Weird History What Sex Was Like in Ancient Rome  

Aaron Edwards
1.4M views 17 items

If one were to base knowledge of Roman history on film and television, it's easy to think the entire civilization was a giant "adult get-together" interrupted by the occasional gladiatorial match. 

But sexuality in ancient Rome was actually far more complicated than lustful parties. It played an important part in culture, as pleasure and a fundamental tenet of society. In many ways, Rome wasn't so different from today's world: it had "professionals" of various classes, there were same-gender relationships, and people really loved seeing depictions of "the act." 

But, like diving too far on even one's most trusted 18+ site, there was also a dark side.

The civilization's use of slavery meant millions were mistreated on a constant basis. Everyone from soldiers to political figures was responsible, as power extended far beyond dominion over slaves. 

Still, it's hard not to be impressed with the progressive outlook many Romans had regarding the subject. It was a view that would change drastically as the Empire embraced Christianity, and headed into the Middle Ages. Read on to learn how it was viewed in ancient Rome, and pick up a few Roman sex facts to impress your friends. 

Rape Played a Major Role in Founding Rome

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Photo: Jacques Stella/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In most history books, there isn't much talk about Rome in the days before it became a Republic. You could consider pre-Republic Rome a nation of thugs. Because of their vast power, Romans expanded their territory (and numbers) by targeting neighboring city-states, and simply taking what they wanted, including people. One of the most infamous examples of this was the rape of the Sabine women, an incident that occurred in 750 BCE, after Romans decided they needed a population boost. 

Their solution? Abduct and impregnate women from the neighboring Sabine tribes.  And thus began the cultural melting pot that was Rome. 

Being Gay Was Cool, Being a Lesbian Was Not

In ancient Rome, men were completely free to have same-gender relations, but there were a few catches. First, the only way to do it openly (and not lose one's social standing) was to be the dominant partner in the relationship. In which case, you could freely engage with whomever you pleased. This included slaves, working girls, even actors.

However, men and women were certainly not of equal standing. Because of strict gender roles, Romans frowned upon women taking on any kind of dominant role in society. Thus, these kinds of acts between women typically involved a man as well, as the act of penetration was a symbol of power.

The Stoics Preferred Lovemaking for Social Stability

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Photo:  Pierre-Selim /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The stoics of Rome didn't really like the idea of having relations for the sake of pleasure. To them, it was an act of affection that bonded people together, and kept family units stable. According to stoic philosophers, it was a natural, but unnecessary, desire. It should not be denied, but should be approached with a clear, rational mind, so as not to cloud judgment or reason. 

The stoics also emphasized the equality of all people, including slaves and women, Therefore, as per the stoic view, "the deed" should never infringe upon the freedom or will of an individual. 

Infidelity Could Mean Death for Women

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Photo: Hans Makart/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Rome had a pretty bad double standard when it came to cheating on your spouse. Women were expected to let husbands go philandering, but the minute a woman cheated, she had hell to pay.

Wives were seen as the dutiful family servants who existed to make babies. Women had few rights, and the minute they became unfaithful in male-dominated society, they were beaten or, in some cases, killed.