Ancient Rome's Dirty Little Secret: Sex in the City

04 May, 2021
Blog post image

Ancient Rome was known for its grandiose architecture, powerful military, and influential political leaders. But what many people don't know is that the city was also home to a thriving sex industry. Prostitution was legal in Ancient Rome, and there were even brothels located in the city center. In this blog post, I will explore the sexual culture of Ancient Rome and discuss some of the most shocking aspects of it!


Sex and Religion

Sex was celebrated publicly in religious festivals, where prostitutes would play a central role. The festival known as the Floralia, in honor of the goddess Flora would include nude dancing and sexual plays. 


Marriage and Infidelity

The Romans may have brought us Valentine’s Day but their ancient notion of love may not sound as romantic. In fact, marriage for most Romans was only for procreation or financial purposes. That means romantic love or sexual gratification between spouses was unusual and rare.


Sex and Morality

In ancient Rome, male sexuality was characterized by a higher degree of freedom as extramarital affairs were not frowned upon, and men frequented brothels in a public and open fashion. However, men were also held to a certain standard of virtue, and the unwritten code of moral conduct known as mos maiorum, in which masculinity was characterized by self-control and indulgence in excess was highly condemned. 



Although Roman law did not recognize same-sex marriage, these kinds of relationships were quite common in ancient roman culture. Sex between free or married powerful men with male prostitutes or slaves was considered acceptable. However, the penetrated or “passive” man was deemed weak and emasculated compared to the dominating freeborn.

Since lesbian sex does not contain penetration, the dominating male’s role, both women were condemned. Depictions of lesbian sex in the Imperial era by male writers are mostly penetration-oriented as well, picturing one of the women penetrating the other using a dildo or her unusually large clitoris. The dominating woman was thought to wear men’s clothes, adopt a male’s attitude and behavior, and desire penetrative sex with both men and women.


Final Thoughts

Conditional freedom, idolizing gods, and the evolution of the political and social culture, all heavily influenced Roman sexuality. As I dig deep into what sex was like in Ancient Rome, I understand more and more about the culture of a society, which is considered one of the most iconic in the world.



Use of cookies

By using you are consenting to us using cookies to enhance your experience.