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Epicurus classified sex in the "2nd category" of natural but unnecessary desires.

While acknowledging the pleasure of sexual intercourse, Epicurus (and Lucretius, in great detail) placed so many caveats that they presented the experience as more trouble than it is worth -- by design, as this was the point they begin to prove by argumentation: one may indulge in sexual intercourse, they argued, but only if one does not ruin one's health (e.g. by contracting some venereal disease), or squander one's fortune (e.g. on Rome's famously pricey courtesans), or stain one's reputation, or drain one's energy, or waste one's time that could have been spent on better things, etc.

Epicurus allegedly said that "sex never did anyone any good, and that one ought to consider himself fortunate, if it didn't do him any harm.". [1] In this respect, Epicureanism seems to differ with the more positive attitude towards the role of sexuality in human life and well-being held by modern psychology. The Epicurean views on sex, however, cannot be understood anachronistically within the context of the relatively more restrictive Judeo-Christian sexual mores, but only within that of the relatively more permissive ones of the Greco-Roman world. Hence, in The Symposium, we should not be surprised to find him taking up the topic of whether its better to have sex before or after dinner. [2]

Lucretius gave free reign to his (male) reader, should he succumb to the charms of some Venus volgivaga ("free-roaming Venus": a prostitute, perhaps, or some other, readily available woman). He sounds both permissive and dismissive of the whole affair -- "sailor's joy", and nothing more. Lucretius' greatest concern, and the vice he fulminated against most ferociously, was the folly of passionate, "romantic" love. Ironically, perhaps, by deliberately trivializing both sex and love, Lucretius drove this very same argument to an endorsement of marriage.


  1. Laertius 10.18; Vatican Saying 51; Plutarch 654B = Usener 62
  2. Plutarch 653F-654B = Usener 61
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