So you think people haven’t always been pervs? I’ve got some news for you.

People boned in ancient times, during colonialism, and in the wholesome 1950s.

Wikipedia

And folks will continue to do so until the literal end of humanity.

Sex has long been a taboo subject, but it has always been a major part of human culture. People love to blame the modern proliferation of pornography on some phantom “increase in promiscuity,” but let me remind you of these facts: Prostitution is considered the world’s oldest profession, and people have been drawing dirty pictures since at least 510 BC (as shown in the above picture)—and probably even earlier than that. Widespread sexual visualization is not a recent thing.

There’s no reason to think people’s sexual habits are any different now than they were, say, 500 years ago, and top scientists agree. It seems to me people aren’t boinking more and at younger ages now—it’s just that talking openly and honestly about sex and sexual behaviors won’t get you banished from your colonial village and/or burned at the stake anymore. But to be sure about this, I did a bit of research to prove our human sexual habits aren’t much different now from what they were in Victorian England, medieval Japan, imperial Rome or ancient Africa. We’re people, and we like to bone. A lot.

Let’s take a look at ancient India.

Interestingly enough, India was basically the OG sex-fiend haven. Kinda. As far back as 3,500 BC, Indians have documented sex acts in their religious texts. Hinduism was the first to introduce sexuality in a scientific way, effectively acting as the first sex ed. Religion literally used to help people have better, hotter sex.

In the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of the Hindu religion, we see sex show up a lot:

From Nirukta 8.10: “Having spaciousness, make yourself wide open as exceedingly beautiful wives do their thighs for their husbands in sexual intercourse. The thighs are the most beautiful parts (of the body)…”

This seems like a pretty vanilla and traditional view of sex, but it’s pretty damn raunchy when you think about it in a religious context. It’s not exactly something you’d expect ancient, pious humans to write. That image of wide-open thighs really sticks with you. It’s also quite odd, considering The Bible, which came (no pun intended) quite a bit later, talks about sex at best in a deeply coded, euphemistic way (ever heard of the “Song of Songs”?), and at worst in a shameful, ownership-driven way:

From Hebrews 13:4: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

Religion literally used to help people have better, hotter sex.

But the Vedas didn’t just mention “traditional” types of sex, and we certainly don’t see the same lighthearted, natural treatment of sex in the Bible that we do in the Vedas. The Vedas even feature acts of homosexuality among the gods and the presence of transgender deities. Ardhanarisvara, a combined, androgynous form of the gods Shiva and Parvati, is half male and half female. Many believe Ardhanarisvara is the expression of transgender properties in the form of a deity.

In contrast, here’s another quick excerpt from the Bible:

From 1 Timothy 1:10: “The sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine…”

The Bible equates homosexuals with “sexually immoral” people, slavers and liars. And today, there’s no shortage of major anti-gay figures in religion and politics. Just take former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, for instance, a deeply Christian man who once said, on the topic of homosexuality and gay marriage, “This is common sense. This is nature. And what we’re trying to do is defy nature because a certain group of people want to be affirmed by society.”

Acceptance and expression of sexuality is deeply ingrained in Indian religious tradition, and it was not until much later that some notions of sexuality became labeled as “evil” or “immoral.” This evidence alone dispels the myth that people have become more promiscuous or sexually amoral as time has gone on. Most importantly, though, these excerpts from comparative religious texts shows how sex, at one point, was viewed as crucial not only for procreation, but also for the pursuit of personal pleasure and happiness.

But anyway, let’s get to the real sexy stuff.

The Kama Sutra was essentially the first how-to guide to banging.

urban asian

Written by Vatsyayana, an Indian philosopher who lived circa the second century AD, the Kama Sutra is an ancient Hindu sex guide originally written in Sanskrit. The text offers advice on improvement of one’s sex life, including numerous position guides (64, to be exact).

It’s like the big-wig Hindu leaders knew people were going to screw, so they said, “Well, let’s make sure people are getting the best bang for their buck.” And thus the Kama Sutra was born. But the religious text isn’t just limited to what some would call the “pornographic” depiction of sexuality (we’ll come back to this)—it also dicusses how the pursuit of sexual pleasure ties into the pursuit of love and happiness.

Because of its thorough, practical and deeply philosophical nature, the Kama Sutra is considered the gold standard text on human sexuality. Unlike how sex is treated in the Bible, for instance, the Kama Sutra acknowledges that sex is an inevitable and vital part of human existence, and does not attach any shame to the act of lovemaking.

We’re people, and we like to bone. A lot.

But just how do we see the text specifically tying into the Hindu religous doctrine? According to the US National Library of Medicine, the Kama Sutra “includes the three pillars of the Hindu religion ‘Dharma,’ ‘Artha’ and ‘Kama,’ representing religious duty, worldly welfare and sensual aspects of life respectively. The main theme here appears to be the expression of Indian attitude toward sex as a central and natural component of Indian psyche and life.”

So there you have it. The Kama Sutra was indicative of the cultural Indian attitude towards sex—that it was something to be celebrated, studied and most importantly, had. This seems to me, as well as to a significant population of the world, to be both the correct and healthy attitude toward sex. It’s amazing to see how this attitude has ebbed and flowed over the course of human history. Sometimes it’s okay to talk about sex, sometimes it’s totally not okay.

And that is exactly the issue here: It’s not that the majority of people are necessarily having more or less sex, it’s about whether or not it’s culturally, politically and socially acceptable to openly embrace the love that the people are—and have been—making.

Just real quick: We need to have a chat about pornography.

