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“Roman and Un-Roman Sex”

Sarah Levin-Richardson. "Roman and Un-Roman Sex." In Un-Roman Sex: Gender, Sexuality and Lovemaking in the Roman Provinces and Frontiers. Eds. T. Ivleva and R. Collins. Routledge, 2020. 346-359.

In “Roman and Un-Roman Sex”, I contextualize the essays of the volume within wider trends in the study of Roman gender and sexuality. I first summarize scholarship that over the past thirty-or-so years has revealed the ideological centrality of the erect phallus for power and masculinity, as can be seen especially in the dominant role that phallic penetration had in Roman conceptualizations of sexuality. In tandem, other scholarship has shown that not all erotic behavior in antiquity can be described through this model. I then show how contributions to this volume nuance, if not challenge, conventional ideas of “Priapic” bodies and sexuality, drawing attention to the power of the flaccid phallus (as in Whitmore’s essay) and the existence of more egalitarian models of sexuality (as in Ivleva’s chapter). A final section highlights the contributions made to the study of gendered bodies, including their protection by amulets, their vulnerability to physical harm or evil, and the different ways in they were depicted (essays of Collins, Hoss, Parker, Pearce, Whitmore). Ultimately, the essays of the volume can provide a new way of looking critically at gender and sexual norms in Roman Italy itself, forcing us to confront the latter’s unrelenting misogyny and adherence (for the most part) to Priapic sexual norms in the face of other (more egalitarian) models.