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Sex and the Romans (And Dinosaurs, Too!)

■ 14 February 2013 by James Martin

After reading an article about those darned romantic dinosaurs that speculated on ways the big boys might have had sex many millenia before the olden days and realizing a bit late, as is the usual failing of many of my own sex, that it was Valentine’s day, I figured it was time to say something about sex and Romans before the calendar flopped over and the desire for the topic waned. Besides, sex is good for page views.

odd roman sex frescoThis desire to let it all hang out comes on the heels of the Penn Museum’s racy Valentine’s day event called Fifty Shades of Pompeii. Pompeii was a Roman resort town which has some pretty interesting graphic graphics on its walls.

Since its release in 2011, E. L. James’ erotic novel series “Fifty Shades of Grey” has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide. The books have enthralled readers with salacious tales of sexual bondage, sadism, and masochism.

But when it comes to risqué behavior, James ain’t got nothing on the art of the Ancient Roman Empire.

No sir! The bedrooms of well-to-do Romans were absolutely plastered with frescoes of folks doin’ the nasty. Cheap oil lamps were produced by the thousands in Ostia with every sexual position imaginable found in bas-relief on top right where the wick fits in. The Penn article hints at why we see all these things when everybody knows God will smite people who don’t use the missionary position only to make babies. According to C. Brian Rose (a name just fit for Valentines day and I didn’t make it up!), a professor of classical studies:

“One of the reasons that the Romans didn’t find the depiction of such a wide variety of sexual practices objectionable is that their gods were doing the same thing,” he says.

I think it’s about time we had a god or gods like that.

rome bedroom frescoImagine, in our time God has changed from the Christian God of forgiveness and light to a deity out for vengeance every time a gay couple tries to get married and who will smite us all if we don’t renounce the practice and make life miserable for others who do.

So, if God can be changed this easily and quickly, why can’t we change him back? What if the narrow minded people who speak for God suddenly changed God’s voice so that he says something like, “Well now, I created those ugly appendages dangling off Adam and his kind and golly gee whiz I’d be remiss if I were to tell these people not to use them and all. There is happiness to consider! Besides, they should be hidden away from sight!”

But really, “God’s” distaste for sex can be easily traced to the Romans. The folks who committed the blasphemy of speaking for God at that time were looking for a hook into people’s souls, a way to control them that the government wasn’t using. They found it in sex, which the Romans hadn’t gotten around to making laws against. So the early Christians ran with the idea and sex negativity has been the norm for a great long while.

So anyway, I’ve posted a couple of framed bedroom pictures from Rome for your immediate titillation. It’s good for you—on this day especially. Don’t let the folks who talk for God give you any guff.

Another inspiration for this article is this: Japan town demands underwear for Michelangelo’s David. Are people nuts?

Sex and the Romans (And Dinosaurs, Too!) originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Feb 14, 2013, © James Martin.

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