I. Heathen Phallophory.
Female masturbation. Civilizations that surrounded the Mediterranean sea, some 2.500 years ago celebrated Phallophoric ceremonies (literally meaning "To Carry the Phallus"). The priestesses danced in public with phalli tied to their hips, singing satirical and obscene songs, joking and mocking. These priestesses, out of the view of the non-initiated, later celebrated sacred orgies, masturbating themselves or one another with these phalli, engaging in lesbic activities. They also employed rods and hermaphrodite statues as dildos21.
Frade 23 tells us that Sumerian and Egyptian religious texts document the fact of: "(femenine) masturbation... in some cases, like the one of the phallic rods of Dolni Vestonice... the similarity in shape and size with modern dildos is so amazing that it would be insincere to evade the most simple and obvious explanation". She also interprets that orgies originally referred to women masturbating, as priestesses of the great hermaphrodite Lunar goddess, to increase fertility23.
We should remark however that Dolni Vestonice "rods" are several thousand years old. There are also other interesting artifacts such as the carved double dildo from Gorge d’Enfer, France, which seems to have been crafted from deer antlers, and intended for two women to use together26
Dragging a Phallus. These phallic festivities were later adopted in Greece, imported, according to Herodotus27 from Egypt, where he tells us that they also had phallic celebration in honor of their god Osiris. They used puppets whose only mobile part was the large phallus, which was about half the size of the puppet22.
Once in Greece, the festivities consisted of hauling a gigantic phallus through the city as part of the rites of Dionysian celebrations (more on this below). Kallixeinos of Rhodes went to one in Alexandria around 275 B.C. He claims to have seen a golden phallus 180 feet long (Bacchus running away from Juno, and flying to the altar of Rhea), carried through the streets. It was preceded by a parade of fantastic proportions24.
At Delos, between 321 and 169 B.C., celebrated Dionysus in a similar manner, dragging an enormous wooden phallus on a cart drawn by young men dressed as satires. It was so heavy that lead counterweights were used to balance the cart22.
Rome also adopted phallic gods and parading phalli around cities and cross roads (more on this below).
II. Ancient Greece.
Dionysus. He was the Greek god of mystery, wine and intoxication. He was venerated in secret ceremonies (orgeia that originally referred to ritual matters, religious ceremonies carried out in secluded places). These Dionysian mysteries were widely adopted by women. The stimulation of the dancing, music and wine, to which they were not accustomed, drove them to ecstatic frenzy (enthusiasmos) during which they indulged in copious sexual activity10 & 13.
These Dionysian mysteries were widely adopted by women, who embraced the rituals as a socially acceptable escape route from the tight role assigned to them in Ancient Greece. Men and even slaves practiced the rites. All were initiated as Bacchoi, by communion with the god through shared wine, shown holy and secret elements of the rite. Women, additionally, were prepared as brides for the god, drank wine and then communed with him with by means of a goat’s penis or fig-wood phallus (we have already mentioned above the importance of phalli in the Dionysian cult).
There were also other non-secret ceremonies that took place in the cities (in Athens it was celebrated between March 24 and 28) and involved inebriation and dancing28, and as Waite25 states: "...the externalities and practice of the Festivals were orgies of wine and sex: there was every kind of drunkenness and every aberration of sex, the one leading up to the other. Over all reigned the Phallus, which - in its symbolism a rebours - represented post ejaculation the death-state of Bacchus, the god of pleasure, and his resurrection when it was in forma erecta".
Elaphebolia. Celebrated in honor of Artemis, goddess of the wilderness, the hunt and wild animals, and fertility. Young men danced, people feasted on beef and wine till they got drunk, and Sacred Phallus, made of wood and carried on a tray were paraded in a procession (indeed, there may be several such phalli in the procession)20, 10 & 13.
Aphrodite. Greek goddess of love and sex, Aphrodite Anosia (the unholy), was celebrated in Thessaly in a highly lascivous festival, an Aphrodisia which was exclusively reserved to women. At Cyprus, Aphrodite Kypris was venerated with love orgies. Partridge10 says that Aphrodite’s festivals were the most popular, splendid and dissolute, the most lascivious that you could find in ancient Greece13.
