The Queer History of Sex and Love

The Importance of Queer History

Queer love and gender non-conforming people have been a part of human history for much longer than most people think. The queer history of love and sex brings to light the enduring presence and resilience of LGBTQIA2+ individuals throughout the ages. This history isn't just about romantic relationships; it's about identity, community, and resilience. By exploring the past, we can better understand contemporary issues and the persistent challenges faced by queer people today.

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    Early Perceptions of Same-Sex Love

    In ancient societies, same-sex love was often acknowledged and sometimes celebrated. In Ancient Greece, relationships between men were considered a form of mentorship and were integral to social structure. Famous philosophers like Plato wrote extensively about these relationships, with Plato’s Symposium exploring the nature of love and beauty through the lens of same-sex desire.

    Similarly, the Romans also had a complex view of same-sex relationships. Although Roman society was more conservative compared to the Greeks, same-sex relationships between men were relatively common, especially among the elite. Emperors like Hadrian openly celebrated their same-sex relationships, with Hadrian famously mourning his lover Antinous, who was deified after his death.

    Beyond the Mediterranean, many indigenous cultures had inclusive views on gender and sexuality, recognizing the existence of more than two genders and valuing same-sex relationships. For example, many Native American tribes embraced the concept of Two-Spirit people, individuals who embodied both masculine and feminine qualities. Two-Spirit people often held respected roles within their communities, serving as healers, mediators, and spiritual leaders. The Navajo, Lakota, and Zuni tribes, among others, recognized and revered Two-Spirit individuals, highlighting the diversity and inclusivity of gender and sexual identities in these cultures.

    In South Asia, ancient texts and traditions also acknowledged same-sex love and gender diversity. The Kama Sutra, an ancient Indian text on sexuality, discusses same-sex relationships and non-binary gender identities. Hijras, a traditional third gender community in India, have been part of South Asian culture for centuries, often occupying unique social and religious roles.


    The Middle Ages: Suppression and Secret Lives

    The rise of Christianity in Europe during the Middle Ages brought significant changes to the perception of sexuality and gender. Same-sex love and gender nonconformity became dangerous, often punishable by severe penalties. Despite this, many individuals found ways to express their identities and desires. Historians have uncovered letters, poetry, and legal records that hint at a vibrant, though hidden, queer culture during these times.

    For instance, medieval monks exchanged love letters, and women in convents wrote passionate poems to one another. Court records show cases of individuals prosecuted for cross-dressing, highlighting the existence of gender nonconforming people. These examples paint a picture of a resilient and resourceful queer community, determined to live authentically even in the face of harsh punishment.

    Enlightenment and the First Sexual Revolution

    The Enlightenment brought new ideas about individual rights and freedoms, which began to challenge the rigid norms of the previous eras. Scholars like Faramerz Dabhoiwala argue that this period marked the beginning of the "first sexual revolution," where sex and love started to be seen more as matters of personal liberty rather than societal control.

    For example, Mary Wollstonecraft's writings advocated for women's sexual freedom and critiqued the institution of marriage as a form of patriarchal oppression. The French philosopher Voltaire openly criticized the church's strict control over sexual morality, promoting a more liberal and personal approach to love and relationships.

    In England, the rise of coffeehouses and salons provided spaces where people could discuss progressive ideas about sex and love. These venues allowed for the exchange of radical thoughts, contributing to a cultural shift towards viewing sexuality as a private matter. Additionally, literature and art from this period, such as the works of Marquis de Sade, explored themes of sexual freedom and questioned conventional norms.

    In urban areas, the increased visibility of Molly houses—private clubs where gay men could socialize and express themselves freely—highlighted the growing acceptance of sexual diversity. The publication of pamphlets and books discussing same-sex love, such as Thomas Cannon's Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplify’d, further challenged the rigid sexual norms of the time.

    The 19th Century: The Emergence of Sexual Identities

    The 19th century saw the beginning of modern sexual identities. Influential figures like Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and Magnus Hirschfeld began to advocate for the rights of people who loved the same sex. Their work laid the groundwork for modern LGBTQIA+ movements. This era also saw the first significant pushback against the criminalization of same-sex relationships, setting the stage for future legal battles.

