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Photos By Lief

Start Me Up

You can’t drive a cold car without warming up the engine, so...

Panting, moaning, sweating, grunting—no, you hornball, we’re not having sex here. This is the prelude—the overture—the preface to the main event. The feel of skin on skin, lips on lips, fingers tangled in each other’s hair, touching, kissing, sucking, caressing. . . . To quote Glenn Frey, the heat is on.

Sex comes later. Right now, we’re concentrating on foreplay. Men, women, straight, gay, bi—everyone needs to be turned on, right? (Unless you’re a 15-year-old boy, that is.) But . . . but, you’re saying. . . . OK, admittedly, women may have a space chiseled a little higher on their list of sexual priorities for foreplay than men may, but c’mon—no one can deny its pleasurable practicality.

Leif Zurmuhlen

The logic is simple: Foreplay is often needed to get you hyped up for sex. Of course, there is a place and a time for the occasional quickie, but the preshow generally makes the experience more intimate and involved. A little kissing here, a little rubbing there . . . anticipation builds, and voilá! You’re on your way to mind-blowing sex!

In order to explore this topic in depth, I surveyed a bunch of friends and colleagues to get the skinny on what the layman (or woman) thinks about foreplay. They willingly provided me with enough dirt to blackmail them for years to come, but I’ll be nice and just use their responses to drive this point home: People, for the most part, love foreplay! They are willing to learn, teach and accommodate strange requests, all in the name of great lovemaking. Men, in particular, seem to be enthusiastic about guiding their partners along if their skills aren’t up to par. One guy says teaching “is necessary . . . without it, you’ll only be disappointed after a certain amount of time. Blind, all-engrossing lust and beginners’ luck can only last so long.” It seems that the ladies aren’t as eager to go to all the trouble: One woman says, “No one wants to hold someone’s hand through a sexual encounter; it’s a real turn-off.”

There’s a common belief that foreplay is much more important to women than it is to men. Though some politically correct responders say that statement is wholly untrue, most men and women who answered my poll verify the rumor: Women need more affection and physical contact before actual intercourse; men are generally more results-oriented, and often, though they enjoy foreplay, view it as a means to an end.

Sadly, many of those questioned have less-than- adequate prehump fun in their sex lives. In fact, when asked how often their foreplay experiences are satisfactory, the percentage that kept popping up in their responses hovered at a semi-disappointing 65. Sure, some gave an optimistic 99 percent, and there was one very frustrated 38 percent, but at least we can say that the majority of my pals are getting their sufficient foreplay kicks more than half the time.

So, is foreplay always a prerequisite to sex? An unexpected trend in female responses was this: More times than you’d think, they just want to get to it! As one sassy female points out, “At times, my impatience for intercourse shines through.” She goes on to explain that although she enjoys foreplay, she “doesn’t need an orgasm every time, so if I say, ‘Come up here please, I want sex now,’ that doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job—it just means I want sex.” Another girl says, “Foreplay can sometimes be overrated—I really just like to fuck.”

Can prescrew-play occur subliminally? Most of those surveyed said yes. How, you ask? Almost everyone claims that eye contact—flirty, sensual eye contact—falls under the category of foreplay. I also received a scattering of other let’s-not-quite-touch-yet-and-still-set-each-other-on-fire answers. My buddies (especially the guys) say that certain innuendos, body language and speech can get them going. One guy ventured to say, “Anything can be eroticized. Leaving aside the pheromonal, biochemical, animal-instinct-type frisson that people can share, there’s the mysterious issue of style.” The way she holds her drink, his scent, the way she tosses her hair, his way with words (it helps if he’s speaking French)—all of these things can add to the eroticism, therefore, they qualify as foreplay.

