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MAIN Arrow to Society Society Arrow to Sex Sex Arrow to History of Sex History of Sex

Adam & EveMother Nature has always provided the anatomical equipment, along with a strong chemical and hormonal desire to procreate.

However, it is the inherited social and cultural framework of human sexuality that make it all the more intriguing.

Sex and mating have been a biological fact of life since humans first evolved from the apes some 100,000 years ago.

Since then, Adam and Eve have remained the role models for most of the cultural taboos of sex in Western Judeo-Christian society.

But it is the Greeks and Roman that we look to for a peek inside sexual desire unfettered by biblical interpretations of the sinfulness of sex.

Party on, ye Greeks and Romans

That sex was a mix blessing was discovered early on by the ancient Greeks who were taken to worshiping a number of gods and goddesses. Not the least of these was Eros, the god of lust, love, and intercourse who bestowed the gifts of desire and sexual pleasure ("while simultaneously driving most people mad".)

At one point, the government was even forced to legislate marriage and children merely in order to maintain the population in a society where nymphomania, prostitution, lesbianism, bisexuality and homosexuality were all common practices.

bacchusLater, the Roman counterpart to Eros - Cupid - was more apt to inspire thunderstruck romantic love rather than pure unadulterated lust.

Not that Romans were without a need for wild abandon. Worship of another Roman god, Bacchus, inspired Romans to party with copious consumption of wine which often led to rampant sexual couplings during the Bacchanalian festivals.



The party's over: sex and the Middle Ages

Following Rome's fall, a dwindling population caused by endless wars of empire (and diseases like the plague) did little to promote sex as a social pleasure.

It was also a time when the Catholic Church arose as the main influence on sexual coupling, or the lack thereof.

Sins of of the flesh were perceived as part of Adam and Eve's fall into sin, with a revolutionary new Christian teaching that didn't even allow for Jesus himself to have been conceived by normal means but by Immaculate Conception.

In a complete turnaround from the freewheeling Greeks and Romans, sex in the Middle Ages would have been unrecognizable to the ancients, as sex became a necessary evil. Sex outside marriage was considered heresy, as was homosexuality or masturbation. Even contraception was viewed as promoting lust and sex.


Sex marches on

As Western civilization got a firmer footing, however, the Renaissance reversed course on sexual restrictions. Renaissance artwork and sculpture resulted in an orgy of human nakedness best seen in the Sistine Chapel (of all places) that would never have been allowed during the medieval age.

Following Martin Luther's Protestant revolution, and Henry VIII's battle against the old teachings on marriage and divorce, the Enlightenment later ushered in a more adult look at sex in all its variations, most titillatingly seen in the novels of the Marquis de Sade.


Victorian age
We are not amused.

 

While it was apparent that the old repressive days in regard to sex had come and gone, the 19th century Victorian age surprisingly ushered in an another about-face.

In an era that can best be described as confused, the new age of psychiatry and science had suddenly become the ultimate authorities. The result was some pretty strange ideas about sex during the Victorian era that regarded masturbation, homosexuality, sex outside marriage, or any other "deviant" behavior not so much as a sin as a mental illness.

Today, the Victorian age is looked upon with dread not only for its proper and repressive rules of societal etiquette, but for the apparent hypocrisy of a society that saw love-starved housewives dissolve into "hysteria", while an explosion of brothels resulted in the high levels of venereal disease among the male population.


Sex, drugs & rock n roll

While Victorian attitudes still echoed well into the 20th century, a new sexual revolution appeared in the 1960's that proved to be a watershed decade as the birth control pill allowed women much more sexual freedom.

The lifestyle of Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n Roll preached by the hippie movement also promoted more liberal attitudes and social tolerance that gave rise to everything from more sex in advertising to the gay pride movement.

However, with the advent of a worldwide AIDS epidemic as well as other sexually transmitted diseases the revolution was over a short two decades later.


The beat goes on

sex in advertising
Sex sells.

Today, while its allure still helps sell everything from toothpaste to automobiles, sex remains an important bellwether in gaging society's views on 'family values', although not by any means consistently.

In the US, for example, where conservative religious views help influence acceptable sexual mores, public opinion on homosexuality and same-sex marriage remains surprisingly liberal and forward-looking.

Meanwhile, newer challenges are on the horizon as science promises to forge an even stronger separation of sex from reproduction — with the emergence of surrogate mothering, test tube babies, and cloning.

Around the Web, discover more about the history of sex through the ages including fun facts and trivia, images, interactive time-lines, along with special looks at sex in the movies, modern advertising, and pop culture ....


More about the history of sex around the Web:


A Brief History of Human Sex
- LiveScience survey that's brief but jam-packed with related resources, a video, and interesting side notes on the societal aspects of sex.

History of Sex in the Last 500 Years - Timeline of important landmarks in sex from 1530 to the 1970's.

A history of sex in film - Timeline with photos and descriptions of highlights and landmark scenes in mainstream Hollywood films from the 19th century to the present.

 

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