Journal published by the Hellenic
Psychiatric Association

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The ancient Greek physicians have not failed in their studies to indicate the beneficial role of sexual activity in human health. They acknowledged that sex helps to maintain mental balance. Very interesting is their observation that sex may help mental patients to recover. Nevertheless they stressed emphatically that sex is beneficial only when there is a measure in it, so they believed that sexual abstinence or excessive sexual activity affect negatively the mental and physical health of man. Ancient Greek physicians reached this conclusion by empirical observation. They tried to justify the mental imbalance, as the potential physical problems, which probably will be listed today in the psychosomatic manifestations, of people with long-term sexual abstinence or hyperactivity, based on the theory of humors which was the main methodological tool of ancient Greek medicine. Their fundamental idea was that the four humors of the body (blood, phlegm, yellow and black bile) should be in balance. Therefore they believed that the loss and the exchange of bodily fluids during sex help body’s humors to maintain their equilibrium which in turn will form the basis for the physical and mental health. Although in ancient medical texts the irrationality presented by people in the aforementioned conditions was not attributed in any of the major mental illnesses recognized in antiquity, as mania, melancholy and phrenitis, our belief is that their behavior is more suited to the characteristics of melancholy, while according to modern medicine it should be classified in the depressive disorders. We have come to this conclusion, because common characteristics of people who either did not have sexual life or was overactive, was sadness, lack of interest and hope, as well as paranoid thinking that can reach up to suicide. Regarding the psychosomatic problems, which could occur in these people, they were determined by the ancient Greek physicians in the following; continuous headaches and heaviness, dilatancy, pain, dysuria and fever. But all these symptoms would disappear when the man gained a measure sexual activity, as was categorically stated by Galen. It is striking that these ideas were maintained over time, starting already from the authors of the Hippocratic Corpus, from which the distinguished work De virginum morbis, refers indeed to women who reached the point of suicide due to the absence sexual life, hanging themselves or falling into wells and eventually passing to the works of Rufus of Ephesus, Soranus of Ephesus and Galen.

Key words: Sex life, depression, melancholy, mania, ancient greek medicine

K. Laios, G. Tsoucalas, Μ.-Ι. Kontaxaki, M. Karamanou, M. Sgantzos, G. Androutsos (page 198) - Full article