I decided to get the general consensus on whether or not bad foreplay could actually turn someone off to the point that they deny their partner humpery. Most say, “Deny sex? Are ya kidding me?” However, the one thing that seems to turn people off the most is being landed with a bad kisser. In fact, it makes people stop dead in their tracks. One guy says, “I was once removing the sweater of a drop-dead gorgeous woman when I realized that she was, without question, the worst kisser I had ever kissed. She had very shapely, attractive, movie-star lips, but [she had] no clue how to use them—it was like kissing something with a beak. I abandoned the whole project, and left her with her sweater up over her head.”

I asked my pals to provide me with their best foreplay stories. I received so many wild tales that made me blush and giggle out loud—one guy had his girl writhing so ferociously that she banged her head off a wall, and he made a different girl puncture her knee on a sofa-bed frame! (Ouch—remind me to stay away from him!) I received stories about foreplay beginning in the car, foreplay lasting for hours before goodbye-I’m-never-going-to-see-you-again sex, stories of erotic massage, interesting ways to perform oral sex. . . . The list goes on and on. However, there’s not nearly enough room for all these stories here, so you’re just going to have to use your imagination.

Sometimes people—no matter what sex or preference—can be a little clueless about what their partners want during the preshow. What are the biggest things you people want your partners to get on the ball about? Straight guys, listen up: Women surveyed bluntly say, “If you ask for it, there’s a good chance you’ll get it. . . . Please be gentle and take your time. . . . There’s never enough kissing, sucking and licking.” What’s the one thing guys want their partners to know? A resounding “No teeth!”

—Kathryn Lurie

You Can Get Anything You Want

The Internet outing of peculiar sexual practices calls into question the validity of vanilla

Getting any lately?” That’s the way a former coworker, Lou the maintenance guy, used to greet me when I arrived at work—day in, day out. And just as regularly, when I offered up my noncommital response, “Oh, a little here and there,” he’d ask the follow-up, “Ya getting anything weird?”

As it turned out, I never was. Or nothing I thought weird enough to satisfy his leering curiousity. Weird, like how? I mean, I wasn’t knowingly breaking any laws; I was barely out of high school. At that age, simply having sex regularly was still unusual enough to count as weird.

But thanks to the Internet, I now know exactly the kind of thing he was talking about. And, be honest, so do you—everyone does. We’re all point-and-click Kinseys. Which leads to the question, “Where’s the fringe these days?” If you can access graphic images, chatrooms, personal ads, bulletin boards and the like dedicated exclusively to, say, ponyplay (for those of you not yet in the bonus rounds, I’ll explain later) as easily as you can file share a remixed “Mesmerize” or order a new rollneck sweater, does it count as out-there behavior? And, perhaps more to the point, is attaching value judgments based on the statistical prevalence of phenomena a sensible approach when it comes to sexual preferences or behavior? Have these acts become more acceptable because they are more easily accessible as images or topics of chat? Were they somehow worse when they were comparitively hidden?

Though it seems that there is still a lingering Puritan legacy in America that prioritizes a sexual conformity, the commonplace—it must be pointed out—is not necessarily good. For example, by some estimates, sexually active women who do not regularly achieve orgasm represent the greater portion of sexually active women. Would anyone contend that because that is the norm, it is good and should therefore be reinforced? Probably not, no.

Leif Zurmuhlen

So I ask you, seriously, in that light, is the grown man who is sexually aroused by balloons really all that weird?

Well, yes. At first blush, anyway. As is the woman who gets an erotic charge from dressing in a full-body badger suit, and the guy who gets off being trussed like a turkey, garnished with vegetables and confined in an oven (it’s called “vore,” and it’s real). But according to Katherine Gates, the motivations underlying these proclivities—let’s not call them perversions—are fairly easily understood, once you get past that first blush.

Gates is the author of Deviant Desires, a book in which she analyzes the psychosexual roots of fetishism, and she’s the head honcho of a Web site of the same name that is essentially an expanded and updated version of the book. At the Web site, Gates presents a Fetish Map that groups fetishes and illustrates the interrelated nature of many seemingly disparate sexual practices.

