Why So Much Sex?


You may be thinking as you browse the various titles here, why so much sex? The seductive moonings of innocent young landowners 1, man-on-man lovin’2, slave-girl sex (consensual and not)3, cheating wives who murder their husbands and are subsequently killed by their sons (I guess that might be hot to somebody)4, ancient lingerie (eww)5, sex with castration and trans-sex6, man, I even talk about Earth sex7! Am I a sex-crazed maniac?

Um, not so much.Leda, by Louys

Actually, the whole field of gender and sexuality in ancient Greece and Rome is so valid that I actually took a class with that very title as an undergrad. And, though many of our founding mothers and fathers weren’t so keen on discussing it (they much preferred to read Thucydides apparently), sex happens a lot. And, with varying degrees of licentiousness, the Greeks tended to include that important facet of their lives in their stories.

Sure, sure, you might protest, but why do you have to spend so much time talking about it? Well, for one thing, because it’s so often misrepresented everywhere. I mean, people love the idea of coming a finding an Archetypal Goddess (don’t let me stop you, more power to you!), but rarely do they bother to look into why Athena, Artemis, and Hestia stay virgins (although the goddesses’ chastity is often cited by such people as proof of their righteous independence). And let’s not leave the blame with just the well-intentioned new-fans, think of movies like the movie 300 with it’s “Athenians? Boy lovers!” comment and, like, every other contemporary homophobic and/or misogynist reframing of the heroic masculine Classical myths.

The truth is, I am personally interested in gender and sexuality outside of the Classical context (in part because people remain as shockingly badly informed about these things in our own times and places just as much as about a culture we are still trying to piece together), so that is definitely part of why I keep bringing it up, too. And, because, hey! Prude or promiscuous, learning about other people’s sex lives is titillating! And finally, perhaps most importantly, there’s so much sex in ancient Greek myths that no collection, no matter how “kid-friendly”, can avoid the subject matter completely. What’s the best way to deal with this? Enjoy it!


3 responses to “Why So Much Sex?”

  1. Great post!

    Were you getting a lot of flack for talking about sex or is this a preemptive strike? 😉
    Oh, it was totally preemptive. I have gotten flack in the past about information on the main site for not being more … I don’t know … removed? about the questions of pleasure in the context of women in greek myths – especially the idea of showing the art I do given that young people visit the site. But I guess I just wanted to speak to the issue directly before readers started wondering why I keep bringing it up.

    Would you still be so interested in this topic if people weren’t so misinformed about sex?
    I honestly cannot imagine living in that world. Even in my very liberal college where people tended to be much better informed, half of that was as a reaction to the rest of the world. I suspect that I would remain interested in sex insofar as it plays a role in the construction of people’s identities – on the cultural level as well as individually – but I bet I would bring it up a whole lot less if I thought people knew more about it.

    I noticed your entry on male geishas, and one of the first things that occurred to me was that if it had taken place in ancient Greece, the clients would have still been men. I mean, Ganymede (young attractive Cupbearer of the Gods abducted for his hotness by Zeus) is like totally the male geisha of Mt. Olympus. Thank you for the great questions!

  2. Personally? I think it’s important for people to talk about sex so that we get over the distinction of “talking about sex.”

    I’m not saying I want the public sphere to become more eroticized. On the contrary, I think that the key to sexual ethics is consent, and that includes consent to exposure.

    But sex as subject is not the same thing as sex as object. The more we talk about the subject of sex without shame, the more we draw the distinction between sex as a subject worthy of consideration and sex as the objective of any/all conversations about sex.

    Because: When sex is taboo, even the discussion of sexual pathologies TURNS US ON. And because we’re ashamed of that, we reinforce those taboos.

    Sexuality is fundamental to human identity, and therefore intrinsic to culture and society. We are only now exiting the period in which the very act of discussing it was revolutionary.

    So keep talking.

  3. I teach a high school class on mythology, freshmen though seniors. Gods, titans, and people (oh my!) are all the time “aggresively holding hands.” You can’t avoid it. You can’t teach Theseus and the minotaur without students wanting to know where the minotaur came from. Not to mention Zeus using animal shapes to lure women.

    This is not just in the Greek and Romans either. In the Norse we have Freyja sleeping with four dwarves just to get a necklace. We have Loki, in disguise as a mare, having an unfortunate encounter with a rather horny horse. Or how about in Australia where Yalungur castrates himself to see what it feels like to be a woman and uses a wooden doll to see what this pregnancy deal is like. Pretty much every culture has the sky and the earth constantly trying to get at each other. You’re right, these stories are so closely connected to the other stories we have, there is no way you can teach/read/understand them unless the sex is addressed, at least in a basic form.

    Plus, every one of my students remember the sex stories better than anything else. I guess there isn’t too much difference between ancient times and now.

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