History of Sex in Ancient Rome : 17 Facts About Roman Sex Life

Ancient Rome was the birthplace of a great civilization, that, like us, had its own sexual predilections. Much like the modern day humans, they too had fondness for prostitutes and brothels, loved being in homosexual relationships, and enjoyed marital sex to the hilt. Sex, in their times was not a dispassionate affair. Instead, Romans indulged in it for pure pleasure. In-fact they engaged in such debauchery that could make us loathe them at times. But, all said and done, Sex in ancient Rome was not always so lustful, but had deeper complexities. Sex played a very fundamental role in the culture and it is because of Romans that modern world knows about male and female sexuality in clear light.

Here is presenting before you the 17 interesting facts about Roman sex life that will definitely surprise you!

1. Incest was common in ancient Rome

 Roman Sex Life

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When writing about Roman sexuality, the topic of incest has to be mentioned as it was quite common with ancient Romans who indulged in it often, if not always. However, incestuous union weren’t given any credibility, rather, they were treated with much disrespect. The Romans called such relationships ‘nefas’ meaning ‘against the laws of god and man’. Even though incest was not acceptable, but, it was practiced, specially among the royals such as Emperor Caligula who had incestuous relations with his three sisters-Drusilla, Julia Livilla and Agrippina the Younger. The commoners however refrained from committing incest.

2. Polysexuality was common

 Roman Sex Life

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In ancient Rome, most married folks maintained polysexual relations without affecting the family’s harmony. Most couples had relations with other gendered people but lived as one family unit. It was common for both royals as well as ordinary citizens of Rome. There is one example that ought to be written about, and it involves Emperor Hadrian. He had various polysexual relations that he never disclosed to his wife Vibia Sabina who was also the emperor’s second cousin. But, things started becoming serious and rather unhappy when Hadrian fell in love with Antinous, a teenage boy with whom he had sexual relations. However, as things got heated up, Antinous disappeared, and this devastated the emperor so much so that he declared Antinous a god. He also made worship of Antinous compulsory in whole of Rome.

3. The interconnection between Rome and rape

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We can say that Rome became what is now known as ‘The Great Roman Empire’ only after it expanded and became a hub of cultural revolution. But, do you know how it expanded so majestically? How it transformed from a Pre-Republic nation to a Republic that was the seat of all learning and art? Well, rape…yes…rape!! Rape was one of the factors that played quite a big role in finding the great Roman Empire.

The Romans expanded their territory by employing the tactic of rape. The Romans followed the process of sending troops in nearby territories and ordered men to plunder not just properties but also the women. The aim of the Romans was to expand as much as possible, even if it meant raping hundreds of women from nearby regions. One such incident relating to this is the rape of Sabine women. This infamous rape incident occurred in 750 BCE and resulted in mass rapes of Sabine women. However, this incident is only a myth and no records of it have ever been found.

4. Lesbianism was not acceptable

Female Sexuality

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If you were a male in ancient Rome, you could go on gallivanting in search of pleasure, and that included seeking pleasure from the same gender. Gay relationships were acceptable and not frowned over. Men had the freedom to form homosexual relations, but, they could do so only if they were the dominant partner in the relationship and not the subordinate. A man could go on having sex with actors and prostitutes if he pleased. But, for women, things were not easy or equal. Women were looked down upon if they were found indulging in lesbian relationships, specially if they assumed the dominant role.

5. Roman men could have sex with their slaves

Roman Sexuality

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Sex in ancient Rome was all about power play and passion. Men had the freedom to sleep with their slaves. Slaves, both men and women, were used not only for doing household chores but also for carnal activities. When a Roman husband returned to find an uninterested wife, he would simply go to his slave and get his carnal needs satisfied. The law didn’t forbid men to form any kind of sexual relations with their slaves, rather, it encouraged them.

But, there was one catch. A married man was forbidden to have any kind of sexual relations with any free born person. It was practiced no doubt, but, in those ancient times, such acts were considered scandalous as free born people were considered proper human beings unlike slaves.

Also Read: 13 Famous Gay Couples in Ancient History

6. Rapes by soldiers were considered legal

Roman Sexuality

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Romans expanded wherever they went, and during their expansion campaigns, they went about plundering wealth, and people of neighboring places and territories. It was legal for soldiers of the Roman Empire to claim anything that came their way, and this included precious metals, household items, food, art and even women. The captured women of other tribes were often sold in the bigger slave market, or given to soldiers for satisfying their carnal desires. The imprisoned women slaves were raped rampantly without objection. However, soldiers could only go around raping slave women, but, not free born people. It was illegal to rape such people that weren’t slaves.