Though she dismisses hoary Freudian explanations (no castration anxiety here, so women are free to join in), it is her contention that fetishistic behavior can be organized in sets or categories such as “engulfment and containment” and “return to childhood.” The groups are not exclusive, and individual preferences may turn up in more than one category: Ponyplay, for example—which involves the use of tight corsets or actual equestrian gear and/or horse masks to provide the illusion that one is in some way partnered with a horse—is listed in both “engulfment,” for its use of confining props, and “return to childhood,” for its evocation of the piggy-back rides you loved so as a tot. (Ponyplay, by the way, is sometimes referred to as the Aristotelian Perversion, because it is said that the Greek philosopher was ocassionally mounted and trotted about by his wife, Phyllis.)

In some cases, there are cross-fetish hybrids: If you are a macrogynophile, one who fantasizes about giantesses, there is a decent chance that you may also be a “crush freak,” one who is excited by the prospect of being trampled underfoot. But don’t be fooled: You can’t always second-guess this kind of thing. Don’t assume that the body inflationist who gets hot and bothered by the image of Violet Beauregard in Willy Wonka is necessarily a fat admirer. He or she may, in fact, prefer the sensation of pressure sustained by being contained in a rubber suit slowly filling with air. And the messy fun of the sploshers who cover themselves in pudding, mud or baked beans is not the same thing, by any means, as more widely known watersports. Believe me, that would be quite a faux pas.

The most common dynamics of fetish play, says Gates, are those of animal transformation, unusual growth, object transformation (the eroticization of inanimate objects such as robots, dolls or stuffed animals), and taboo (which most often involves the violation of childhood rules of cleanliness, and may be made manifest as outright infantalism). All of these categories, Gates points out, may and often do involve elements of dominance/submission or fear as triggers for arousal.

And all of them have their own Web pages. From Amazons to women in peril, asphyxiation to vampires, there’s a full gamut out there—much of it available at sites obviously constructed to have mainstream appeal. With a subtle motion of the wrist (get your mind out of the gutter), you can leap from “wholesome” Baywatch porn to depications of acts that may confuse, as much as arouse, you.

So, just between you and me, are you getting any lately? Anything weird?

—John Rodat

Art of the Deal

Reading the signs of the subtle, maddening give-and-take that is dating

The two agreed to meet at the movie theater, a movie neither particularly wanted to see. It’ll be dark, good for groping, he thought. He hoped they would grope, touch, feel one another during the movie. They’d been out a couple of times, and he wanted to get to the next level.

He hadn’t wanted to meet at the theater. Why had she? He wished she would let him pick her up. That way, he’d definitely make it back to her front steps. At the very least, he’d have to make it to the front steps this time, or else he wouldn’t be seeing her again.

He made sure to be on time—it all had to go well tonight. Why he hadn’t gotten in the door previously, he wasn’t sure. But he would cover all the bases tonight. He wore his favorite clothes—not the newest or hippest, but his favorite. He looked good, he thought, while glancing in the mirror, and sucked on some mouthwash.

This much he knew: He wanted to sleep with her. He was attracted to her, physically, and they got along pretty well. It’s just so hard to tell what someone’s really like after a few scheduled meetings chock-full of politeness and the ever-present desire to make a good impression. But, aside from getting to know her better, and becoming involved physically, he didn’t know what he wanted. It would reveal itself in time, he thought. He was aware that things can get messy after sex; he wasn’t born yesterday. But he’d put that off for now. Maybe it’ll be cool.

Leif Zurmuhlen

He had no clue about what she wanted. Was she playing it cool? Did she even like him? He knew she mustn’t hate him, unless she had a debilitating habit of hanging out with people she abhorred. No, she liked something. She could be playing with him, but he discounted that. It’s too early to tell. Was she attracted to him? It frustrated him that he could not answer these questions.

