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Ovid calls the book a collection of misdeeds (crimina), and says the narrative was laced with dirty jokes.
It has sometimes been assumed that "unlimited sexual license" was characteristic of ancient Rome; Verstraete and Provençal express the opinion that this perspective was simply a Christian interpretation: "The sexuality of the Romans has never had good press in the West ever since the rise of Christianity.
In the popular imagination and culture, it is synonymous with sexual license and abuse." Roman society was patriarchal (see paterfamilias), and masculinity was premised on a capacity for governing oneself and others of lower status, not only in war and politics, but also in sexual relations.
(Virtus), "virtue", was an active masculine ideal of self-discipline, related to the Latin word for "man", vir.
No moral censure was directed at the man who enjoyed sex acts with either women or males of inferior status, as long as his behaviors revealed no weaknesses or excesses, nor infringed on the rights and prerogatives of his masculine peers.
While perceived effeminacy was denounced, especially in political rhetoric, sex in moderation with male prostitutes or slaves was not regarded as improper or vitiating to masculinity, if the male citizen took the active and not the receptive role.
A series of paintings from the Suburban Baths at Pompeii, discovered in 1986 and published in 1995, presents erotic scenarios that seem intended "to amuse the viewer with outrageous sexual spectacle," including a variety of positions, oral sex, and group sex featuring male–female, male–male, and female–female relations.
The décor of a Roman bedroom could reflect quite literally its sexual use: the Augustan poet Horace supposedly had a mirrored room for sex, so that when he hired a prostitute he could watch from all angles.
Sexuality was an important category of Roman religious thought.
The complement of male and female was vital to the Roman concept of deity.
In general the Romans had more flexible gender categories than the ancient Greeks.
A late 20th-century paradigm analyzed Roman sexuality in terms of a "penetrator–penetrated" binary model, a misleadingly rigid analysis that may obscure expressions of sexuality among individual Romans.
The Dii Consentes were a council of deities in male–female pairs, to some extent Rome's equivalent to the Twelve Olympians of the Greeks.