Thesmophoria. These were celebrated in honor of Demeter (mother Earth), and were exclusively for married women. As in all ceremonies where there is ritual sex and copulation, there was a forced period of abstinence before the festivity. Ovid 19 tells us that all women who wanted to take part in the rites, had to abstain from sexual intercourse during the nine days that preceded the celebration. Partridge sees in this abstinence, an effort by the priests to enhance the women’s sexual appetite and promote a more licentious sexual activity during the ceremonies10 & 13.
Wife sharing.10 According to Greek writer Athenaeus of Naucratis (in his book The deipnosophists, or, Banquet of the learned of Athenæus), the Etruscans in the IV century B.C., indulged in the most dissolute and wild bacchanalia seen in what is now Italy. He quotes two Greek historian eyewitnesses: (Timon and Theopompus11) who stated that: "Among the Etruscans ... it is customary for the slave girls to wait on the men naked...." and "Sharing wives is an established Etruscan custom... Etruscan women take particular care of their bodies and exercise often, sometimes along with the men, and sometimes by themselves. It is not a disgrace for them to be seen naked. They do not share their couches with their husbands but with the other men who happen to be present, and they propose toasts to anyone they choose. They are expert drinkers and very attractive. The Etruscans raise all the children that are born, without knowing who their fathers are..."
IV. Ancient Rome.
Burgo Partridge10, says that it is unnecessary to speak about orgies among Romans, because, they lived their lives like a great orgy. Let’s look at the different shapes that these took in Rome.
Worship of Bacchus. The Romans celebrated Bacchic mysteries and orgies (Bacchanalia) to honor their good Bacchus (their name for Greek Dionysius). Livy, in his book, History of Rome (c. 10 CE) says that the cult spread from Etruria (Greece) into Rome, in 186 B.C., and that these "These mysterious rites were, at first, imparted to a few, but afterwards communicated to great numbers, both men and women... When wine, lascivious discourse, night, and the intercourse of the sexes had extinguished every sentiment of modesty, then debaucheries of every kind began to be practiced, as every person found at hand that sort of enjoyment to which he was disposed by the passion predominant in his nature." Livy despised this " vice - the promiscuous intercourse of free-born men and women" 5 & 9.
These festivals, were finally prohibited throughout all Rome by a decree of the Roman Senate, nevertheless, the Bacchanalia were not stamped out for a very long time.
Lupercalia. This pagan holiday is the origin of Valentines Day, they were festivals with wild, sensual dancing where sausages played an important part. Both the dancing and the sausages were banned by the Church by the 5th century3.
Floralia. Flora, Roman goddess, was honored by a festival (Floralia) that began on April 28th, and lasted three days. During these festivities, people wore garlands of flowers and "medallions that showed various positions of sexual enjoyment"8 & 17. They were feasts of sexual fun and joy, legitimate erotic licentiousness and according to some9 "were originally festivals of the country people, which were afterwards, in Italy as in Greece, introduced into the towns, where they naturally assumed a more dissolute and licentious character".
Saturnalia. Saturnalia was originally an ancient Roman agricultural feast held in honor of the god of seeds and sowing, Saturn (who the Greeks called Chronos), who gave name to the week-day Saturday. He was represented by the sun in mid winter, and they believed that the sun was approaching death. Saturnalia celebrated the hopes of a new spring, of renewal, of life, as the sun overcame the power of winter and life was to be renewed3 & 17.
During these festivals the everyday rules were turned topsy turvy. The masters waited on the servants, all sexual prohibitions were lifted. Cross-dressing was allowed (men dressing as women). Erotic dances were performed with a large erect phallus being carried around in the dancing processionals.3
Bona Dea. 10 & 13 The ’Good Goddess’, also named Fauna (which means "she who wishes well"). She was the ’Goddess of Women and Healing’, and was worshipped exclusively by women in celebrations (Faunalia) that took place between May 1st, and May 4th (and maybe in December). These celebrations were referred to as the sacra opertum ("The hidden sacrifice").