She was running late, having tried on a dizzying number of clothing combinations. She had hand-washed her favorite panties merely hours before they met at the theater. She’d try her best to make everything right tonight. She still wasn’t sure how she felt about sex with him, but, she thought again, she hadn’t ruled it out. It wasn’t prudishness that kept her from sleeping with him. She was attracted to him. Not passionately. Well, she wasn’t repelled.

Certain things were deal-breakers for her when it came to sex: She had to enjoy his smell, for example. She had a sensitivity to smell, and certain smells—ones she couldn’t even decipher—turned her off. Not sweat. She generally liked the smell of sweat—she had to like the smell of someone’s sweat to get it all over her. His breath needn’t be laced with mint or some other sweet smell. But it had to contain something that drew her toward rather than away from him.

Smell controlled her lust index in many ways, mostly in imperceptible ways. She was a slave to it. For while it could keep her from bedding one person, it could throw her into the arms of another. She didn’t need a strong sexual attraction, and strong smell attraction, to sleep with someone. But it helped. It was smell, she believed, that would cause her to fantasize of hot sex with a person standing in front of her. She didn’t even need to see a face. Those times could end in nameless, faceless lovemaking sessions. Some of the most passionate of her life. No, it wasn’t prudishness that had kept her from previously inviting him in, although he’d have made it in on date No. 1 had he aroused her olfactorily.

It was the fact that she was loath to invite into her life the mess that can accompany sex when feelings and expectations are lopsided. Did she want more than sex? She did not know. She didn’t really know what drew her to attempt these encounters. She wasn’t the marrying sort—that’s for sure. But she was certain, staunchly so, that she didn’t want to get bogged down in a conversation about the politics of sex and dating with someone she barely knew. She’d just have to figure out for herself, through polite conversations, offhanded remarks, and his actions, whether or not he’d be too sensitive about the whole thing—or insensitive, as the case may be. Sex creates strange attachments, she thought, and she wasn’t up for the drama that could ensue were she to back away from him, or become attached to someone who wanted no more than sex. What a complicated mess, she thought. But she got in her car and headed to the movie theater.

She was a bit late, but not to a bothersome degree. She looked pretty, and she looked nervous, he noted. He could tell she’d made a special attempt to look good. But her feelings betrayed her, at least hazily. Why was she nervous? What goes on in her head?

They exchanged pleasantries. Her smile was wide and genuine. She seemed glad to be there, perhaps glad to be with him there.

She was surprised by how happy it made her feel to see him waiting in that lobby. She loosened up, perhaps instinctively due to her ever-increasing attraction to him. He seems so at ease, she thought, so sexy. The fear of the mess may have to wait.

He made an instant decision to release himself from his insecurities that evening. They didn’t help him any anyhow. Who cares if she doesn’t want anything to do with me, he thought. It’s her loss. But, by her arm on my shoulder, it seems as though she does. They walked into the already-dark theater, and when they sat, she placed her hand on his thigh and gave it a squeeze.

The fear of the mess, he thought, will have to wait.

—Kate Sipher

Ladies, Gather ’Round the Vibrator

The Tupperware of the 21st century: sex-toy parties for women

On a commercial for the Oxygen Channel, the hip version of Lifetime, Candice Bergen asks viewers if sex toys are the Tupperware for the new millennium. Well, after my first experience at a Passion’s Party, I can respond: “Why yes, Candice, they are.”

Passion Parties, Inc., based in Brisbane, Calif., was founded in 1994. The company’s mission statement reads, “To share the opportunity that any woman can experience the prosperity of owning her own business; to share the products that will enhance any woman’s relationship; and to share the philosophy of women helping women.” Sales consultants stress that the company promotes monogamy and safe sex, pointing out condom compatibility of some items. It also donates to charities such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and offers college scholarships to daughters or granddaughters of distributors. Passion parties provide an alternative to sleazy sex shops that are geared towards men. Many women may not explore their options because they are embarrassed or feel uncomfortable going to a store with neon lights and painted windows where the man behind the counter has that crazed Charles Manson look in his eye.

