What Made Ancient Rome So Sexually Weird

Ancient Rome has long been regarded as one of the most sexually permissive cultures in the ancient world. From orgies to phallic worship, Rome was a culture that embraced sex in all its forms and had a fascination with sex that was unparalleled in the ancient world.

One of the primary contributing factors to Rome’s open approach to sex was its polytheistic religion. The pantheon of Roman gods is dominated by sexual imagery and stories, such as Jupiter’s taking human form to rape the Sabine women or his many affairs with mortal women. This religion seems to have had little moral or ethical concerns when it came to sex and shows a culture where conducting sexual activities was considered normal and healthy.

Another significant factor in Rome’s sexual habits was the social structure of its citizens. Women and men enjoyed relative gender equality in Rome, and there were no taboos against men and women having intimate relations outside of marriage. This freedom allowed for heterosexual and homosexual partnerships, although homosexual relationships were seen as more acceptable for men than for women. Additionally, most Romans were averse to marriage, instead preferring casual affairs and multiple partners.

Rome also had a set of sexual rules and norms that were distinct from those of the rest of the ancient world. Prostitution, for example, was considered a perfectly legitimate form of employment, while adultery was severely punished and even considered a public crime. Rome also placed a heavy emphasis on sexual pleasure, with a number of sexual gadgets and tools designed to enhance pleasure, such as the olla, a device to keep food warm during sex.

The Romans were no strangers to the practice of pederasty, with many high-ranking men engaging in sexual relationships with young boys. This practice was not, however, considered to be a particularly scandalous one, as it was seen as a way of cultivating young men into the perfect Roman citizens. In some cases, these relationships even had a social and political dimension and are often compared to the mentor-mentee relationships seen among the ancient Greeks.

Roman attitudes toward sex were also heavily informed by their strong belief in fertility. From rituals that sought to ensure fertility in women to gods and goddesses who were devoted to childbirth and fertility, Rome had a strong respect for the power of procreation. This reverence for fertility also spilled over into Romans’ views on marriage, which were dictated by a desire to ensure the continuity of the family line.

Finally, it is worth noting that many of Rome’s sexual oddities can be attributed to the influence of foreign cultures. Due to Rome’s expansive empire, its citizens were exposed to a variety of different cultures and practices, some of which were adopted, while others were seen as exotic and strange. This is most evident in the Bacchanalia, a wild and orgiastic ritual that originated in Greece and was later adopted by the Romans.

The Spread of Roman Sexual Culture

The Roman attitude towards sex was heavily influenced by their conquests throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. As the Roman Empire grew, so too did the spread of its sexual culture, with many of the customs and practices being adopted by the local peoples. This spread of Roman culture had a major impact on the development of sexual norms and practices in the countries and cultures that came under Roman control. For example, the brothels that were commonplace in Rome were soon established throughout the empire, while public bathers were known to practice public nudity and engage in sexual activities in more reserved locations.

This influence of Roman culture was also seen in other aspects of sex life such as marriage. Roman courtship rituals were often adopted by local cultures, while traditional Roman marriage ceremonies, such as the spondae, were often imitated by these peoples. Additionally, Roman concepts of adultery and divorce soon became common in the regions that were under Roman rule.

The influence of Roman sexual culture also left a lasting imprint on Christian thought and practice. Many of the Church’s ideas on marriage, adultery and sexuality were informed by the Roman model, with many Christian theologians relying heavily on Roman law and philosophy when formulating their own views. To this day, the legacy of Roman sexual culture can be seen in the religious practices and beliefs of many Christian denominations.

Changing Roman Attitudes Towards Sex

The Roman attitude towards sex changed over time and was heavily influenced by the political, social and religious changes that took place throughout the empire. For example, the rise of Christianity gradually brought more conservative views on sex and marriage, with monogamy now being viewed as the most accepted form of sexual relationship. Additionally, as the empire became increasingly centralized, laws and customs around sex became stricter and more oppressive.

This shift in attitudes can also be seen in the art of the time. During the early days of the Roman Republic, nudity and sexual imagery were commonplace, with many works of art featuring explicit depictions of sexual activities. As time went on, however, the depictions of sex in art become more subtle and suggestive, with many of the explicit scenes being replaced by more conservative ones.

The decline of the Roman Empire also saw a decline in the influence of foreign cultures on Rome’s sexual culture. Foreign religions and customs, such as the Bacchanalia, were gradually replaced by more conservative ones, and Rome’s sexually liberated attitude was starting to give way to a more rigid, moralistic one.

Although the Roman attitude towards sex changed over the centuries, it is clear that, in its heyday, Rome was a culture that embraced and celebrated sex in all its forms. From phallic cults and orgies to a strong belief in the power of procreation and fertility, Rome was undoubtedly one of the most sexually open civilizations of its time.

The Continued Influence of Roman Sexual Culture

The legacy of Roman sexual culture in the ancient world is undeniable, and its influence can still be seen today. Much of our modern understanding of sex and marriage has its origins in Roman sexual culture, and many of the customs that we take for granted today such as monogamy, divorce, and adultery have their roots in Roman laws and beliefs. Additionally, Roman concepts of fertility, childbirth, and family have had a lasting impact on many cultures, with certain aspects of Rome’s sexual culture, such as the olla, still in use today.

The impact of Rome’s sexually liberated culture has also been felt in more modern societies. Concepts of free love, sexual liberation and gender equality, which are now common in many Western societies, can trace their roots back to the sexual culture of Rome. Additionally, the wide acceptance of homosexuality, bisexuality and other types of non-heterosexual relationships can be attributed to the openness of Roman attitudes towards sex.

It is clear that Rome’s sexual culture had a major influence on the development of sexual practices and attitudes in the ancient world. The sexually permissive attitude of the Romans has had a lasting impact on many cultures, and its legacy can still be felt today.

Modern Examples of Sexuality in Roman Culture

Today, one of the most visible examples of Roman sexual culture is in the art and literature of the time. Works of art from the period, such as the Villa of the Mysteries or the often explicit graffiti from Pompeii, show the prevalence of sexual imagery and themes in Roman art. Additionally, literature from the time is often filled with references to Roman sexual customs and beliefs, such as the Satyricon, which paints a vivid picture of Roman sexuality both in its more bawdy and its more respectable forms.

Other examples of Roman sexual culture can be found in the archaeological record. The many temples, shrines and statues that remain from the Roman era often contain sexual imagery and references. Additionally, recent excavations of Roman sites have revealed evidence of erotic practices and rituals, such as the discovery of a number of phallic figures at the sites of two Pompeiian brothels.

Finally, it is worth noting that modern Rome still retains many aspects of its ancient sexual culture. From the numerous sex shops and strip clubs to the annual fertility festival of Lupercalia, it is clear that Rome’s sexually permissive culture is still very much alive. This can be seen in the many passionate festivals and celebrations that are held every year in the city, as well as in the continued presence of sex and sexuality in the art and literature of the time.


The sexual culture of Rome was undoubtedly one of the most open and progressive of the ancient world, with a number of customs and beliefs that were distinct from those of the surrounding societies. This culture had a lasting influence on the development of sexual practices and attitudes in the ancient world, and its legacy can still be seen today in the beliefs and customs of many cultures. The influence of Roman sexual culture can still be felt today in the art and literature of the period, as well as in the customs and traditions of modern Rome.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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