Show Mobile Navigation
History |

10 Sex Tips From History’s Greatest Thinkers

by Ben Gazur
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Sex is a natural part of life, a pretty vital one some might say. Philosophers, scientists, and theologians throughout the centuries have all spent more time than you might think considering the mechanics and ethics of sex. Whether it is St Augustine describing how sinful sex is (and how much he enjoyed it as a young man) or Bertrand Russell who said he did not really know a woman until he had slept with her some of the greatest minds humanity has produced have had many things to say about sex. Here are ten tips on sex picked up from some great thinkers.

SEE ALSO: 10 Sex Myths We All Believe

10 Pythagoras

Sex Tip: Only do it in the Winter

Pythagoras was one of the giants of ancient Greek philosophy who founded a school of thought that influenced thinkers like Plato. He was also the founder of a slightly weird cult. Pythagoras set up his school as a type of commune around 530 BC and all who followed him had to adhere to a set of slightly strange rules. Alongside a reverence for mathematics he taught about reincarnation and the importance of always putting your right shoe on first. For his wise guidance his followers called him Divine and treated him as a god.

Since his was always willing to delve into what his followers should and should not do it is unsurprising that Pythagoras gave them advice on sex. Men should not have sex at all before they are 20. This is because the release of emissions sapped a man of his strength. Sex, or at least successful sex, is always bad for men. When asked when the right time to have sex with a woman was Pythagoras replied “When you want to lose what strength you have.”

Since people seem to enjoy sex and it is never going to go out of fashion Pythagoras laid down rules on how to reduce the harm of it. To avoid men drying themselves out in releasing semen they should “Keep to the winter for sexual pleasures, in summer abstain; they are less harmful in autumn and spring, but they are always harmful and not conducive to health.”[1]

9 King Solomon

Sex Tip: Use poetry to woo her

The Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon, is one of the most unlikely books of the Bible. A hymn to the joys of love and passion it sits uncomfortably beside the more ascetic texts around it. Supposedly by Solomon the Song of Songs tells the tale of his marriage. Apparently the meeting of groom and bride was successful as she says

“While the king was on his couch,
my nard gave forth its fragrance.”

There is a lot of reference in the text to the beauties of smell and the other senses. But Solomon, reputed one of the wisest men in the Bible, uses poetry to seduce his bride. Poetry that takes on a rather animalistic tone.

“Your eyes are doves
behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
and not one among them has lost its young…
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that graze among the lilies.”

Solomon’s pretty words work and he and his wife enjoy a night in the “nut orchard.” He continues to whisper sweet nothings to her as the marriage is brought to a conclusion.

“Your stature is like a palm tree,
and your breasts are like its clusters.
I say I will climb the palm tree
and lay hold of its fruit.”[2]

8 Pliny the Elder

Sex Tip: Drowned lizards and vulture lungs

Pliny the Elder was a man so fascinated by the natural world that when he saw Mount Vesuvius erupting he hopped in a ship and sailed straight for it to investigate further. This proved to be a mistake as his already weak body could not stand the fumes of the volcano and he died. Yet in the course of his life he created notes on all sorts of phenomena and his “Natural History” gives a great insight into Roman thought in the 1st century.

Among the hundreds of topics he wrote about Pliny touched on sex several times. The Romans liked the idea of self-control and so for those bothered by too high a sexual drive he suggested drinking the urine of a eunuch, or “A man’s urine in which a lizard has been drowned is an anti-aphrodisiac potion; so also are snails and pigeon’s droppings drunk with olive oil and wine.”

For those men who want a more vigorous sex life Pliny tells us “The right section of a vulture’s lung worn as an amulet in a crane’s skin is a powerful aphrodisiac, as is consuming the yolks of five dove eggs mixed with a denarius of pig fat and honey, or sparrows or sparrows eggs.”

They have it lucky though compared to women who are suffering fertility problems. For them Pliny recommends taking a baby’s first bowel movement and smearing it over the afflicted lady’s lower parts.[3]

7 Ge Hong

Sex Tip: Never ejaculate

Ge Hong was a Chinese thinker of the 3rd and 4th centuries. Growing bored with Confucianism he began to ponder the world from the point of view of the Taoists. One of Ge Hong’s aims was to live forever as the Immortals of Taoism did. For some Taoists the path to immortality was to take potions mad of mercury or to meditate but Ge Hong offered a different pathway.

Ejaculation for Ge Hong was one of the ways in which men shortened their lives. Each spilling of seed was also a spilling of the jing energy that was so vital for life. Some Taoist teachers suggested celibacy as one of the paths to immortality. Since it was known that some of the Immortals did have sex it was obvious that something must be missing.

It turns out that Immortals are able to have sex but always stop themselves from ejaculating. At the moment of climax rather than releasing his jing the man holds in the ejaculation. Good luck with that. But for those able to do this the jing will travel up the spine and into the brain to reinvigorate the man.[4]

6 Aristotle

Sex Tip: Eat smelly food

Aristotle may be seen as one of the greatest minds in the western tradition but he also got a great many things wrong. For instance thought of women as simply imperfect men and not his equal. “The male,” Aristotle says, “is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject.” His philosophical view of women also appeared to colour his scientific observations of them.

Aristotle tells us that “Some think that the female contributes semen in coition because the pleasure she experiences is sometimes similar to that of the male, and also is attended by a liquid discharge. But this discharge is not seminal; it is merely proper to the part concerned in each case, for there is a discharge from the uterus which occurs in some women but not in others.” Lucky Mrs Aristotle.

