Social Question

Fausnaught's avatar

Were the Roman views on sexuality enlightened or indulgent?

Asked by Fausnaught (373points) March 25th, 2010

Roman men often had relations with younger men, even though they themselves were often family men. They did so not because they were gay or bisexual, but because that is what Roman men (of stature) did at the time. They viewed a beautiful woman and a beautiful man in the same light- equals to be appreciated equally. It was more about the aesthetics of the person, not the gender. There was little separating straight and gay.

Do our Judeo-Christian roots make this enlightened view impossible for us to understand, or is it merely classic Roman indulgence and excess on display?

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34 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

Neither. It was just a different culture, a different view on things.

Fyrius's avatar

Aren’t you thinking of the Greeks?

I think it’s enlightened. They understood the Kinsey Scale two millennia before professor Kinsey did, whereas most people half a century after him still don’t understand that liking women does not preclude liking men or vice versa.

Snarp's avatar

@Fyrius The Romans pretty much followed the Greeks on this.

majorrich's avatar

Based on my puritanical rearing, I tend to view the Romans (especially toward the end of the empire) as serous Pervs. But Their value system was different than ours and they figured it was completely normal. I still appreciate women as beautiful and men as handsome and when I was in the service, there was a man in my team that was a chiseled Adonis. We called him The Bod, because he was beautiful when he was nekkid. There was no gayness to it. He was just a genetic freak.

clioi's avatar

@Fyrius they may have viewed sexuality as more fluid than we do as a society today, but that does not preclude them engaging in wild hedonism. Which happened alot throughout their history.

Snarp's avatar

@majorrich You’re so gay!

totally kidding with you.

Fyrius's avatar

And wild hedonism means not enlightened?

iphigeneia's avatar

I think there’s elements of both. They were enlightened because they didn’t put boundaries on sexuality with regards to having sex with men or women, or more than one person.

Then again, of course it was indulgent. The Romans as a civilisation were so powerful, they were surrounded by excess. What’s more, such freedoms were only permitted to certain men, and absolutely not to any women. Enlightened, perhaps, but only so far as it suited the social order.

DarkScribe's avatar

Hmmm. It all sounds a bit Greek to me…

majorrich's avatar

On the other hand, When we look at the remains of their bath houses and lewd images they made in tile and stuff like that, wasn’t that the porn of their day? In that context, we are just as perverted as they are, we just have a more subtle or less enduring way of getting the images out to the pervs. (even sometimes me if even by accident still appreciate a perfect body) I still won’t let anything enter where only stuff is supposed to come out.

phillis's avatar

Would you settle for instinctual and indulgent? There isn’t any enlightenment until a thing has been studied and the eureka! moment has hit. As a society in general, I don’t think the Greeks or Romans gave their sexual practices any deeper consideration than they did their vomitoriums.

janbb's avatar

It sounds very enlightened or at least more hedonic in some respects but I wonder at the collusion of the young men; did they have any choice in whom they accepted or was it imposed on them? That, to me, is the crux of any sexual relationship in terms of enlightenment; how much is coercion and power a factor in the relationship. Also, since the position of women and their ability to choose sexual partners was very limited, I have to conclude that it was not a very freeing or enlightened society. It was great for some, not so much for many.

Idknown's avatar

Personally – I think they were just following a different set of standards. I personally don’t view sexuality as offensive. And I may be flawed seriously because I don’t see how a natural act of sex can be unmoral (barring forced acts in which, your apparatus should be swiftly removed). What are whores and sluts anyway? Why should they be ostracized for taking part in a natural activity?

Many people say porn is corrupting the youth… I see it as a healthy outlet in a world so dominated by Christian beliefs.

Although I myself, can only stomach monogamy, I see no reason why polygamy should be so frowned upon as long as all parties agree.

The rules are as we as a society sets it. I for one, disagree. Maybe I’m morally loose. A vagabond, a degenerate. What do I know?

Snarp's avatar

As @iphigeneia points out, this sort of thing happened among the rich and powerful, but in reality we have no idea what morals and sexual relations were like among the great mass of Romans (or Greeks for that matter). Frankly I expect that among the majority sex looked pretty much like it does for the majority of us. The majority of men will choose sex with a woman over sex with a man, that’s just biology. And poor working people (which the majority were) just don’t have time to have lots of sex with lots of partners. They pick someone to shack up with and that’s who they have sex with, and those were mostly women, I expect. We have a strong tendency when dealing with ancient cultures to ascribe the behavior of the people we know about (exclusively the rich and powerful, because no one was writing about or memorializing the poor majority) to the entire culture, when there likely were two entirely different cultures going on at the same time, a poor one and a rich one.

phillis's avatar

@Snarp I know some people can’t stomach the idea of refering to the Bible, but if you can see it as a historical document (which includes a lineage of men who each only bent the truth “just a little”), we can tell by what the authors talked about, and warned against, that this was the social norm in many societies. I don’t think the book was solely for the wealthy. Just a thought.

Fausnaught's avatar

@Snarp said, “And poor working people (which the majority were) just don’t have time to have lots of sex with lots of partners.”

How do you know this? Why don’t they have the time? What is this based on? It would actually go contrary to what we know about the lowest class of people in any society. Promiscuity is rapid among lower class people today and there is no reason to believe it wasn’t then. People are people. Rich or poor. Poor people can just as easily find multiple sexual partners as the rich can. The poor have less sexual desire than the rich?