I walked into this experience not knowing what to expect. The closest I’ve ever come to a sex-toy party was when a bunch of friends hired a stripper for another girl’s birthday. Yes, I have been in a sex shop, so I am familiar with the equipment, but the variety and options blew me away.

There were four of us willing to brave the unknown. One friend was using the party as an excuse to take a break from studying for law school; another, our “in,” baked brownies to bring as a party gift. As we drove to the party I began to feel nervous. I wondered if this would be cheesy, like the stripper, or a memorable learning experience.

We arrived and met the party hostess, my friend’s cousin, who was already tipsy. There was an assortment of food and wine being served. I have no idea if alcohol is a staple at these kinds of events, but I would not be surprised. Besides heightening the comic factor, the wine helped loosen up the more timid attendees.

Leif Zurmuhlen

Next I was introduced to the other guests. There were about 20 other women, mostly in their 30s, and as I was about to find out, many were schoolteachers (brings a whole new meaning to show and tell). As the women kept arriving, they joked about having to tell their husbands where they were headed or the lies they had told to babysitters. One woman told her sitter that she was at a church event.

The sales consultant unloaded her three suitcases of treats and spread them out on a table at one end of the living room. She began by having us fill out nametags with erotic names based on the first letter of our first name. I was “Titillating Tanya.” She started off with some bath and body items, explaining the purpose of each and passing them around to smell, or—if edible—to taste. The Romanta Therapy lotion, perfume and shower gel selections are made with pheromones to act as an aphrodisiac. Other goodies offered were Ready to Go gel for clitoral stimulation, complete with the disclaimer that it works only on 80 percent of women, and D’Lickious Edible Head Gel to calm the gag reflex (available in Tingling Mint or Tangerine Tango flavors).

Taking a break before we moved on to the fashion and fantasy section, we played a game to see who was the luckiest bitch in the room. Based on sexually oriented questions, we were awarded points, and whomever had the most at the end won free lube. Ten points if you had sex last night. Nope. Twenty points if you have ever left a rose petal path to your bed. Fuck no. I believe I scored a measly 60 out of a possible 200.

Then we delved into the toys. The vibrators, cock rings, and bullets. Bullets are metallic, egg-shaped toys inserted directly or as an attachment to a vibrator to provide the clitoral stimulation that 70 percent of women need to achieve orgasm. The Jelly Osaki is the best seller due to its rotating shaft and G-spot massage. One woman pointed out the unappetizing animal theme to the toys, such as Super Beaver, Pink Pachyderm and the Waterproof Dancing Dolphin. I mean, really, they sound like goddamn feminist superheroes. I can’t fantasize about that.

Toys not on display at the party but available through the catalog included anal beads, a butt plug that looks like a pacifier, the notorious love swing, and Ben-Wa balls. Surprised by that last one? According to the consultant, even doctors recommend using the balls to tone and tighten the Kegel muscles in the vagina (ladies, you know, the ones used to fake an orgasm) to improve bladder control, and for soon-to-be-mothers, to strengthen pushing ability.

After the fun and games, each person had the opportunity to confidentially order any item. In a separate room, the consultant and client discussed the client’s options. The law student swore me to secrecy; another friend is looking forward to her Nubby G; and a third is toying with the idea of becoming a consultant herself.

Which is exactly how our consultant got her start. “It started as a joke. I went to a party and was in awe at how she [the consultant] carried herself.” But it took her three parties to work up the nerve to attempt doing it herself. She does not broadcast her part-time job: “Due to the nature of my job and being a mother, I have to be careful how it’s perceived. I have to be discreet.” According to the consultant, even though most of her business is through word-of-mouth, her services are in such high demand that she can’t keep up, so she recruits at every party she does.

Having been in business only since October, the consultant hasn’t since regretted her decision: “I look at it as educational. Everyone is having sex in one way or another, but are not comfortable talking about it. I want to put them at ease and in-tune with their own bodies. I hope that I can teach them something and open up a line of communication with their partner.” Most of her clients are married women who need something new to spice up their sex life. “I’ve met people from all walks of life. I’ve even had mothers and daughters at the same party. Now that’s cool,” she marveled.