Roman satirist, Juvenal 12, in a critic and reproachful way describes the sensuality and sexual activity that took place during these Faunalia festivities:
"Well known to all are the mysteries of the Good Goddess, when the flute stirs the loins and the Maenads [female worshippers] of Priapus sweep along, frenzied alike by the horn-blowing and the wine, whirling their locks and howling. What foul longings burn within their breasts!
What cries they utter as the passion palpitates within! How drenched their thighs in torrents of old wine! ... (silver coins) challenges the slave-girls to a contest... There is no pretence as in a game; all is enacted to the life in a manner that warm the cold blood of a Priam or a Nestor. And now impatient nature can wait no longer: woman shows herself as she is, and the cry comes from every corner of the den, "Now we can act! Let in the men!" If one favoured youth is asleep, another is bidden to put on his cowl and hurry along; if better cannot be got, a run is made upon the slaves; if they too fail, the water-carrier will be paid to come in..."
Phallic celebrations. Roman phallic gods had different names: Tutunus, Mutinus Titinus and Priapus. All of them were one. Of Mutinus Titinus, Arnobious asked "Is there also (a god) Tutunus whose gigantic genitals and scary penis you desire your ladies to straddle and consider auspicious?" Saint Augustine clarifies the point by stating "Mutunus or Tutunus who is Priapus among the Greeks" … "on whose enormous and wanton penis the bride was bidden to sit"16. He also links both with Liber Pater, all of which are manifestations of god Jupiter.
Priapus was represented in many cases as a gigantic phallus, which had a head with human appearance. He nearly always bore an enormous penis10.
Liber was a seed god of fertility who issued seeds, and derived his name from liberamentum seminum. Augustine's16 tells us that his rites are conducted at crossroads of Italy, where male genitals were worshipped. On his holy days (Liberalia were held on March 17) the phallus is hauled on small carts through the country crossroads and then brought into the city. At Latin town of Lavinium a month is named after Liber, because at that season the phallus is carried across the forum and brought to rest in its own place while people resort to obscene words. A lady of good family then wreathes the phallus in order to elicit good results from the seeds15.
Anna Perenna. Yet another goddess of fertility, reproduction, wanton love, and of spring. Her festival fell on March 15, and was very popular among the lower class. Ovid 18 gives a graphic description of the sensuality and joy of her bawdy fertility festival, telling us of tents set up in the open, where man and women lay side by side, with its wine drinking and tipsy people.
Was there a such thing as Christian Orgies or was it a meal with communion (LoveFeasts)? I would conclude they were rather temperate, but maybe a few went too far: See here and here.
Roman emperor Theodosius, made christianity the official Roman state religion (c. 384): "...We desire that all the people under our clemency should live by that religion which divine Peter the apostle is said to have given the Romans. ... We desire that heretics and schismatists be subjected to various fines. ... We decree also that we shall cease making sacrifices to the gods. And if anyone has committed such a crime, let him be stricken with the avenging sword."42. So Paganism lost its support and influence. The Church adopted a policy of conversion, the heathen barbarians that overran the empire were tackled between the centuries V and VIII. Having consolidated its hold, the Church, during the late Middle Ages then focused on gaining total domination.
The Christian Church. Carnival. Christianism considered Bacchanals and similar sexual outbursts, as immoral; yet, it adopted a practical stance as it did recognize, just as the heathen Romans and Greeks had done, that the occasional orgy was a positive way to vent the populace’s energies. The Church 743 A.D., in the Hainault Synod mentions a pagan practice (Spurcalibus in februario), adopted it and it became the main (of course, non-sexual) ’orgy’ of the ecclesiastical year: Carnival.
Havelock1, cites Hormayr's Taschenbuch (1835), in a chapter on mediæval festivals in his Süddeutsches Bauernleben im Mittelalter, that shows how pagan orgies were adopted by Christianity.
During the Renaissance, Carnival was associated with the ancient Greco-Roman rites of Bacchanalia, Lupercalia, Floralia and Saturnalia. But, as mentioned above, Carnival has no direct relationship with them, it was forged by the Church from the surviving festivities of the pagan tribes that superseded Rome as masters in Europe. Festivities that covered fertility rites, farming and hunting ceremonies, forest worship.
