even given someone that cute rub of the nose that is a sign of affection. In Eskimo communities, however, the kunik - rubbing your nose on someone — is a common greeting and an action that is common between family members. According to David Joanasi, an information officer of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami: "When you’re an infant and a little kid, your parents and grandparents and older siblings sniff you and rub your face with their nose," which removes the sexual aspect of it entirely. This doesn't mean that a good nose-rubbing can't be intimate —it is — it's just not something that is found in adult intercourse.
Becoming Pregnant By A Man Other Than One's Husband Was No Big Deal
Because intercourse with another man's wife was common, it was possible that a woman would become pregnant with a child that wasn't her husbands. This wasn't shunned, however, and children could be as communal as wives. According to the memoir of one English girl who grew up among First Nations tribes in Greenland,
"If a woman fell pregnant by a man other than her husband in the community, there was no stigma. It wasn’t like suburban wife-swapping. It was a question of survival. Equally if a couple were childless, it wasn’t uncommon for another family to give them a child, whom they’d love as their own, to raise."
Polygamy Was Common For Some Wealthy Eskimos
Having more than one wife was a sign that a man could afford to provide for numerous women, a testament to his wealth. When Christianity was introduced to Eskimo populations, polygamy declined, but did not disappear.
Polyandry was not as well-known in Eskimo communities, but wife-swapping could be considered a form of the practice. Absent permanent residence together, these relationships still involved one woman and more than one man. Some scholars see polyandry as a form of adultery, however.