"Roman Sex" is a study and showcase of ancient Roman sexual practice as it was expressed in art 100 BC-250 AD. Issues related to sex, such as birth control, birth rates, or courting rituals are beyond the scope of this book. References to sex are plentiful in Roman literature, which was invariably written by elite males. Erotic art, on the other hand, adorned the homes and buildings of a broader swath of Roman society and therefore represented the attitudes of middle and working class Romans as well.
There are about 100 beautifully reproduced photographs of erotic paintings, mosaics, sculpture, and ceramics in "Roman Sex", primarily from Rome, Pompeii, and Herculaneum. But this isn't just a "coffee table" production. Historian and author John Clarke takes care to place the art within its original context, most often in people's homes, and in so doing asks us to put aside the modern ideas of "pornography" and "hetero-" or "homosexuality" that are barriers to viewing sex as the Romans did. Sex in its many forms was a gift from the gods. And erotic art was part of the daily lives of many Romans.
"Roman Sex" explores erotic art in the home, the sexual place of women, art in brothels and baths, the phallus as good luck talisman, and erotic art from Roman France. There is some exquisite art work on display in this book, as well as some paintings that are difficult to make out. The gestures and purposes of some pieces remain mysterious, and the rigid sexual hierarchy of Rome's elite makes for some amusing scenes. But we have the benefit of Clarke's scholarship in deciphering what it all meant to the Romans. "Roman Sex" provides a window on the erotic lives and values of Romans through their beautiful art.