Carnival was to be the celebration before Lent, and coincided with the end of winter and early spring, when the original pagan rites were celebrated2.
During these Carnival festivities, "...some go about naked without shame..."1. These sexual traits were lost as time past, yet Carnival still retains (at least in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), its character of a permitted and temporary relaxation of the tension of customary restraints and conventions.
Sex under attack The Church had a stance opposing sex, and gradually, starting in the IV century when it battled against the heathen Germanic barbarians and climaxing in the XIV century, it devised and enforced a strict set of rules regarding marriage, adultery, abortion and sex, even regulating aspects such as frequency -dictating when sexual intercourse could be had: "Sex was permissible only within marriage and when it aimed at procreation, and only then if you did not enjoy it too much... Masturbation was out, as were anal and oral sex; all were pleasurable and did not lead to procreation. Vaginal intercourse also was permitted only in what has become called the "missionary position" and there was an extended discussion of the sinfulness of having the woman on top, of entry from behind and anal sex" 36 ’doggy’ position was not allowed either.
Obsession with sex and sexual desire even within wedlock was such that in the XII century, Peter Lombard wrote Xystus’ aphorism:35 "Any man who is too ardent a lover of his own wife is an adulterer" (Omnis ardentior amator propriae uxoris adulter est)34.
During the thirteenth century, the Church, now much stronger than before, began to enforce its point of view regarding sex in a firm way, and combated heresy and what it deemed as ’witchcraft’, portraying both as small clandestine groups engaged in all sorts of depravities such as orgiastic sex, incest and bestiality. It was in fact attacking the Old Religions that though subdued, still existed in the customs and popular celebrations, therefore they threatened the supremacy of Church and Feudal system38.
Witchcraft.The oppressed Medieval peasant was subject to his feudal lord’s wishes and enclosed by strict ecclesiastic laws regarding sex, he longed for the freedom and excitement that the old religions gave him, when he could abandon himself to experience pleasure without interference. This persistence of old customs led the Church and feudal nobility to denounce them as satanic, and those who practiced the old rites, witches. Women, who had leading roles in the ancient rites, were to be the main targets of this crusade.
A manual for witch hunters, Malleus Maleficarum29 (Hammer of Witches), published in 1486 by the Church, concluded that witchcraft was based upon women’s insatiable sexual lust. That is why women are more likely to become witches than men. It says: "...But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations" adding that "... All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable. See Proverbs 30: There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, a fourth thing which says not, It is enough; that is, the mouth of the womb. Wherefore for the sake of fulfilling their lusts they consort even with devils"
The book also says that witches were known to "collect male organs in great numbers, as many as twenty or thirty members together, and put them in a bird's nest..."
Pope Gregory IX wrote (Gregory IX 49) that witches "indulge in the most loathsome sensuality, having no regard to sex. If there are more men than women, men satisfy one another's depraved appetites. Women do the same for one another" Not only did they kiss the Devil’s anus (osculum infame), but they danced naked, lasciviously, back to back until the dance turned into a sexual orgy, where incest and homosexuality prevailed. Witches also were adulterous, practiced cunnilingus, anal sex and fellatio. They corrupted young girls into the pleasures of lesbianism.39.
The connection between sex and sin and promiscuity, women and whore, was established. Hundreds of thousands (some even put the figure at between two and four million people33) were burnt at the stake.
Heretics. The Bretheren of the Free Spirit. Was a Christian movement that flourished in northern Europe between the XIII and the XIV centuries. They believed that God was not in the Church, but in themselves, and being in an enlightened state and without sin, they were free to do what was banned to the common man. So they practiced free love, sex was called ’the delight of Paradise’ some even considered it a Sacrament (named ’Christerie’). They felt that adultery emancipated them. They were accused by the Church of practicing communal group sex. They approved of nudity and sexual promiscuity considering them free of sin and shame31 & 30.
As Christian civilization valued chastity, considered sexual intercourse outside marriage and nudity sins, the Church reacted, declaring it heresy in 1312. Edicts were published against them and many burnt at the stake, but the brotherhood continued till the mid XV century.
