First Century Sex

So I was curious about sex during the time Jesus lived because I presume this makes some difference in how we read the bible’s instructions on sex. I’m not one to try and claim that bible is a foolproof answer for everything because so much of it was tailored to the times. Mentioning shepherds and sowing all the time, for example, is not something I find super-pertinent because I rarely grow crops or deal with sheep in any way. But learning more about sowing methods and shepherds work gets at the meaning of certain stories better. So presumably we might better understand what the bible has to say about sex if we got more information on sexual ideas and practices at that time.

Wikipedia has a lengthy section on Sexuality in Ancient Rome with 500+ references, so I checked it out. I know this doesn’t quite represent the ‘microclimate’ if you will, of sexuality during the first 100 years of the Common Era (0-100 A. D.), but I thought hey, it’s better than nothing. So it sounds like male Roman citizens had the most freedom in terms what kind of sex was legal and generally thought of as acceptable. A male Roman citizen would be expected have a wife to have heirs by, but it was seen as normal that he also had other women or men, as well as the possibility of sex with male youths or any of his slaves. The women and slaves had it worst in this scenario because they didn’t have any legal basis for saying no to either a husband (wives) or owner (slaves). Wives and slaves were treated as property of male citizens, although women had slightly better standing; sex with a slave without the owner’s permission was not even considered rape but simply ‘property damage’. And I’m not even getting into the fact that prostitution was widely available too. So it sounds like sex back in the day was some seriously messed up stuff.

In a world like this, some people would be kind enough to consider the wishes of those they could use for sex, but not all. I have read previously that Christianity in its early form appealed especially to women and slaves. That makes a lot of sense in this case. Early Christians were often abstinent, sometimes even within marriages. Telling everyone to avoid sex, while very simplistic, was still an improvement over giving men the go-ahead to have sex with a variety of people without asking.

For another perspective on biblical sexuality from this time period, I’m going to point to a website I ran across called:
The Flaming Heretic
The post I’ve linked was very informative. It discusses how Paul (you remember Paul, he wrote most of the New Testament?) thought that sex should be avoided because the craving for sex harmed the spirit. His provision for those who ‘burned with passion’ to get married was really a way to cut this craving down to a minimum by allowing some sex once in a while. Presumably (and this is my conjecture) monogamy within said marriage would prevent more than two people from extra exposure to spirit-harming sexual feelings.

I don’t really think I can get behind Paul’s view on this. I don’t think sex is intrinsically harmful. But I do wonder if he was equating sex with all the harmful practices at the time and going overboard regarding how to fix it. I do agree that it’s a ridiculous situation to restrict women and slaves to someone else’s agenda. Christianity seems a really progressive alternative because of the choice it offered: to refrain from sex.

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