Sexual attitudes, preferences and infections in Ancient Greece: has antiquity anything useful for us today?






Sexual attitudes, preferences and infections in Ancient Greece: has antiquity anything useful for us today?

By R S Morton

Genitourinary Medicine, Vol.67 (1991)

Abstract: Modern society bears a heavy burden of medico-social pathology particularly amongst its young. The size, nature and costs of the sexually transmitted disease element is now considerable and dwarfs such successes as have been achieved. In the belief that the structure of a society and the way that structure functions determines the size of its STD problem, a review of Ancient Greek society has been undertaken. Greek society, not least concerning all aspects of sex, was well ordered, frank and tolerant. Some of the areas of Greek society’s structure and functioning which differ most markedly from ours, and seem to have determined a modest STD problem, are highlighted and discussed. Greek ideas that might be adapted to match today’s needs are presented for consideration.

Introduction: In spite of Laird’s pessimism and contrary trends in the prevalence of other manifestations of medicosocial pathology, the venereal diseases-syphilis, chancroid and gonorrhoea-have been subjected to varying degrees of control. Over the last 30 years in several Western countries including the United Kingdom, this control has been mainly due to medical endeavours. The same cannot be said about second generation sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and today’s health workers. Laird’s aphorism should prompt serious consideration.



Societies have been slow to recognise social and behavioural determinants of medico-social pathology. Not surprisingly, therefore, the rapid changes in any society’s structure and how it functions to precipitate costly problems is little appreciated. Economic status offers an example. The Black Report (1982) and Richard Smith’s Unemployment and Health (1987) lay great stress on poverty as a dominating determinant. Too few appear to have noted that prosperity, as well as poverty, determines high prevalence rates of such medico-social phenomena as crime, alcoholism, suicide and STDs. Could it be true that there is a factor common to both poverty and prosperity? Could it be that Western societies are a long way off recognising that we are failing to fit our young, in the Darwinian sense, to match modern society and its rapid changes?

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