Other Gnostic groups believed that men were spiritually handicapped and required a lot of promiscuous sex with women in order to connect with God. They also believed that the physical body is an illusion, so the sex act itself was meaningless, and thus free from sin32.
Hieronymus Bosch (El Bosco), was said to have shared the ideas of the Free Spirits47. His famous painting (1504) The Garden of Earthly Delights seems to agree with that notion, as it shows frolicking nude men and women (some of them black), enjoying themselves in the garden, eating, playing, lying together, embracing. The painting is highly symbolic, and meant for public exhibition, it could not include explicit erotic depictions.
Lesbianism. Added to the condemnation that women faced for just being women, those with homosexual inclinations faced additional ones.
English Saint Bede, in his VIII century book Penitential, described penances for several sexual sins. In the case of women, he imposed seven years of penance on women who fornicated per machina, that is, used a device. Bede was shocked by the fact that one female would actively penetrate a passive partner, female autoeroticism and lesbianism were definitively condemned and the use of dildos was a serious offence.
Discussing dildos, Hincmar of Rheims, in the IX century remarked that: "...it is said they use instruments of diabolical operations to excite desire"37 evidently the open mindedness of the prehistoric dildo toting women was now condemned by the celibate zealots of the Medieval Church.
May Day. Ancient Rites that survived. Celts had several festivities such as Beltane which was the last and largest of the spring festivals, falling on April 30th or May 1st (its name come from “Bealtaine” in old Gaelic, which means “fire of Bel” the Celtic god of light); the other festivals were Ostara (now Easter), the Summer Solstice and Samhain.
Beltane, as a custom survived in various parts of Europe, such as France, Germany and England. It included setting up a village May-pole. It involved dancing and great sexual frolics around this gigantic phallic symbol which represented gods phallus in Mother Earth. After dancing around the Maypole celebrants would retire to the open fields where they would have sex with anyone and everyone in the plowed fields in order to insure the fertility of the land and prosperous yield of crops3.
Napier 6 concluded that the English May feasts are a survival of Roman Floralia, introduced by Rome into Britain and imposed on the original Celt population, which kept it and nutured it after the fall of Rome. He also says that during the middle ages, they "were not free from some of the indecencies of the Floralia". Judging by the dates, May Day also coincides with Faunalia, so a mixed origin of different fertility rites can be assigned to this Celtic celebration.
For these reasons of sexual license, the Christian Church opposed May festivals and the sexual freedom it promoted: Phillip Stubes, an English Puritan writer said (Anatomie of Abuses - 1583):
"What clipping, what culling, what kissing and bussing, what smooching and slobbering one of another, what filthy groping and unclean handling is not practiced in the dances."
Regarding free sex in the fields, says Stubbes:
"Against May, Whitsonday, or other time, all the yung men and maides, olde men and wives, run gadding over night to the woods, groves, hils, and mountains, where they spend all the night in plesant pastimes; ... and in the morning they return... there is a great Lord present amongst them, as superintendent and Lord over their pastimes and sportes, namely, Sathan, prince of hel. ... I have heard it credibly reported (and that viva voce) by men of great gravitie and reputation, that of fortie, threescore, or a hundred maides going to the wood over night, there have scaresly the third part of them returned home againe undefiled."4. Another Puritan wrote that men "doe use commonly to runne into woodes in the night time, amongst maidens, to set bowes, in so muche, as I have hearde of tenne maidens whiche went to set May, and nine of them came home with childe" 7.
But all good things come to an end, and the sixteenth century saw the end of May freedom. The Puritans in England made the Maypoles illegal in 1644. They also attempted to suppress the greenwood marriages of young men and women who spent the entire night in the forest. The practice continued for some time, but eventually died out.
VIII: Modern and Contemporary Ages. XV - XX centuries.
The Medieval period saw all forms of sexual freedom stamped out. During the early Renaissance, a humanist, Pietro Aretino (1492-1556) brought sexuality into the limelight. He wrote at the beginning of the XVI century sexually explicit works that included lesbianism and orgies (Ragionamenti (Dialogues, 1534–1536)50. His texts, and others inspired on them, would see several printings during the next three centuries.
