Within Greek society, sexual orientation allowed the people to appreciate both sexes in regards to beauty. Diogenes Laertius, for example, wrote of Alcibiades, the Athenian general and politician of the 5th century B.C., “in his adolescence he drew away the husbands from their wives, and as a young man the wives from their husbands.” (Quoted in Greenberg, 1988, 144) Some people were found to have explicit interests in people of one gender. For example, Alexander the Great and the founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, were known for their exclusive interest in boys and other men (Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 496). Such individuals, however, are usually portrayed as the exception. Furthermore, the issue of what gender one is attracted to is seen as an issue of taste or preference, rather than as a moral issue. A character in Plutarch’s Erotikos (Dialogue on Love) argues “the noble lover of beauty engages in love wherever he sees excellence and splendid natural endowment without regard for any difference in physiological detail.” (Ibid., 146) Gender becomes less significant and instead, the quality in character and beauty is what is most important.
Though the gender that someone was attracted to was not important, other issues were. Status concerns were also significant. Given that only free men had full status, women and male slaves were not difficult sexual partners. Sex between freemen, however, was difficult for status. The main distinction in ancient Greek sexual relations was between taking an active role, versus a passive one. The passive role was acceptable only for inferiors, such as women, slaves, or male youths. Hence the cultural ideal of a same-sex relationship was between an older man and a boy whose beard had not yet begun to grow. The older man had to prove that he had nobler interests in the boy, rather than a just a sexual concern. The boy was not to give in too easily, and if pursued by more than one man, was to show discretion and pick the nobler one. There is also evidence that penetration was often avoided by having the older man face his darling and place his penis between the thighs of the young boy, which is known as intercrural sex. The relationship was to be temporary and should end upon the boy reaching adulthood (Dover, 1989).
Ancient Rome had many parallels in its understanding of same-sex attraction, and sexual issues more generally, to ancient Greece. This is especially true under the Republic. Yet under the Empire, Roman society slowly became more negative in its views towards sexuality, probably due to social and economic turmoil, even before Christianity