“My favorite part is during the middle of the party, when people relax and say things they never thought they’d say,” the consultant said proudly. “These are normal people. They don’t have a third eye in the middle of their forehead.”

—Tanya Leet

At Any Age

Just because you’re eligible for the senior discount doesn’t mean you have to discount your sex life

When Moms Mabely, who was herself older than 60, used to quip in performance, “The only thing an old man is good for is to bring me a message from a young man,” she was perpetuating a misconception that is still going strong today. It is a common belief that sex and attractiveness belong to the young and not the old. You don’t want to think about your parents’ (or grandparents’) sex life, much less talk about it. The truth is that we don’t change all that much as we move through the stages of our lives. Sexuality is an essential element of one’s identity. Who you are, your habits, your preferences and your sexuality will carry through. If you have a vital sexual life now, you surely will want one later.

As the population ages, more studies speak directly to the physical and emotional issues particular to sex after 70. Researchers Leslie Barnes Fluharty and Daniel Jones of the College of Wooster developed a list of facts everyone should know about aging and sexuality:

1. Though the amount of sexual activity generally decreases, the amount of sexual interest and ability remains fairly constant.

2. If one’s sexuality is constant throughout life, the biological changes associated with aging are less pronounced and sexuality is usually less affected.

3. Understanding that sexuality is normal and natural in old age is an important step to becoming more comfortable with one’s own sexuality.

4. There is more to sexuality than vaginal intercourse. There are many forms of intimate expression ranging from holding hands to kissing to masturbation to oral sex. Sexuality is about intimacy, and these options can enrich sexual expression.

5. Sexual activity is possible and takes place through the 70s and beyond. Sexual health can be beneficial to the overall health of an elderly individual.

6. The physical exertion associated with sex is near the equivalent to walking up two flights of stairs. With this in mind, it is easy to understand that sex for the patient of a heart operation would rarely be dangerous.

Leif Zurmuhlen

Sexual dysfunctions have many of the same causes regardless of age: disease, depression, medication, lack of a partner. Surgeries and strokes, etc., have their impact on late-in-life sexuality. The changes related to age are mostly physiological, compounded by the attendant personal reactions to those changes. But nothing influences sex more than attitudes. Consider the assumptions of someone in their 70s today. They were born in the 1920 or ’30s, before the sexual revolution, before readily available contraception and abortion, when gender roles were more narrow and solidly predictable. Speaking with a man and woman in their mid-’70s from my community led to some stimulating insights.

Man: “I made the inference that sex was over after 60. When a man over 60 fathered a child it was a scandal. There have always been guys who knew that sex goes on, but they didn’t especially talk about it.”

Normal changes in aging women include decrease in sex hormones, vaginal lubrication decrease, fewer orgasmic contractions and rapid “decrescendo” in arousal after orgasm. Menopausal women can attest to physical changes, such as the need for lubricants like Astroglide. Changes in men include the loss of the inevitability stage—the feeling of necessity to have an orgasm just prior to climax—and changes in the ability to achieve an erection. It may take longer to achieve and it may not be as firm as in youth. However, as in youth, most causes of impotence are psychological. Embarrassing and discouraging, it is usually a temporary condition.

Man: “Performance was always the most important issue, not whether you had a good time. I tried Viagra, thinking ‘this will make certain I have no problem.’ I didn’t notice much difference, so I stopped. I decided to get away from worrying so much about performance. Age doesn’t matter overall. You don’t have the same endurance, but even that doesn’t matter because it’s totally adequate.”

It is difficult to separate what issues are specifically related to aging and those that are part of a human condition. When the woman comments, “Ego—the fear of not performing is an issue for the man. It’s like, if he doesn’t work, everybody will know,” she could be referring to anyone at any age.

