Sex throughout the ages.

On any sunny day at Wreck Beach, the sand is seething with men and women of all shapes and sizes, some in swimsuits, but mostly naked. This appears to be sexuality at its peak: slightly naughty nudists secretly hoping to catch a stranger’s eye. However, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and sex, would disagree. The way she entered the world was far more scandalous than Wreck Beach and the Taboo Sex show put together. So what can this Goddess, who emerged from the foaming semen of her father’s castrated testicles, teach today’s lovers about how sex has changed? She can serve as a reminder that X-rated sex is nothing new; in fact, it has actually been toned down significantly.

Sex in Ancient Greece from the early 6th to the 4th century was more than a way to pass the time on a Friday night. The act of sex was considered to be an art form, and even beyond that, an act of worship towards Aphrodite. Prostitution was a sacred event back in these days; having sex with Aphrodite’s female priestesses (more commonly known as hetaerae) was one form of worship. Making Aphrodite happy was a lucrative thing in those days, since many Greeks believed that she was responsible for how much sex they had, as well as for procreation. Girls who had sex for money weren’t looked down upon as “whores” or “hookers” at that time, but rather, they were viewed as invaluable priestesses of Aphrodite, the sex momma herself. Prostitutes were the most important women in Greece, well educated and free to leave their homes at anytime to go see plays, attend banquets, or participate in debates.

An ancient Greek sex life wasn’t complete without a little bestiality as well. This was not just an occasional rowdy romp, either; there is evidence of frequent instances of humping horses, sleeping with snakes, and engaging with elephants. Men had sex with dogs, cats, and pretty much any other animal that they could work into their bedroom. This was not viewed as disgusting or degrading; it was actually elevated in ancient Greek artwork. These were paintings that were framed inside the house, and displayed as fabulous works of art. One of the most famous paintings was Michelangelo’s Leda and the Swan, which is a depiction of a swan and a woman engaging in sex. In Ancient Greece, having sex with animals actually proved that you held a high status in society.

It wasn’t only the 4th to 6th century Greeks that had sex practices that would be deemed unusual by today’s standards. Take the Romans of this era for instance. Not only did they engage in vigorous amounts of prostitution, but they also promoted incest. Women and children were all viewed as the husband’s “belongings,” which aided in making it completely acceptable for men to sleep with their wife and their children, often even at the same time. During the annual Bacchanalian festivals to worship of the Roman god Bacchus (the god of wine), exuberant displays of both heterosexual and homosexual intercourse were encouraged. The festival revolved around orgies, nude dancing, and incredible amounts of drinking and sex. Over-reproduction became quite a problem, logically, which lead to the invention of the first contraception. The two weapons of choice for birth control were mouse dung in the form of a liniment, or pigeon droppings mixed with oil and wine—both of which were applied to the female.

In contrast to the Greeks’ and Roman’s patriarchal views of sex, a very different culture arose in ancient Mesopotamia, from the early 5th century to the early 6th century. Instead of the belief that men ruled their children, wives, and animals, Mesopotamia was the other way around. Ishtar, the primary goddess of Mesopotamia, was the ruler over everything: sex, life, birth, health, and even war. This matriarchal society viewed war as belonging to Ishtar, which translates to war belonging to the females. After a war was won, the typical celebration was a victory feast, served to the lounging women by their male servants, followed by a night of victory sex.

These cultures certainly weren’t the only ones with liberal sex lives. In ancient Indian culture, raunchy sex was not only practiced, but it was written down for future generations to enjoy. The Kama Sutra, a famous book by Vatsyayana, is one of the survivors of these works of literature. It details the 64 “acts of pleasure,” complete with diagrams and how-to instructions. While it is widely accessible today, in Ancient India, this book was not made available to everyone. A person’s sex life depended on the caste they were born into; people of the higher castes had access to this book, along with all the other diverse sex literature. However, for those in the lower castes, there were set restrictions on sexual behaviour. This was an extreme sexual hierarchy: the higher the caste, the more information was available about sex, and there were abundant options for how to practice it. Bestiality, transgenderism, homosexuality, and necrophilia were common. Those that ranked high got everything, as far as sex was concerned.

Eventually, all of this raunchy sex slowed down as the crusades came. Religious beliefs suppressed sexuality, and by the time of the Victorian Era, the purity of the wife figure was promoted, which led to an extreme lack of sex throughout all society. According to English journalist Marcus Field, once-a-month sex was generally considered more than enough for a man and wife to engage in, and much beyond that was viewed as immoral and striking away from the norm. Little or no marital sex ended up leading to more prostitution, and unlike in ancient Greece, prostitution was not seen as an art form, but as an act of necessity. The “purity” of the Victorian wives led to a society inhabited by less than two million people with over 80,000 of them prostitutes, many of whom inherited innumerable STDs.

Comparatively, today’s cyber-sex and X-rated sex shops aren’t quite as extreme as bestiality and legal prostitution. However, these ancient cultures were ridden with rape cases, unhappy marriages, and sexual diseases. In current times, though certain fetishes still abound, many of these ancient sexual conventions are frowned upon, and some, most notably bestiality, are even illegal.

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