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The definition of pornography is extremely subjective. Is an erotic novel sensually describing a nude woman sprawled on a rose-covered bed “pornography” in the same way a video of two dudes and a lady getting it on together is “pornography”? Almost certainly not, though strangely, they both fall into this category. It seems to me “pornography” means, “anything depicting sex acts, or anything vaguely related to sex at all, really.” But for our purposes, I’ll define pornography as, “images, videos or literature featuring fictional characters and/or consenting adults with the express purpose of assisting its viewer(s) or reader(s) in achieving a heightened sense of sexual pleasure.” This definition is a bit broad, but I think it feels accurate.

This definition includes the diagrams in the Kama Sutra and a whole lot of videos one might “accidentally” stumble across on Pornhub. And trust me, that is not insulting or cheapening to the ancient traditional text in the slightest.

Like the Kama Sutra, a lot of modern pornography is made not just to help people get off, but to help them get off in a more fulfilling way. According to the Scientific American, pornography helps couples improve their sex lives and can help to improve marriages. It’s also been a comfort and staple to lonely folks since at least the French began pulishing erotic novels in the 17th century. There’s a reason many sex toys are eupemistically referred to as “marital aids.”

A lot of modern pornography is made not just to help people get off, but to help them get off in a more fulfilling way.

I find it necessary to state that there’s a lot of bad “pornography” out there today (as always), including images depicting violent acts between non-consenting parties engaged in rape, pedophilia, bestiality, etc.—but these types of smut are actually more similar to Clockwork Orange-type ultraviolence. They fall closer in line with snuff films, and thus don’t fit into the definition of pornography I’ve outlined. True pornography is meant to help people embrace and improve their sexuality and, by consequence, their love lives. Whether that’s a more academic, highbrow religious text like the Kama Sutra, or something as basic and lowbrow as a fetish film, the idea is to introduce people to new ways to express and consume passion.

But back to our ancestors: India wasn’t the only ancient civilization to embrace sexuality in a profound, culturally significant way.

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The sexuality of the ancient Romans has been vilified as amoral since the advent of Christianity and other major monotheistic religions. But Roman society, and thus its philosophy on sex, was not a breeding ground for evil, deviant behavior.

Contrary to what your priest might have you believe, ancient Romans did indeed have laws prohibiting rape, incest and other actions we view as sex crimes today. In fact, you’re more likely to find credible historic sources citing incest among European royal families than among the ancients (though that’s not to say it never happened).

Among the Romans who lived their lives by the principles of Stoicism, sex was a wonderful thing “if enjoyed between people who maintained the principles of respect and friendship; in the ideal society, sex should be enjoyed freely, without bonds of marriage that treated the partner as property.” Sounds a whole lot like modern ideas of sexual equality and feminism, huh? It’s not that Stoics and other Romans were encouraging people to become evil, adulterous fiends—the idea this concept expresses is a lot closer to the sexual equality associated today with polyamory.

The ancient Greeks had similar attitudes toward sex, morality and equality, but with one notable (and inexcusable) exception. Pederasty, or sexual “love” between a man and a prepubescent or adolescent boy, was an acceptable social custom. Pedophilia involving very small children was about as rare then as it is today. Of course, this is an atrocious custom, because it’s not possible for a boy of such a young age to provide consent.

We’ve found plenty of archeological evidence of ancient sex toys.

But now back to something a little less tragic and depressing. Another way we know that people’s sexual behaviors haven’t changed that much over time is that we’ve found plenty of archeological evidence of ancient sex toys. And we’re talking really ancient—archeologists once found a 28,000-year-old dildo in Germany. There have also been many reports of dildos and similar sex toys found in the Mediterranean. They also publicly displayed statues and frescos of threesomes, homosexuality and lots of oral sex. So yeah, our prehistoric ancestors were sitting on dildos and jerking off just as much as we do today. I guess we had to learn it from someone.

So we can say with some certainty that people’s sexual behaviors haven’t changed much, but society’s attitude oscillates over time.

I know what you’re thinking: Where, oh where could our idea that sex is a shameful affair that must be hidden and not discussed publicly come from?

Around the Middle Ages, as Christianity began to take greater control of Europe, the Church began to convince its followers that their natural sexual desires were sins against God. Citing Adam and Eve as an example, Church leaders convinced people that men are the superior sex and that women are the true root of all sin. Lust (or any basic sexual desire) was suddenly forbidden, wives became property of their husbands and openly discussing anything relating to sex was seen as a crass, immoral deed. Even nudity—the natural form of the human body—came to be seen as vulgar.

Seriously, though, does that not seem insane? We’re born naked—how can we deem nudity a shameful state just because of a few Bible passages?

Well, while Christianity was repressing healthy public attitudes about sex, people were doing it like rabbits the whole time. If you need any evidence of that, read a Shakespeare play. Literally any single one. They’re riddled with cleverly-disguised sexual references.

It’s obvious that the increasing presence of religion—particularly Christianity in the western world—in our everyday lives is directly responsible for correlating sex and sexuality with guilt, shame and evil. But the good news: It looks like we’re moving out of this shitty attitude toward sex, at least for now.

We still see a lot of the negative impacts of this regressive view of human sexuality. Just think of Catholic guilt, or the Puritanic celibacy that’s still taught in many sex-ed classes across the US. It’s gotten better, sure, as we see feminism and body-positive movements helping to reinstate sexual positivity in human culture. The popularity of Christianity is slowly loosening its stranglehold on society. But we’ve still got a ways to go to create a society that makes us comfortable with our natural and consent-conscious desires.

One thing’s for sure, though: People will keep on making sweet love to each other like a bunch of fiends until the end of time.