PLEASURE & PAIN
Heart of Culture
Throughout history, sexuality has been at the very heart of every culture. But from one culture to the next, moralities towards it differ greatly. Sexual desires and the choices they bring are of utmost importance to individuals and societies as a whole.
The same issues that exist today, including dating, marriage, same-sex relations, infidelity, pornography, incest and rape, have been issues in cultures for thousands of years. The only thing different is the way in which various cultures view them in different ways. Some ancient cultures, like Rome and Egypt, were very open about sexuality. Other cultures, like China, had some very strict rules about sex.
The history of sexuality throughout the world is one of the most fascinating subjects and a great way to evaluate how far we’ve come as a society today. Studying sexuality helps us by allowing us to evaluate how our own culture views sexuality and how we might benefit from change.
Ancient Rome is legendary for its openness about sexuality. One only has to look at the sexual theatrics present in their ancient works of art to know that this is the case.
In the town of Pompeii, well know for being ravaged by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79, many of the artifacts that have survived depict unabashed sexuality. Houses belonging to upper class families were filled with frescos of men and women engaged in sex acts. Gardens displayed statues of fertility gods with exceedingly large phalluses. At the time in their imperial society, it was a mark of great wealth and stature to display such sexually explicit art in the house. Even local taverns and bordellos tried to create an air of sophistication by displaying crudely crafted sexual works.
In imperial society, many soldiers and politicians were killed by war, leaving vast fortunes to women. This gave rise to a feminist revolution that gave women great power and confidence in the sexual arena. Looking at the art of the time, it is clear to see that women took matters into their own hands and pursued pleasure just as much as men did. The gods also played an important role in sexuality. The Romans believed that sexual ecstasy was a gift from the likes of Venus, Cupid and Dionysus. They also believed that fertility gods could ward off evil spirits.
Same-sex relations for both men and women were prominent in Rome, but much like in many of today’s societies, there were some taboos that went along with it. Many of the Romans who engaged in same-sex activity were scandalized for their behavior and faced great emotional pain. Oddly enough, with all of the theatrics and open sexuality among Romans, oral sex was considered taboo, too. The act was thought of as unclean and uncivilized. But judging by displays of artwork in many places in Rome, oral sex acts frequently occurred.
While the Romans sure knew how to do a good job of it, reveling in the pleasures of sexuality was not limited to their culture alone.
The sexuality of Ancient Egypt was not only extremely open, but it was also very much without guilt. Sex was highly important between the times of birth and death, in the afterlife, and among the gods. The religion practiced by ancient Egyptians included stories of adultery, homosexuality and masturbation. There were even stories of necrophilia – or engaging in sexual activity with the bodies of the deceased.
In ancient Egypt, there were prostitutes who were sacred because of their association with the gods. Many of them were regarded as members of Egyptian high society. These women would advertise themselves by the way they dressed and would often have tattoos that indicated who they were and what they did. Egyptians placed a heavy emphasis on fertility as defining of masculinity and femininity, which is part of the reason prostitutes were not considered taboo.
Often times, young virgin girls would join performing troupes as singers and dancers, where they would experience their first sexual encounters. If they got pregnant, they would return home and instead of being punished, were actually lauded for their fertility. While pregnancy was generally considered to be a very positive thing.
Ancient Egypt was a sexually liberal place, but in places like the Far East, sexuality tended to come with more rules and regulations.
If the sexuality of Rome and Egypt can be described as relatively liberal, then it can be concluded that the sexuality of many eras of China were rather conservative and a cause for health-related concerns.
In ancient China, masturbation by men was seen as unhealthy, depleting them of their vital yang essence. Though women were allowed to masturbate freely due to an unlimited supply of yin, they were warned against using foreign objects to do so. Such objects were believed to have the ability to injure the womb and other reproductive organs. Men were thought of as having health problems if they experienced nocturnal emissions. During the Ch’in Dynasty, women were considered inferior to men and all sexual activity was confined to marriage. Sex was not considered to be recreational; it was only for the purposes of procreation and to provide a family life. In later dynasties however, Taoist influence gave way to more open sexuality and sexual literature began to flow freely through society.
Today, the sexuality found in many ancient Chinese texts is popular throughout the world, especially among Westerners.
Need & Desire
The sexual needs and desires of mankind have a long, passionate, and volatile history. It is fascinating to see how sexuality is practiced from one culture to the next, and how it evolves over the course of time. Maybe most interestingly of all is the fact that some things, in regards to sexuality, never change.