I've just discovered that, as is often the case with elementary school education, my official introduction to the story of the lost city of Pompeii left out all the best parts.
From Geoff Nicholson's book, Sex Collectors:
When the ruins of Pompeii were excavated most actively, from the mid-eighteenth century onward, the newly found artifacts suggested that the Pompeiians had lived surrounded by the most extravagant obscenity. There were lascivious frescoes and murals on the walls of their houses, lewd statuary and carvings of erect phalli on every street corner; domestic vases and lamps were decorated with graphic scenes of copulation. This was a shock and a puzzle to the scholars of the day.
Luckily, these objects weren't destroyed -- but they were locked in a "secret museum," a room in the Museo Borbonico in Naples, which Nicholson says you could get into by bribing a caretaker. These days, the collection is open to the public, but I am sad to say I'd never heard of it before today.
I love thinking about what it would have been like to live among these artifacts. I'm imagining something that made sex part of daily life, like certain streets in San Francisco. I loved the times I walked down Castro Street in the mornings for a bagel, passing video stores that rented porn and musicals, a manicure place called "Hand Job," and bars with names like Moby Dick. Sex was fun and ever-present but also normal. In my own life, that meant a lot to me -- it helped me to make peace with myself and my sexuality.
I like the idea of idly strolling down a Pompeiian street, wondering about the shape of that particular cock, or finding myself drawn to that particular fresco.
Too often, when sex is present it isn't treated as normal. My experience of Las Vegas, for example, is that in Sin City sexual energy is frenetic, frantic, treated as something ordinarily furtive that is there kept in the open for people to grab while they can. The myth of "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" may seem romantic, but to me it doesn't have the appeal of staring at a big cock statue while having a coffee.
Here's to Pompeii, and I hope I get to see this collection someday.
(The painting at the top of the post is apparently an example of a Pompeiian wall painting, which I grabbed off the Wikipedia page on the subject.)