As a woman ages, she may become more anxious about her appearance. The emphasis on youthful physical beauty can interfere with the ability to enjoy sex. Woman: “At 60 I was thinking, I don’t feel very sexy. I think this is all ego too. Oh the hell with it, I might as well give up my ego for a while. It’s not springtime anymore.”

Woman: “You can’t think of your former body, the way you looked. That patronizing idea of beauty, youth, and what is sexy. Sexy is what you project. If he likes and admires you, that’s it—you’re sexy.”

It may require an examination of what lovemaking is. As we age, lovemaking may become a more intimate experience, a deeper connection with a new emphasis on communicating, physicality and affection. Woman: “He is crazy about my belly. He likes to rub it from side to side and it goes from side to side. It’s like we are both saying, this is great, this is fascinating. We’re old.” She laughs.

Man: “I had one of the biggest laughs of my life, after, when we were done. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was so delightful, everything.”

Older couples have the same concerns that affect people of any age. Many find that they are not much in the mood at the end of a long day. One older couple described their matinee plans: They maintain separate beds for sleeping but prearrange a rendezvous in her bigger bed every Wednesday. They cuddle, talk and allow the mood to overtake them. Waiting for the mood to strike may mean waiting for weeks or months (observe the recent flood of books about sexless marriages). Most sex manuals advise couples to learn to enjoy the physical and emotional intimacy without striving for orgasm quickly. Making an effort to improve communication and explore ways of pleasing each other leads to satisfying sex.

Most anything can be a turn-on at 20, but at 70, after years of sexual experience, sexual expressions are more refined. Sex can be an artist’s masterwork after years of study.

Woman: “I’ve slowed down. I’ve done it a million times. More concentration is where it’s at. When my mind wanders, it’s no good—I may as well be somewhere else. All of sex is mindset. Dirty thoughts, clean thinking—it’s all in your head.”

Man: “I am far more focused in the experience rather than judging the experience, like how am I doing. It’s freer, with fewer peripheral distractions.”

—Barbara Price

The Imperial Itch

In olden days, absolute power permitted rulers to indulge their infinite lusts

Let’s say you had unlimited money and power with which to satisfy any and all of your lusts, and no moral constraints to stop you. You could, without censure here or damnation in the hereafter, have sex in any setting with any number of men, women, or both. How wild would you go? History provides some clues in the lives of the monarchs and emperors of the pre- Christian Roman Empire, and what you learn is that ancient heads of state often went to such lurid excesses that it strains belief.

A major source of what we know about the amorous indulgences of ancient omnipotents is The Twelve Ceasars by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, who was chief secretary to the Roman emperor Hadrian (who ruled 117-38 A.D.) Suetonius had access to the imperial annals, and was able to draw on them in his biographical sketches of Rome’s first dozen emperors. Although it is his only surviving work, we know he also penned what had to have been an at least equally juicy volume, The Lives of Famous Whores.

Suetonius starts with Julius (100-44 B.C.), the first Caesar. Even as a general conquering Gaul, Julius’s profligate ways were sung of in this ribald Latin verse back in Rome, as rendered by Robert Graves in his landmark translation of The Twelve Ceasars:

Home we bring our bald whoremonger:

Romans, lock your wives away!

All the bags of gold you lent him

Went his Gallic tarts to pay.

After he got back and became emperor, he did exactly what the quatrain warned of by helping himself to the wives of numerous Roman patricians. For a husband so cuckolded, though, the price of complaining was prohibitive—angering an emperor could be fatal. Julius was also bisexual (sex with male slaves was common among Roman men, but for a married man, adultery with women other than prostitutes was frowned upon), being described by a contemporary as “every queen’s man and every man’s queen.” But as it turns out, Julius was tame in comparison with some of his successors.

