In ancient Greece, women were relegated to passive roles in sexual relationships. Pederastical relationships between older men and young boys were common.
Effeminacy was considered beyond the pale – para phusin, “outside nature” – and was a violation of the Greek ideal of the virile, dominating male. Many men hired prostitutes and had pallakae (concubines). Some even attended symposia to hire hetairai, who could dance, play music, and talk.
Greeks were known for their advancements in philosophy, politics, art, and literature but they also practiced some sexual practices that would be considered strange today. They didn’t see sex as something that should be morally wrong and instead viewed it as a natural urge like hunger or thirst. They also weren’t afraid to display their nudity and erotic scenes were commonplace in statues, on vases, and even on drinking cups (kylixes). In fact, a Greek statesman once was executed for chopping off Hermes’ phallus on an important statue.
Despite this openness, ancient Greeks did have some strict sexual laws, such as rape, based on their belief that women were the property of men and therefore needed to be protected from rape. However, bestiality wasn’t condemned and many of the sex scenes on the black-figure and later red-figure vases depict anal intercourse and male-male orgasms.
This was likely due to the fact that the active partner tended to be a man and the passive one was a woman so they didn’t feel like they were violating moral norms. In addition, they didn’t have the concept of obscenity which wouldn’t be imposed for another 2,000 years. They also weren’t taught to think of themselves as heterosexual or homosexual, a distinction that wouldn’t come into existence for another 2,000 years.
A new exhibition of Greek art shows that sex was a commonplace part of ancient Greek life. Although classical Greece did have laws against sexual transgressions, it generally eschewed the enforcement of moral or religious notions of “right sexual conduct”.
In fact, it was considered good for a man to be lustful and a woman to be sexy, even if they were not married. The Greeks loved erotic imagery, and depictions of anal intercourse on black-figure and red-figure vases are abundant. However, scenes of oral sex and orgies are scarce. The latter probably suggests that erotic representations were censored in order to avoid arousing the moral sensibilities of the authorities.
Satyrs, described as men with a horse tail, donkey ears, an upturned pug nose and a receding hairline were inveterate masturbators with a penchant for dance, wine and women. One vase painting depicts a hirsute satyr ejaculating while playing the aulos, a phallic-shaped double reed instrument. Another depicts a satyr thrusting a dildo into his anus. Such erotic depictions gave rise to the term ‘Greek sex’.
In Greek mythology, the gods freely indulged in sexual pleasures. Zeus became a bull, a swan and even rain to seduce mortals; Aphrodite was a goddess of sexual rapture. In contrast, in many restrictive European cultures, the distinction between heterosexual and homosexual desire was a taboo.
For the Greeks eros was sexual passion and lust that could become love, or at least a yearning for something deeper than physical attraction. The stanzas of Sappho (fragment 130) and the work of many other poets show that at any level of eros, there are feelings of pain and conflict. This is particularly evident in Sappho’s depiction of the desperate pain a woman feels for her ex-lover. She is able to express this conflict because she understands that love must be reciprocal.
In Greek mythology, eros is also associated with divine unions. The marriage of Zeus and Hera was a direct result of their affair. Other unions, such as the marriage of Hermes to Iphicles and the birth of the Minotaur were also a result of eros.
While modern society tends to view love and sex as binary, the Greeks were quite forward thinking. They had seven words for love, meaning that they were able to distinguish between sexual passion and lust and love based on inner qualities. They understood that love doesn’t have to be physical, and they even had a word for platonic love.
For a culture that is famous for the philosophers Aristotle, Socrates and Plato, it is no surprise that they were ahead of their time with respect to sex and gender. They didn’t have strict rules about gender-based sexual desire or sex, and they often held orgies that included men and women.
Incorporating toys and props into Greek-style play can make the experience even more pleasurable. However, it’s important to be safe and responsible when using these tools. Always use plenty of lubrication, and be sure to clean any objects that come into contact with the body before and after usage. Additionally, be sure to communicate openly with your partner about their comfort levels and preferences, and check in with them regularly during the act. This will help to ensure that both partners are fully engaged and enjoying the experience.
Although it was not common in ancient Greece, some Greeks did have homosexual relationships with men. These relationships were often depicted in art, including a frieze on the Parthenon that shows four figures-three females and two males. Despite these representations, the Greek philosophy generally advocated for a moderate approach to life and placed an emphasis on rationality. Therefore, it’s difficult to see how a homosexual relationship could have been considered sinful in their society.
Although Greek sex has been associated with harmful gender stereotypes, it can also be an expression of healthy sexual intimacy for some couples. Regardless of your sexual orientation, it is important to communicate openly with your partner about their feelings and boundaries and to take precautions to keep everyone safe and comfortable. With good communication, Greek-style play can be a satisfying and rewarding experience for all.