No time? I don’t get that. What load of, well…

DarkScribe's avatar

@phillis (which includes a lineage of men who each only bent the truth “just a little”),

When you keep bending it, even hardened steel breaks.

mrentropy's avatar

I say, bring back sexual excess and wild hedonism.

DarkScribe's avatar

@mrentropy I say, bring back sexual excess and wild hedonism.

From where? It hasn’t gone anywhere.

Snarp's avatar

@phillis Most of the talk about sexual morals in the Bible predates the Romans, and if you look at the Bible for what it is, it is a book written for a particular group as part of a system to keep them a coherent civilization. One way that cultures strengthen themselves is by denigrating outsiders. The very fact that the Bible says that people other than the Jews were sexual hedonists suggests that such hedonism was already considered unusual and was used to make other cultures look bad. In all likelihood such behavior was not only frowned upon by the Jews, but by many other cultures as well, perhaps even by those cultures that the Bible tells us practiced it.

Snarp's avatar

@Fausnaught You think a farmer who gets up with the sun and toils in the fields until it is too dark to see is interested in an orgy at the end of the day? Who are these lower classes in which promiscuity is rampant today? Kids who don’t work for a living, or their parents who work eighty hours a week to put food on the table? I don’t mean to claim that there aren’t and weren’t poor working people who cheat on their wives or have flings, or occasionally shack up with someone new, but the notion of Roman and Greek sex is entirely based on the upper class, on people who had sex slaves and concubines and had the luxury to have all day orgies. The farmers feeding them did not behave that way, they had no days off for orgies, to do so was to starve.

mrentropy's avatar

@DarkScribe I never get invited to the parties, then.

Fausnaught's avatar

@Snarp I just did some quick research and I immediately found that most Romans finished work at 6 PM. Sounds like a modern work day to me. Plenty of time for naughtiness. And you presume that all Roman’s were farmers. If that is true, then who filled Rome?

How do you know how the felt. That is quite presumptuous.

phillis's avatar

@DarkScribe Agreed! Which means that indulging all carnal pleasures not only pre-dates the Greco-Roman culture, it ws still going on during Biblical times. If it only existed previously, then died out, there would have been no need to spend so much time mentioning it.

Snarp's avatar

@Fausnaught Most Romans finished work at 6 p.m.? And what is your authoritative source for that? Everything we know about what “most” Romans did we know from the work of a handful of wealthy Roman historians who didn’t exactly go out and study or interview the man on the street. There are however, two different definitions of “Rome”. There is Rome the city and Rome the nation. Rome the nation fed Rome the city, and the majority of Romans in the nation were farmers because there wasn’t enough farming technology to enable a minority of people feed the majority. The majority of people in Rome the city may very well have not been farmers and been rich enough to practice the values that we generally associate with Rome, though I still doubt it was the majority. I have said nothing about how anyone felt, but yes I have made some assumptions about how poor farmers behaved because I know what it is to work hard and be tired at the end of the day, in spite of whatever sexual desires I have.

Now maybe you’re getting mad at me because you think I’m somehow putting down homosexuality, or just generally putting down multiple partners, or orgies, or whatever. I’m doing nothing of the sort. The biological fact is that men left to nature will get off on anything that sits still long enough, but that given a choice, the majority will choose a woman. I make no judgment about what’s right or wrong, just what happens and must have happened for the human race to be biologically successful.

It is not presumptuous to consider the possibility that our notion of what the Romans did two thousand years ago based on a historical record largely about the rich and powerful might not be the least accurate for the mass of people who made up the nation of Rome. What is presumptuous is to assume that everyone in the Roman Empire lived like the toga wearing elites we see in popular culture depictions of Rome and that suggesting that that might not be accurate is a “load of, well…”

mrentropy's avatar

Day to day stuff in ancient Rome has a lot in common with modern life, including traffic and product endorsements.

Snarp's avatar

@Fausnaught Look, you asked the question to start a discussion, but if you don’t want the discussion to include alternative ideas, fine, but I don’t really see the point then in having a discussion.

Trillian's avatar

@Snarp You may be wasting your time on someone who considers disagreement synonymous with combat.
Having studied Rome for a long time and drawn parallels between that society and our own, I was surprised to see what this person wrote about the classes, and the “quick research” made me snicker a bit.
To answer your question @Fausnaught, and at the risk of an srgument since I don’t know what side of this question you take, I’ll say that the view was enlightened, aside from the fact that there seems to have been little tolerance for oral sex.
But as @Snarp says, this indulgence, for the main part was practiced by those who had the leisure. You must realize that back then if one were not independently wealthy, not to work was not to eat.
The system favored men. Women of wealth and class were often in the habit of taking lovers but were discrete about it. They were property and had to marry whomever their Father decreed. They were respected in their society for positions they held but still chattel. A husband, on the other hand, was allowed complete sexual freedom. He could have anyone he wanted in the house and the wife could do nothing about it. Remember however, that the Roman view of marriage was different than we have today, and infidelity didn’t cause the same type of pain then. It was face-lowering but not painful in the context in which we view it.

Just_Justine's avatar

Why were they so clever and enlightened and today we are so stuck in what we should be doing? I hope they were not too young of course?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Hardly do I think this was more enlightened – young men were on par with women as play things and were used for entertainment – there were no categories like we have today, straight, gay, bi…what was beautiful was desirable, like you said and that’s cool, I think but using people as part of your power isn’t and shouldn’t have been.

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