Sexual life in ancient Egypt IV. The positions of intercourse

Oct 25, 2010

Sexual life in ancient Egypt IV. The positions of intercourse

Graffito in an unnumbered tomb at Deir el-Bahari
Owing to the doubtful statistical value of the very limited evidence, it is hardly possible to form any definite general conclusions as to the habits of the ancient Egyptians when performing intercourse. There are, however, certain indications as to what the Egyptians considered the normal position.
In a text to the glorification of Osiris, written in the XXVIth dynasty, it is said: "I am thy sister Isis. There is no other god or goddess who has done what I have done. I have played the part of a man though I am a woman, in order to make thy name live on earth, since thy divine seed was in my body".
This clearly refers to the union of Isis with her husband after the death of the latter. His body was cut to pieces and scattered all over Egypt, but Isis managed to assemble it.


Although Plutarch claims that the male member was missing another authority of more ancient date relates that it was found. Osiris, however, was not able to proceed in the usual way, and it was Isis herself "who revived what was faint for the Weary One (Osiris), who took in his seed and provided an heir".
How she did this is not infrequently represented in a symbolic manner: Isis rests on the abdomen of Osiris in the shape of a bird with outstretched wings'" or, more clearly-the Osiris-legend being transferred to private persons as a woman.

Already in the Pyramid Texts it is said:
"You (Osiris) have placed her (Isis) on your phallus and your seed goes into her",  so that from earliest times this was the way which it was imagined that Isis and Osiris united to create Horus. When the later text has Isis say: "I have played the part of a man", it can only be understood that it was the opposite position that was usual, with the man on top of the woman, both of them lying down face-to-face.
A hieroglyph at Beni Hasan shows this simple position, but is the only clear illustration of it.

A variant of the face-to-face posture may have been considered equally "normal", the woman in this case lying with legs sprawled.
In the Roman world this was apparently the preferred position. Another variant shows the woman reclining with one leg outstretched, and the other on the shoulder of the man.
A well-executed figurine of blue glazed faience represents a woman lying on her left side, supporting her head with her arm and embracing a sitting man with her legs.

Other possibilities included the woman seated on a chair and the man standing in front of her' or the woman embracing the neck of the man with her legs, he kneeling in front of.
This latter may indeed have been a particularly common Egyptian position since it is represented in several sketches.
Among other face-to-face positions was the simple one with the couple standing. In the Turin erotic papyrus the imaginative couple are trying out variants with the man carrying the girl seated on his lap,60 and-recalling the Isis inversion-the man reclining on the ground with the woman standing above him.

Here one is strongly reminded of representations of null bending over Gab, who is occasionally shown with an erect phallus's"
The Turin erotic papyrus illustrates an agitated variant of the face-to-face position: the man stands, pulling the hair of the girl, who seems to have been caught while performing a dance. Her right hand rests on a lyre, and her left supports the heel of her left leg, raised above the head of the man, while her right leg is bent.
Intercourse from behind ("dog-fashion") also seems to have been rather popular in Egypt, to judge from the number of extant representations of this position, the man most frequently standing, with the woman bending.
Whether any of these examples indicate anal intercourse cannot be determined from the representations alone, but it seems rather unlikely in that no practical purpose would have been served (cf. the Egyptians' beliefs concerning conception).
The only literary reference to coitus from behind occurs in a story where Anat is attacked by Seth while bathing in a river: "He (beheld Seth as he mounted) upon her back, leaping (her) even as a ram leaps", in a note on this passage Dawson says'" that defloration resulted, but this is nowhere explicitly stated. Te Velde" stresses the fact that the attacked goddess was dressed like a man, and that Seth's desire was thus of a homosexual nature. The goddess, however, was bathing at the time and would presumably have been only partly dressed, if not completely naked. Unless, therefore, Seth was attracted by the idea of her when dressed (as a man), it is more likely that her feminine attributes aroused his desire. He was certainly not homosexual only, but bisexual, as shown hy his attraction to Isis.:" and it is just as likely that he performed normal coitus a lergo as coitus per anum. This will also apply to the representations of ordinary couples.

Other examples of intercourse from behind show the woman crouching on the ground or on abed, or bending with her head touching the ground.
An acrobatic performance a lergo is also given by the couple in the Turin papyrus: the woman drives a chariot drawn by two girls, while the man copulates with her."

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