You might think a 2,300-year-old sex scandal would eventually lose some of its bite. But when it comes to paragons of masculinity such as world conqueror Alexander the Great, it doesn’t. With his 2004 film Alexander, writer-director Oliver Stone outraged stiff-necked military types with his depiction of the macho Macedonian king, history’s most brilliant warrior, flirting with his boyfriends up and down the Khyber Pass. In between gore-splattered battles, Alexander (played by Colin Farrell) flounces about in makeup at drunken Babylonian banquets, shoots suggestive glances to his male entourage, and indulges in a passionate kiss with one of his officers — all the sort of behavior that would be frowned upon in the U.S. military today, for example. But according to Paul Cartledge, professor of Classics at Cambridge University, the film is actually very coy about Alexander’s busy homoerotic life: There is no real doubt that he took a young… More…

Since the 1960s, the history of sex has transformed from sleazy sideline to respectable subject of academic study. The following is a timeline of the lesser-known scholarly discoveries that inform our erotic thinking today.

 

c. 1700: Sex “invented.”

“Some time in the 18th century, sex as we know it was invented,” writes Berkeley historian Thomas W. Laqueur. Before that time, Laqueur argues, most anatomists accepted the ancient idea expressed by the Greek doctor Galen that there was really only one gender: Women’s sexual organs were essentially the same as men’s, except they were inverted due to a lack of “vital heat.” The vagina was matched by penis, the ovaries by the testicles (“stones of women”), the labia by the foreskin, the uterus by the scrotum. This appealed to classical notions of cosmic harmony, and allowed doctors to argue… More…