Tiberius (42 B.C.-37 A.D.) had an entire island converted into a pleasure garden and peopled it with “bevies of young women and men, from all over the world, who were adept in unnatural practices,” who would perform for the emperor in groups of three. Rooms decorated with pornographic paintings and statuary and staffed with concubines of either sex who were required to study Egyptian sex manuals were available for the ruler. And for al fresco debauchery among the forests and glades of the island, boys and girls attired as Pans and nymphs stood waiting outside of caves and grottos.

Leif Zurmuhlen

Tiberius probably was the most sexually depraved of the early emperors on account of his pedophilia. Translators of Suetonius before Robert Graves simply refused to include passages like this: “Some aspects of his criminal obscenity are almost too vile to discuss, much less believe. Imagine training little boys, whom he called his ‘minnows,’ to chase him while he was swimming and get between his legs to suck and nibble him. Or letting babies not yet weaned from their mother’s breast suck at him-such a filthy old man he had become!” After all, there was nothing to stop him, and the Romans had no concept in their pagan religion of an afterlife with possible punishment for earthly sins.

Leaving Rome for a moment, Egypt’s Queen Cleopatra VII (69-30 B.C.) had a robust libido on steroids. Known by sobriquets such as “the great swallower,” and “she who gapes wide for ten thousand men,” she was said to be highly skilled at fellatio. Tradition holds that she performed oral sex on a hundred Roman noblemen in a single night (blow jobs evidently were a national pastime in the land of the pyramids—it’s worth mentioning that lipstick was first worn there by women wishing to advertise their fondness for giving head). But that feat pales in comparison with how quickly Cleopatra met the eligibility requirement for becoming a High Priestess of Aset, which was having fucked 1,000 men. The story goes that it took her only 10 days to accomplish this, although some hyperbole may be assumed.

One of the worst emperors, Nero (37-68 A.D.), was seduced by his mother, Aggripina, and is remembered for fiddling while Rome burned (the fiddle actually didn’t come along until the Middle Ages). According to Suetonius, Nero would stage elaborate fantasies like having temporary brothels built on the banks of the Tiber with noblewomen posing as madams waiting outside them, and then sailing down the Tiber and taking his pick of the women. Or this: “Nero practiced every kind of obscenity,” Suetonius writes, “and at last he invented a novel game: He was released from a den dressed in the skins of wild animals, and attacked the private parts of men and women who stood bound to stakes. After working up sufficient excitement by this means, he was dispatched—shall we say?—by his freedman Doryphorus. Doryphorus now married him—just as he himself had married Sporus—and on the wedding night he imitated the screams and moans of a girl being deflowered.” Both men had been castrated and forced to undergo what are described as sex-change surgeries, reminding us that the lasciviousness of some of the emperors was nothing next their cruelty.

Although bisexuality among the emperors was the rule, with their complete freedom to follow their fancy, there naturally were exceptions. Of the first 12, only Claudius (10 B.C.-54 A.D.) was purely heterosexual. Suetonius remarks, “His feelings for women were extremely passionate, but men and boys left him cold.” On the other hand, the emperor Galba (3 B.C.-69 A.D.) was gay: “A homosexual invert, he showed a decided preference for mature, sturdy men. It is said that when Icleus, one of his trusty bedfellows, brought the news of Nero’s death, Galba showered him with kisses and begged him to undress without delay, whereupon intimacy took place.”

So what sense do you make of it all? In a 1959 essay on Suetonius, Gore Vidal, author of the novel Julian, wrote (and here we may include Cleopatra), “From the sexual opportunism of Julius Caesar to the sadism of Nero to the doddering pederasty of Galba, the sexual lives of the Caesars encompassed every aspect of what our post-medieval time has termed ‘sexual abnormality.’ It would be wrong, however, to dismiss, as so many commentators have, the wide variety of Caesarean sensuality as simply the viciousness of twelve abnormal men. They were, after all, a fairly representative lot. They differed from us—and their contemporaries—only in the fact of power, which made it possible for each to act out his most recondite sexual fantasies. This is the psychological fascination of Suetonius. What will men so placed do? The answer, apparently, is anything and everything.”

—Glenn Weiser


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