Never fear though if Aristotle leaves you feeling dry he does offer a solution to increase the ‘discharge’ of women. “Some pungently-flavoured foods cause them to be conspicuously increased,” he informs us.[5]

5 Lucretius

Sex Tip: Sleep around

Lucretius, a Roman poet of the 1st century BC, is best known for his poem “On the nature of things.” In six books of verse he explains exactly how the universe works, or at least in the mind of Epicurean thinkers. The Epicureans believed in strange things like atoms, that pleasure is nice, and that the gods don’t take an active part in human life. Because of these fairly sensible views the Epicureans were much attacked in Antiquity. It must be said however that some of his views on sex were a little strange.

For Lucretius men have a seed in them that is stimulated by looking at the human form. When you see a pretty person the seed is dislodged and moves in the direction of the attractive body. “The organs are stimulated and swollen by the seed.” Unfortunately even thinking about your beloved can cause you to want to push out your seed and if you can’t do it then it can cause you pain.

Lucretius’ solution is to “Vent the seed of your love upon other objects.” Sleeping around can distract you from heartsickness and pain.[6]

4 Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Sex Tip: Get Spanked

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a philosopher who wrote about the social contract, is famous for saying “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” While this is usually taken as a statement about how humans live in civilisation rather than in nature in the light of Rousseau’s sexual peccadilloes it takes on another light. Rousseau may well have enjoyed chains – he certainly liked being spanked.

In his frank autobiography Rousseau lay his entire life bare. It turns out he liked to bare more than his soul. On one occasion he trailed a group of girls to a well and exposed himself to them, but he is at pains to point out that “What they saw was not the obscene thing [his penis], I never even thought of that, it was the ridiculous thing [his ass]. The foolish pleasure I took in displayed it before their eyes cannot be described.”

Spanking was the real thrill though. As a young man he was shipped off to another family and was punished by the mother of the household by being spanked. “I had found in the pain, even in the disgrace, a mixture of sensuality which had left me less afraid than desirous of experiencing it again from the same hand. No doubt some precocious sexual instinct was mingled with this feeling, for the same chastisement inflicted by her brother would not have seemed to me at all pleasant.” The experience stayed with Rousseau for his whole life later writing that “To fall at the feet of an imperious mistress, obey her mandates, or implore pardon, were for me the most exquisite enjoyments.”[7]

3 Immanuel Kant

Sex Tip: Don’t be a sucked lemon

Immanuel Kant is one of the philosophers that other philosophers must come to terms with – you either agree with him or you have to disprove him, you cannot ignore him. From what we know if Kant’s life however he did manage to ignore at least half of the population because it seems he died a virgin. This did not stop him giving advice to others however.

In his Lectures on Ethics Kant laid down his iron laws of what sex should be. In short he did not think it had much of a place anywhere except in the matrimonial bed. He takes a dim view of how sex can be about using others. “Man can, of course, use another human being as an instrument for his service… he can use him for his own purposes with the other’s consent. But there is no way in which a human being can be made an Object of indulgence for another except through sexual impulse.”

Kant however does recognise the importance of sexuality to humans. He says that a man without any sexual drive would be an imperfect example of humanity. But he cautions against become the plaything of others. “Sexual love makes of the loved person an Object of appetite; as soon as that appetite has been stifled, the person is cast aside as one casts away a lemon which has been sucked dry.”[8]

2Saint Albertus Magnus

Sex Tip: Missionary is enough

Saint Albertus Magnus – Albert the Great – was one of the most respected minds of the 13th century. Called “The Universal Doctor” his range of studies touched on all of human life, including the sexual.

Many people may have preferred sexual positions very few people actually go to the trouble of writing them down and ranking them. Albertus was a scholar however so that is exactly what he did. He wrote them down in terms of “naturalness” from most natural, and least sinful, to least natural. Albertus thought that missionary was sufficient for procreation and listed (in order) side-by-side, seated, standing, and “a tergo” as the lesser options. “A tergo” seems to have meant ‘from behind.’ Despite the limited nature of Albertus’ sexual repertoire his thinking was influential for centuries.

Do not fear though there was an escape clause for those who might want to try a less natural position. Albertus thought that in the case of extreme obesity it might be acceptable for a married couple to try another position to make things easier.[9]

1 Ben Franklin

Sex Tip: Get an older mistress

Ben Franklin turned his mind to a great many things. He was a printer, writer, inventor, researcher, diplomat, and fond of the ladies as well. Franklin was always ready to give his advice to those who asked for it so when a friend posed him a question about sex he gave it freely.

Franklin began his letter with a wholly conventional and respectable statement on the joys of marriage and its naturalness. Where Franklin differs from general opinion is where he suggests that, if his friend wants to take a mistress, he should pick an older one. He lists 8 reasons for this that include “Because there is no hazard of Children, which irregularly produc’d may be attended with much Inconvenience.” He also reasons that fluids drain downwards and after the face and upper parts are dried out what is below the girdle is still moist. “And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.”

Franklin’s final words are somewhat ungallant. “8thly and Lastly, They are so grateful!!”[10]

For more lists just like this, check out 10 Crazy Sex Facts From Ancient Times, and 10 Male Sex Workers Who Made History.

fact checked by Jamie Frater