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Erotic bathhouse art in Pompeii

Visitors to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii are already familiar with the eye-popping art in the brothel, but most miss another naughty site--Pompeii's suburban baths.

The changing room in these baths had cubbyholes for storing clothing. Each one was decorated with lively scenes of straight sex, group sex, oral sex, and just plain acrobatic sex. The example to the right, with two men and one woman enjoying each other's company, is a typical example.

While many Roman baths segregated men and women, this suburban bath was a mixed one, so perhaps it served as a place for amorous trysts. Another theory is that the pictures were advertisements for prostitutes. Both men and women in ancient Rome uses prostitutes, although of course the majority of customers were men. A third theory holds that the pictures were a way to make the customers remember where they left their clothes.

"Where's my toga? Ah yes, in the cubbyhole with the bisexual orgy."

A large amount of erotic art has been found in Pompeii, from explicit graffiti to phallic dinnerware, and the city had a reputation for looseness before Mt. Vesuvius erupted and covered it with ash in 79 AD. The ash preserved many artifacts and buildings, making Pompeii and her sister city Herculaneum two of the archaeological treasures of the world.

The baths were closed for decades after their discovery, first out of prudishness and then for conservation work. Only small groups with special permission may enter, so you'll need to book through a tour. You can check out all the images here, and if you want to wander through the city check out Pompeii on Google Street View.

Filed under: Arts and Culture, History, Learning, Europe, Italy

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