Nevertheless, the Renaissance and Reformation (Protestants) did not alter the repressive stance towards sex, Medieval attitudes prevailed. In England and northern Europe, Puritanism and strict protestantism repressed all outward manifestations of joy (as shown above regarding Maypoles). The common people had forgotten the old rites and their orgies.
Some exceptions to the populace’s puritanism can be found among extreme radicals of sects such as the Ranters, whose beliefs were similar to the Bretheren of the Free Spirit: we find group sex, nudity and wife swapping in this sect during the 1650’s, which we can still find, until the early XVIII century in certain parts of England45.
It was not until the Restoration of Charles II in England (late XVII century), and the Louis kings in France (XIV and XV) that the nobles in both countries (and other European countries) began to indulge in covertly in orgiastic behavior. In England aristocratic circles at court practiced sexual libertinism and debauchery.
During the XVIII century, among the well-born, we see the figure of the aristocratic rake, a promiscuous character who wastes his (usually inherited) fortune on wine and women. We can mention: Cagliostro, Giacomo Casanova, Marquis de Sade, among other notorious rakes.
Regarding Casanova, he indulged in several menage a trois, and regular group sex (actually a menage a quatre)44 involving the French ambassador to Venice, and two nuns (C.C.- Caterina Capretta and M.M.) which continues until the ambassador's return to France.
Historical Chronicles tell us of the orgies of Madame Du Barry, king Louis XV’s mistress at Versailles, and of French Queen Marie Antoinette43.
Literature reflects these events, such as John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1749), a pornographic narrative, describing lesbianism, voyeurism, experimentation and group sex, in which pairs take turns in having sex before the group40.
After the tranquil Romanticism that followed the Napoleonic wars despite the grip that Victorian culture held on the XIX century world, in the US, there was a racy style of literature, which, as literary historian David Reynolds has pointed out, alluded to a wide range of sexual practices, such as " incest, sadomasochism, homosexuality, group sex, miscegenation, child sex, [and] mass orgies"52 indicating that there was a market willing at least to read about these practices.
At that time (1840s and 50s), American writer George Thompson’s described in one of his novels "… a dinner party served by naked adolescents that turns into an orgy between the teenagers and the adult guests, a scene he claims has actually taken place in New York"51.
In 1856, George Akarman published in New York a weekly sexual magazine named " Venus’ Miscellany" It included supposed correspondence between readers, one who confesses being " an avid ’free-lover,’ a reference to the free love movement of the 1850s, a middle-class, bohemian cause that opposed marriage and supported sexual relationships rooted in ’passional attraction’ rather than law....[my husband and I] are both pleasurists. He enjoys whom he pleases. Perhaps I sometimes wander myself.’"
They pursue a menage a trois with their female neighbor, Martha, every Saturday night, there are also descriptions of lesbianism. The New York Times commented on the police raid on Akarman’s magazine: “It is a disgraceful fact, that out of 3,300 subscribers, nearly one half were females.51
We finally reach the XX century, where a more enlightened (but not less bestial world - witness the bloody World Wars I and II) opened its minds to enjoyment and pleasure, trying to shed the tight corset of religion and social traditions.
During the second half of the century, we see a slackening of sexual taboos in most societies around the world, an improvement of women’s status and freedom, a rebirth in sexual freedom (free-sex, the pill, swinging lifestyle, gays and their coming out), and also a growing concern due to the terrible epidemic of HIV Aids, and the increased fundamentalism in several religions that openly attack these positive changes.
This interest in orgies and group sex is shown in the Janus Report48 that said that in the US, 8% of women 14 % of men had engaged in "group sex" that is nearly one person out of every eight, 11% of adults is quite a significant figure.
Other surveys54, show the following:
Have had a Threesome (%)
Serbia & Montenegro
Regarding a particular city, Vancouver, Canada, a survey there indicated that 24% have admitted to having a threesome, 24% to group sex and of these, nearly 1/3 to an orgy. The 1998 figure for group sex was 5%, so the increase is nearly five fold53.