Although Roman women of the upper classes were educated and are known to have both written poetry and corresponded with male relatives, very few fragments of anything that might have been written by women survived.Male writers took little interest in how women experienced sexuality in general.
During the Republic and early Principate, little is recorded of sexual relations among women, but better and more varied evidence, though scattered, exists for the later Imperial period.
During the Republic, a Roman citizen's political liberty (libertas) was defined in part by the right to preserve his body from physical compulsion, including both corporal punishment and sexual abuse.
The "new poetry" introduced at the end of the 2nd century came to fruition in the 50s BC with Gaius Valerius Catullus, whose poems include several expressing desire for a freeborn youth explicitly named "Youth" (Iuventius).
Vergil describes their love as pius, linking it to the supreme virtue of pietas as possessed by the hero Aeneas himself, and endorsing it as "honorable, dignified and connected to central Roman values." By the end of the Augustan period Ovid, Rome's leading literary figure, proposed a radically new agenda focused on love between men and women: making love with a woman is more enjoyable, he says, because unlike the forms of same-sex behavior permissible within Roman culture, the pleasure is mutual.
"Greek love" influences aesthetics or the means of expression, not the nature of Roman male-male erotics as such.
Greek male-male erotics differed from Roman primarily in idealizing eros between freeborn male citizens of equal status, though usually with a difference of age (see "Pederasty in ancient Greece").
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, scholars have tended to view expressions of Roman male sexuality in terms of a "penetrator-penetrated" binary model; that is, the proper way for a Roman male to seek sexual gratification was to insert his penis in his partner.
The morality of the behavior depended on the social standing of the partner, not gender per se.
"Virtue" (virtus) was seen as an active quality through which a man (vir) defined himself.
The conquest mentality and "cult of virility" shaped same-sex relations.
Roman men were free to enjoy sex with other males without a perceived loss of masculinity or social status, as long as they took the dominant or penetrative role.