Sexual life in ancient Egypt I. The attitude of the ancient Egyptians towards sex

Oct 25, 2010

Sexual life in ancient Egypt I. The attitude of the ancient Egyptians towards sex
Sketch on a fragment found in the tomb of Puyernre 
The most explicit statement concerning the Egyptian attitude towards sexual behaviour refers not to the act itself, hut to the circumstances, and is given by Hcrodotus :" "The Egyptians were the first to make it a matter of religious observance not to have intercourse with women in temples nor to enter a temple without washing after being with a woman".


A temple was a place where physical purity was the rule; at least for those allowed to go beyond the forecourt (only priests and high officials were allowed to do so). That intercourse makes a man impure and unfit to enter a holy place is well known in Islam, and it is undoubtedly the same idea that lies behind the ancient prohibition. That some women were allowed to be present with men in the temple is evident from Herodotus' remark, and if those with whom a man might have intercourse were ordinary women coming from outside it are not easy to imagine the circumstances, unless they were prostitutes seeking their clientele in the crowd. It is far more likely that members of the female staff of the temple are meant, though whether temple prostitutes existed, as elsewhere in the Near East, in ancient Greece, and in India," cannot be ascertained on the basis of the available material, which is practically nonexistent.?
Herodotus has another important observation in 1,182, namely that the woman who slept in the temple at Thebes had no intercourse with men. The woman in question was undoubtedly the limt nt», the "god's wife", The gods, particularly the ithyphallic Amlin, also had a harim consisting of J.nrwt, but there is no indication that these women ever had intercourse with anyone in this Iunctiori'
That intercourse in holy places was considered unseemly at a much earlier date appears from the text of the Book of the Dead, where the negative confession includes a statement that "I did not fornicate in the sacred places of the god of my town".
The Egyptians knew that pregnancy resulted from intercourse, or rather from the introduction of semen into the woman's body, whether through the vagina, the anus, the mouth, or the earY Procreation was a necessity of life, but the existence of various contraceptives suggests that this was not the only purpose of the act. " That it was also perfonned for pleasure is evident from many literary references. " and from the fact that one of the words used was llIjmngm, though mostly when a god was involved.
As far as extra-marital intercourse and adultery are concerned, there is universal condemnation, except for a reference to the king in the Pyramid Texts.
The result was fatal to the woman, and only in the Late Period could she escape by being divorccd. "Men were advised against it, just as they were also recommended to abstain from relations with prostitutes. 21 The disaster into which a man can be led by women who want money in exchange for their favours is described in the story of Setne

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