Are there any ancient texts that show or imply that their authors knew that certain diseases were spread through sexual activity? It seems like sexual contagion was recognized in the 16th century during the height of the syphilis epidemic. I have even read that it contributed to closing of some brothels and the rise of Puritanism.

I am more interested if anyone in Rome, Greece, or the Middle East realized a connection between sex and disease during the Bronze Age or the Classical period. There were plenty of commercial brothels in the Roman Empire and plenty of temple prostitutes in the ancient Middle East. Is there any evidence of STD epidemics from then?

I realize that germ theory would not be around until the nineteenth century, but a ancient historian or philosopher still could have noticed a correlation.

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    OT: I misread "ADD" and I was thinking about ancient greek children running around towns and temples, screaming randomly. – o0'. Mar 20 '14 at 14:17
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    @Lohoris - Well there was Odysseus, who was so easily distracted it took him 10 years to get home from 200 miles away. ;-) – T.E.D. Mar 21 '14 at 18:21
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    @T.E.D. well, he is excused on account of the Gods having put a lot of obstacles in his path :) – jwenting Mar 25 '14 at 8:10

Famously, the Ancient Egyptians knew a lot about sexuality, gynecology and genitourinary infections. Nevertheless, according to this article, there are no unambiguous description of STD's in the medical papyri of Ancient Egypt (though many reported symptoms suggest gonorrhea and some suggest pelvic infections). The same source notes that the Old Testament describes an epidemic-more precisely, a plague-which is clearly temporally and causally linked to sexual relations and for which Moses provides a technically correct solution: kill everyone but the virgins (see here, verse 16 and 17 for instance).

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    Good answer. Thanks for the very interesting article on Egyptians. I must quibble, however, that Moses's solution would have been less than perfectly effective. He had the female non-virgins killed, but not the men who had slept with them. That would still leave infected men that could then pass the disease on either to Israelite women or to the recent captured virgins. Good thinking of that reference nevertheless. I certainly did not think of it. – Mike Mar 25 '14 at 22:45
  • @Oliver And I believe it was the ancient Egyptians who first made use of condoms that evidently had prophylactic attributes which may or may not have been known about at the time. The precursors of the modern condom were made from the gossamer skins of sheep-innards. The same sheep-sourced material also provided butchers with edible casings used in traditional sausage-making. This century-old method of binding sausage meat has all but disappeared. – Peter Point Oct 15 '16 at 0:15

At least syphilis is thought to not have existed in Europe but having been introduced there by the returning discoverers from the voyages of Columbus.
Many other diseases have found their way from one continent to another through similar means, think of the plague and HIV...
Of course there are many diseases that can be transmitted through sexual contact, and many of them would not have been recognised as such at the time. Think Herpes, which has several vectors, only one of them being sexual intercourse.

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