Behind Closed Doors: Classical stories in sexual history

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September 30, 2008

2:35 AM

Classes have been in session for six weeks now and lectures may be starting to drag. Social lives and activities have geared up, and there often seem to be many more interesting things to do than sit in a classroom learning about 18th-century Russia. When this happens, use sex as your ally.

People have been having sex since the dawn of humanity. That means that all historical figures mentioned in your classes — from Adam Smith to Karl Marx to Amelia Earhart — certainly humped and bumped.
In recent years, many public figures have had public sex lives: Everyone from politicians such as Bill Clinton and John Edwards, to rock stars such as Gene Simmons, who claims to have bedded almost 5,000 people, have shared their stories with the public. There are sex tapes galore. (Did anyone check out Mini Me’s mini me?) Some even claim that there is a video of Marilyn Monroe using her pouty lips to do more than sing “Happy Birthday.” Elvis Presley famously used his aides to prowl for groupies in the lobbies of his hotels.
In earlier times, sexual information about central societal figures was not as readily available. (I know what you’re thinking: “People actually lived in a time when there was no Perezhilton.com?”) But sexual rumors have always been popular and indeed, some historical figures are famous for their sex lives.

Our own alumnus Thomas Jefferson’s (class of 1762) sexual preferences have been the topics of a few best-selling books. And William III, of our beloved William and Mary, is rumored to have preferred men to women. Granted, the evidence for this is based on his paltry one public mistress, compared to the many known mistresses of other kings. There have been rumors that Abraham Lincoln was gay. The evidence here — also faulty — is that Lincoln seemed uncomfortable around women. Neither Mary II nor Mary Todd were available for comment.

Women also play a prominent role in the history of sex. From Sappho, my favorite lesbian, to Helen of Troy and Cleopatra, history is full of powerful and sexy women.

Catherine the Great had an amazing sex life. She lavished gifts upon her lovers and kept them in her graces after the affair was over so that they would help her pick the next man. There are also some very scandalous rumors about her, ahem, love of animals.

Marie Antoinette, with all her riches, could not stop the presses that ran pamphlets about her sex life. She was rumored to have slept with her brothers-in-law and noblewomen in lavish orgies. Among the charges read at her execution were incest and unnatural sexual proclivities and practices. And even before the whole “off with her head” thing, she was rumored to be barren.

But that turned out to be a sexual problem with Louis XV. He had a condition called phimosis, which means that his foreskin would not retract fully from the head of his penis. Thus, he couldn’t father any insanely-rich-and-out-of-touch-with-the-populace babies. Eventually, he underwent surgery without anesthesia — circumcision — to fix it. And France got a dauphin — although that didn’t do too much good in the long run.
Some offspring of famous figures have survived. According to an article written in National Geographic’s February 2003 issue, genetic testing has shown that there are 16 million living descendants of Genghis Khan on Earth today, which translates to about 8 percent of the men living in the region of the former Mongol empire. That’s a lot of thrusting. Genghis Khan: badass who got a lot of ass.

And, speaking of ass, Julius Caesar was known to have a way with both men and women. This was no big
scandal in ancient Rome, but Caesar’s affinity for catching rather than pitching was cause for an uproar. One of his political enemies is quoted as having said, “He was every woman’s man and every man’s woman.”
I’ve only mentioned a few historical figures here, not to mention the countless sexual histories now lost and gone forever. Nearly every person who ever lived has had sex. So, next time you start nodding off in class, consider the intrigue that may have surrounded the life of Fritz Haber or the possible sexual mishaps of Marie Curie.

Maya Horowitz is The Flat Hat sex columnist. She stayed awake in American History pondering the potential meaning of “The Landing on Plymouth Rock.”

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