How has sex changed throughout history? Obviously the mechanics of sex have remained the same, but what about our attitudes towards it? Ancient Greeks embraced love between two men as the most pure form of love (although this wasn’t necessarily sexual love). Ancient Romans celebrated orgiastic Bacchanalian festivals until the hedonism and lawlessness of the rites caused them to be outlawed in 186BC.
But just how similar were our ancient ancestors to us today? Well, for starters:
1. Did you know our ancient ancestors invented the dildo long before they invented the wheel? Says something about the way the human mind works, doesn’t it! Upper Paleolithic art roughly 30,000 years old portrays people using dildos to pleasure themselves and others. And Greek literature from around 500 BC promoted dildos as an excellent stand-in for women whose husbands were off at war.
2. Condoms are depicted in the cave paintings at Combarelles, France, drawn around 100-200 A.D. In Japan, prior to the fifteenth century, condoms were often made of tortoise shell or animal horn (ouch!). And in literature the condom was first mentioned in the early 1500s. By then they were made of linen soaked in a chemical solution and held on with a ribbon. Some historians believe Casanova used these early linen condoms. Others credit the invention of the condom to the Earl of Condom, a British physician who was asked by Charles II to develop something that would keep him from catching syphilis. Condom created a device made of oiled sheep intestine that quickly became popular.
3. Women have also tried to practice birth control independently for centuries. Back in 1850 BC women put a mixture of crocodile dung and honey in the vagina to try to prevent pregnancy.
Then the Christians rose to power and from 400AD to 1000AD the new religion gained control over Western thought. With it came threats of hellfire and eternal damnation that put a slight damper on the enjoyment of sex. Laws against certain types of sexual behavior emerged.
The Renaissance brought back some tolerance, and the epidemic proportions of those with syphilis proved not everyone followed the Church’s recommendations of purity and chastity. Homosexuality was even tolerated for some, such as Michelangelo and King James I in London.
Things changed once again with the Victorians, who ostensibly shunned sex and worshipped the ideal of the pure wife. This, however, led to a vast underground society with the number of prostitutes skyrocketing. In 1839 London had roughly 2 million inhabitants and 80,000 prostitutes. Tolerance towards homosexuals ended in 1885 with the Criminal Law Amendment Act that declared “gross indecency” between men was punishable by two years’ imprisonment (this law led to Oscar Wilde’s arrest).
And yet another device emerged during the Victorian era that may surprise you:
4. In 1869, American physician George Taylor developed a large steam-powered vibrator apparatus designed as a medical treatment to combat “female hysteria.” Doctors used it to bring women to orgasm to reduce anxiety. Shortly thereafter, in 1899, McClure’s magazine published the first American advertisement for a home electric vibrator. The ad proclaimed this Vibratile worked as a cure for headaches, wrinkles, and “neuralgia” (nerve pain, which again included that dreaded “female hysteria”).
The stringent moral code of the Victorians continued to pervade polite society until WWII, when the freedom men and women experienced as war workers began to change attitudes towards sex once again. And those years of World War II gave us another sexual invention:
5. In 1941, Nazi Germany created the world’s first sex doll, code named Borghild. Heinrich Himmler initiated this “field-hygienic project” as a way to counterbalance the sex drive of his storm troopers. He got the idea after noting the “unnecessary losses” the Wehrmacht experienced in France due to diseases spread by prostitutes. Himmler hoped he could convince his soldiers to use the doll instead.
The 1960s, of course, has been dubbed the “sexual revolution.” But other than the freedom to have more sexual partners, has sex really changed that much in the past 50 years? Or in the past few millenia for that matter? In many places it’s still a forbidden
subject, and certain aspects of it definitely remain taboo to discuss openly. Here in the U.S. many sectors of society would consider this blog risqué or even inappropriate, while in other countries people talk about sex much more freely. Ever wonder about these differences?
6. An informal global sex survey in 2005 found that 26% of Indians called their sex life “monotonous,” compared to just 3% of Americans. And in Norway 53% of people wanted more sex (on average, Norwegians have sex 98 times per year) while 81% of the Portuguese were satisfied with their sex lives (108 times per year on average).
7. When it comes to orgasms, 48% of women admit to faking one at least once in their life, which probably doesn’t shock anyone. But did you know 48% of men also report having faked at least one orgasm?
Sex can also have some surprising health benefits:
8. Have you ever used the excuse “Not tonight honey, I have a headache?” Turns out that’s actually a reason you should have sex – the endorphins released during sex are extremely effective pain-killers.
9. Want to lose weight? The average person burns 26 calories by kissing for one minute and vigorous sex burns 150 calories in 30 minutes. And if you’re worried about cavities, kissing helps with that too. The extra saliva created by kissing keeps your mouth clean and reduces your risk of tooth decay.
And one final fun fact, this one from the animal kingdom:
10. Some female penguins engage in prostitution! In the wild, some female penguins (even if they’re already in a committed relationship) exchange sexual favors with strange male penguins in order to get pebbles they need to build their nests. Sometimes the prostitute penguins even trick these males by carrying out their elaborate courtship ritual, leading to mating. Then afterwards, the female penguin gets her coveted stone and runs off. Naturally, these females target only single men, otherwise (according to zoologist Dr. Fiona Hunter) “the
partner female would beat the intruder up.”
Somerset Maugham once wrote “There is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.” Do you agree?