If you are a suburban swinger, the type of person who likes to strip off and have indiscriminate group sex just like the Romans used to, Alastair Blanshard of the University of Sydney has some bad news.

After an exhaustive and not entirely unpleasant study of ancient sexual practices, it is Dr Blanshard’s sober duty to report that the celebrated Roman orgy is a myth.

"If there are any suburban swingers out there, whatever you’re doing, it’s certainly not classical," he said.

"One can search high and low for evidence, but one just doesn’t find it."

Dr Blanshard, who lectured on the search for orgies at Sydney’s Nicholson Museum this week, said people tended to project their fantasies on to ancient civilisations "and the Romans would be surprised by our ideas of how they spent their Saturday nights".

His romp through the literature for evidence of orgies was entertaining but disappointing.
Dr Blanshard, a Queenslander with a PhD from Cambridge University, found "a couple of references" late in the third century "that look like orgies but nobody seems particularly interested in repeating the experience".

The orgy myth persists because "moralists have painted Rome as an empire that fell as a consequence of its loose morals".

While Romans had "widespread display of genitals", they were not intensely sexual.

He showed a vase depicting multiple partners in multiple sexual positions, but the women are bruised or portrayed as old and fat, with lined faces.

"Are they really saying, ‘Go try this at home’?" he said.

More likely, the image on the vase "may well suggest an orgy but warn: don’t expect it to be pretty".

Dr Blanshard said liberals also used the Roman orgy myth to validate their practices. "Oscar Wilde, for example, gave classical gloss to his encounters with boys," he said.

"He thought, ‘I’m doing what Socrates did’."