    The Early 20th Century: Building Communities

    By the early 20th century, urbanization and social changes allowed queer communities to form more visibly, particularly in cities. The Harlem Renaissance, for instance, was a period where African American queer culture flourished. Notable figures like poet Langston Hughes and blues singer Ma Rainey were openly queer, contributing to a rich cultural milieu that celebrated diverse expressions of identity and love. 

    Harlem's speakeasies and jazz clubs became safe havens where queer people could socialize and express themselves freely, despite the oppressive laws of the time. In cities like Berlin, the vibrant gay nightlife and the presence of openly gay writers and artists like Christopher Isherwood also showcased the burgeoning visibility and sense of community among queer individuals.

    The Mid-20th Century: Repression and Resistance

    The mid-20th century was marked by intense repression, particularly during the McCarthy era in the United States. Government-led purges targeted LGBTQIA+ individuals, resulting in job losses and public shaming. However, it was also a time of significant resistance. The Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York City are often cited as a turning point, leading to the modern LGBTQIA+ rights movement. Key figures like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, both trans women of color, played crucial roles in these uprisings. 

    This period highlighted the intersection of queer struggles with other social justice movements, such as the fight for civil rights and feminism. The formation of organizations like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis provided essential support and advocacy for LGBTQIA+ rights during these repressive times.

    The Late 20th Century: Achievements and Challenges

    The late 20th century saw significant achievements for LGBTQIA+ rights, including the decriminalization of homosexuality in many countries and the growing acceptance of same-sex relationships. The landmark 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the DSM-II was a crucial step in reducing the stigma associated with being queer. However, this period was also marked by the AIDS crisis, which devastated queer communities but also galvanized activism and solidarity. 

    Organizations like ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) emerged, fiercely advocating for better healthcare and raising awareness about the disease. The efforts to combat AIDS brought issues of health, rights, and discrimination to the forefront of public consciousness, uniting the community and its allies in a shared fight for justice and care.

    Queer Love and Modern Struggles

    Today, the fight for queer rights continues. While there have been remarkable legal and social advancements, challenges remain. Transgender individuals, especially trans women of color, face significant violence and discrimination. Legislative battles over issues like same-sex marriage, adoption rights, and healthcare access reflect ongoing struggles. Understanding the historical context of these issues helps to highlight the progress made and the work still needed.

    Connecting Past and Present: The Role of Historical Struggles

    Modern queer struggles are deeply connected to historical ones. The systemic discrimination faced by LGBTQIA2+ people today has roots in centuries-old prejudices and power structures. By learning from history, activists and allies can develop more effective strategies for advocacy and change. The resilience shown by queer individuals throughout history is a testament to the strength and determination of this community.

    Wicked Sensual Care's Commitment to LGBTQIA+ Communities

    At Wicked Sensual Care, we understand the importance of supporting LGBTQIA+ communities. Through our simply® Aqua Special Edition, a natural personal lubricant, we contribute to LGBTQIA+ organizations year-round. Our commitment as a queer-friendly company is demonstrated by our continuous efforts to support and fundraise for queer causes. Each purchase of simply® Aqua Special Edition helps fund initiatives that fight for the rights and well-being of queer individuals. By choosing our products, you are supporting a lube fundraiser that directly benefits queer communities.

    Embracing Queer History and Supporting the Future

    Queer history is a rich tapestry of love, struggle, and resilience. By embracing this history, we can foster greater understanding and empathy, driving the fight for equality forward. At Wicked Sensual Care, we are proud to play a role in this ongoing journey, supporting LGBTQIA+ organizations and celebrating the diversity of love and sex throughout time.


    1. Kunzel, Regina. "The Power of Queer History." The American Historical Review, Volume 123, Issue 5, December 2018, Pages 1560–1582,
    2. Dabhoiwala, Faramerz. The Origins of Sex.


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    About our author:

    Hail Groo

    Hail Groo (they/them) is historian of gender and sexuality with a M.A. History from Colorado State University. Their work focuses on the juxtaposition of gender, race, and class with environmental history in the United States. You can find more of their work at