Azteca by Gary Jennings is the story of an Aztec in the time before the Spanish conquest. A particularly chilling moment in the text involves incest between the protagonist and his sister when they were hardly children. They did not see it as something bad —they were siblings and loved each other. In those times it was a more common practice than we would think, and it would be practiced in societies in other parts of the world, like Egypt.
Times have changed, and what once seemed normal, today is seen as absurd or twisted. As humanity has evolved and made medical and psychological advances, some sexual practices have been considered aberrant. History has some very clear examples of how much people have changed their erotic practices over the centuries.
Some of them will horrify you; maybe others will make you laugh, and perhaps you'll recognize some because it's likely you are already an expert on the subject. Here are the sexual practices that seem strange in today’s world but were more normal in the past.
Dubious contraceptive methods
In ancient times, before there was anesthesia, childbirth was brutal for women. Many of them died while giving birth, so it's not surprising that they sought ways to avoid being pregnant. One of the strangest contraceptives was a cream made with crocodile manure and honey that women would put into the vagina before sexual intercourse. The manure provides an environment of high alkalinity that kills the sperms. Another extravagant method was the “contraceptive sneeze” recommended by the Roman physician Sorano of Ephesus, the father of gynecology. He told women that after a sexual encounter they could squat and sneeze to avoid becoming pregnant. To those who were the most fertile, he recommended they jump up and down as high as they could seven times.
The Roman Coliseum witnessed gladiators bathed in blood as they battled, not only other humans, but also wild animals in an orgy of violence that delighted the audience. As if that was not enough perversion and carnage, spectators also enjoyed viewing the losers being raped by the animals.
There are Roman emperors distinguished for having peculiar sexual fixations. Tiberius was an inveterate voyeur who liked to see young men copulating. He also recruited children between one and two years old who were taught how to perform a fellatio. These rituals were carried out in a palace commanded by Tiberius in the city of Capri. He would also participate in these activities.
For royal pharaonic courts to maintain a true bloodline among the families, incest was a very common practice. A man was to marry his sister or stepsister to aspire to be Pharaoh. This practice had its roots in the Egyptian religion, specifically in the incest story of the divine siblings Isis and Osiris. After the corpse of Osiris was dismembered by his brother Set, Isis recovered it to procreate their son, Horus.
The Egyptians believed that even after death the deceased could continue to have sex. For this reason, men's corpses were given fake penises and women, nipples. Obviously, this is practically necrophilia.
Homosexual tendencies among the men of ancient Greece were not seen as strange. The philosopher Plato had a marked taste for the young, slept with them, and enjoyed their company. Those of high social status seduced the poorest young men by promising them all kinds of expensive gifts. So, while adults bought the pleasures of the flesh, their young lovers were introduced into Greek society.
When realizing they could not afford to feed one more child, poor families would alleviate their burden by sending a child to one of the many brothels that abounded in ancient Roman society. Presently, child prostitution is among the most denounced crimes across the world. However, the ancient Romans allowed themselves plenty of freedoms when it came to sex that we now consider crimes.
According to the historian Herodotus, the women of Babylon had to serve, at least once in their lives, as prostitutes in their visit to the temple of Ishtar. Their duty was to serve anyone who offered them a coin. The reason behind this fact was that women were to serve men with the same devotion they would to their gods.
After reading all of the above, perhaps the following may seem ridiculous, but it was true. The Greek and Roman aristocracy saw it improper for a man and woman to kiss each other in public. But this was due to the repulsion caused by the Roman custom of brushing their teeth with their own urine.
Humans will never cease to be creatures full of strange and repulsive habits, no matter in what era one happens to live. Will people’s innate desire and craving for sexual pleasure always lead to commit unhealthy and questionable acts? What do we do now that distant generations will consider disgusting?
Translated by Joseph Reiter