The Erotic Art of Pompeii 

A woman hovers over a penis while a servant assists
A woman hovers over a penis while a servant assists

On Aug 24th, 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted and preserved the Roman city of Pompeii in 25 meters of volcanic rock and ash. If you had a similar elementary schooling to me, then you probably already knew that. What you probably don’t know is what they found in Pompeii during their excavations. And, there’s a reason for that. 

The city of Pompeii resided in the same location as the Vatican; therefore, in 1748, when archeologists excavated the location and discovered a city seeped in sex, they didn’t know what to do. How do you tell people the Pope’s home is a petri dish of sex? The very thing they consider a sin? Well, it turns out you don’t. The King at the time took one look at the findings and hid all of Pompeii’s sexual objects behind doors in a place they called The Secret Cabinet; it was never to be seen by the public again. Unfortunately for the King in 2004, The Secret Cabinet was opened to the public for all eyes to see. So, let’s discuss the surprising amount of erotic art that was found and what it was used for. 

The Erotic Paintings of Pompeii 

The erotic paintings of Pompeii are the most notable from the findings because there is no discrepancy to what they are. The people in the images ARE fucking. Though, what I find particularly amusing about these paintings is how they were used around the city. From brothels to houses, they were found in many places. 

 In brothels, it has been speculated that these were a type of “advertisement” of what that particular place offered. Meaning, you’d go to the room with a certain position above the door and be given just that. Other historians differ and say it could’ve just been ancient porn and that a brothel was the perfect spot for it. 

In houses, on the other hand, there seem to be two reasons Pompeians of the time would have an erotic painting in their houses. The first reason is people would put them in their houses for status. A piece of erotic art would be hung in a public part of the house, and it was thought that guests would see it, and think “wow, the owner of the house has great taste.” and I can’t say that they’re wrong, because I would also think this. The second use of these painting were for private, swinger sex rooms. Yes, you read that correctly. Inside some of the houses in Pompeii, they found single rooms with the walls covered in erotic paintings. Confused at first, the historians looked deeper, and what do you know, some of the Pompeians had dedicated sex rooms! Talk about living the dream. 


I always love to see “modern” sex views throughout history. No, the city of Pompeii wasn’t sex-positive in the way we use it today (it was toxic in many), but they were ahead of their time. They were very open and fluid with sex, and it didn’t matter who you decided to have sex with, male, female, or anything in between. Their public art of very explicit scenes of sex shows a society that wasn’t afraid to have pleasure, and there’s something to admire about that. 

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