Today, I found myself talking about homosexuality in ancient Hellas; the subject came up because we both identify as some version of LGBT, and I had just come out to her as being Hellenic. It was a civil conversation, and one I enjoyed very much. One of the things she said, however, stuck with me and I gathered some resources from my blog to counter it. She said, in relation to homosexuality in ancient Hellas, something I have heard countless of times before:

"Why or how was there are an issue with the homosexuality when your religion is a Greek thing? Hello?! That just doesn't make any sense."

Hellenic society was complicated when it came to sex; adultery was frowned upon, but most marriages were arranged and love was not a guarantee. The ancients saw sex as completely natural and--unlike many today--had no inhibitions and very few taboos when it came to straight up heterosexual sex. Anything else had societal stigma's attached to it. Heterosexual sex was defined by an active male and a passive female. Penetration was active, being penetrated was passive. Getting oral sex was active, while performing oral sex was a passive activity. There is a pattern there that is important, as it limited the socially acceptable interactions one could have. For example, men were stimulated to take on only an active role and thus avoided performing oral sex on a woman (or man, but see below). Due to this dynamic, homosexuality was frowned upon as well; here were two men (or women, but that's an entirely different dynamic and a longer story for which there is very little evidence) who alternated an active and passive roll--something very much against society's rules.

Pederasty was a socially acknowledged erotic relationship between an adult male and a younger male usually in his teens, and was practiced mostly in the Archaic and Classical ages of Hellenic history. Due to the age difference and the societal function the practice served, this type of relationship was accepted and not considered homosexual. The younger partner was always the passive party and performed to role of 'woman' in the exchange, thus making it a heterosexual relationship between two men (as contradictory as that may sound).

Women--perhaps somewhat obviously--had far fewer freedoms when it came to sex outside of the marital bed, and their lives were far less often discussed. I highly doubt ancient Hellenic men had any idea what happened in the almost completely separate lives of their wives--especially in the richer layers of society, and especially in the big cities like Athens and Corinth. It would not surprise me at all if women found sexual comfort with each other or themselves on a regular basis, but evidence of that is slim to none-existent outside of Sparta from where there is even evidence of pederastic relationships between older and younger women in high societal circles.

Marriage was to someone of the opposite gender. You were heterosexual. Period. While members of both sexes may have shared their beds with someone of the same gender, this had nothing to do with the way they identified on the Kinsey scale. In ancient Hellas, what mattered was the role you played in bed. The males, especially when older or higher up in the hierarchy, were supposed to be the dominant ones, the active ones, while the women, the young and those lower in the hierarchy, the passive ones. Because of the age difference and the difference in social standing, the young male assuming a passive role was permitted in pederasty, but a grown man assuming that role was a social and sexual taboo. A wife who took charge in the bedroom would have been frowned upon as well. Especially within the marriage, sex served to make babies, nothing more. Prostitutes and concubines were still supposed to assume a passive, female, role, but I am willing to bet there were some exceptions to that rule.

I'm sure there were both people in ancient Hellas we would now identify as homosexual--and even those who practiced a homosexual lifestyle--and people who practiced what we could now call homosexual sex, but I am willing to bet most of them stuck to the societal rules briefly laid out here, and hardly wavered from them for fear of rejection. In a society where the group far outweighed the individual, it was even harder to go against the grain than it is today.