The Gabinetto Segreto, or "Secret Cabinet," is a tiny, windowless alcove in the Naples National Archaeological Museum in Italy. Off-limits to women, children and anyone without a special entry permit for nearly two centuries, the mysterious nook houses a 250-artifact collection of erotic art from the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, including dozens of stone penises, erotic frescoes and terracotta figurines dwarfed by their epically proportioned genitals.

Two decades after the Secret Cabinet was reopened to the general public, it still feels naughty to look at these intricate carvings of interspecies intercourse, detailed depictions of cunnilingus and penis-shaped wind chimes. The provocative artwork and erotic poetry—which waxes on topics such as anal sex, pederasty and incest—were viewed through the judgmental Christian lens in the centuries that followed and contributed to the Romans' earned reputation of being wanton and sex-obsessed.

But the reality is much more complex, said Aven McMaster, Ph.D., an Ontario, Canada-based classicist who studies Latin poetry and Roman social history and co-hosts the podcast "