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6 February 2006
The Raunchy Origins Of Valentine’s Day
by George Atkinson

If you thought that Valentine's Day was all about innocent romance, then think again. St Valentine may be the patron saint of lovers, but according to a professor at Roanoke College in Virginia, the symbols and imagery of Valentine's Day have much raunchier origins. Psychologist Galdino Pranzarone says that the real meaning of Valentine's Day has been lost over the ages, and the sexy significance of Valentine's symbols has been toned down.

Consider the love heart symbol, suggests Pranzarone, who believes the origin of the heart symbol was probably the shape of human female buttocks seen from the rear. "The Greek goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, was beautiful all over, but was unique in that her buttocks were especially beautiful," he explained. "Her shapely, rounded hemispheres were so appreciated by the Greeks that they built a special temple to Aphrodite Kallipygos, which literally meant, 'Goddess with the Beautiful Buttocks'."

So if the heart symbol is really a female butt, what does Cupid's arrow through the heart symbolize? Cupid - the son of Venus and the Roman god of love - is no innocent little angel, said Pranzarone. "Even though he was a cute cherub, he flew about naked shooting people in the heart with arrows. His relationship with his mother was not particularly wholesome, either. Paintings from the Renaissance show a rather incestuous relationship existing between Cupid and Venus." And what about Cupid's arrow? "Do I really have to explain the obvious symbolism inherent in Cupid's arrow?" asks Pranzarone, clearly wishing to avoid talk about erect phallic symbols. Cupid exists in other cultures as well. In India, Cupid is known as Kama, where he represents passionate, lusty desire. "The famous sex manual of India, the Kama Sutra, was named after him," explains Pranzarone.

Phallic symbols and women's buttocks are probably not what greeting card manufacturers think they're putting on their cards, but Valentines cards have their own interesting history, dating back to the Roman Empire. Pranzarone explains that during the festival of Lupercalia in Rome, "young men chose their sexual partners by a drawing of 'billets', small paper cards, with women's names on them. Christians later denounced the use of these cards as a lewd and pagan custom. The Church tried to substitute the exchange of prayer and sermon cards at this time of year, but the people reverted to hand-made love notes. The commercialization of the Valentine card occurred in recent history at the end of the Victorian Era," he said.

The Lupercalia celebrations, when lovers met through a public raffle, were conducted in February, which Pranzarone said was a decidedly sexy time of the year, representing spring, new life and reproductive activity. "The Romans held love and fertility celebrations in February… a time of love, eroticism and sexual license, [where] enthusiastic revelers were paired up by public raffle."

Popular gifts for Valentine's Day also have their own erotic symbolism, according to Pranzarone, who says that the heart shaped box chocolates usually come in is symbolic of the female genitalia. And as for flowers; "There's no escaping that flowers are the genitalia of plants," he says. "So what are we saying when he present out beloved with a dozen, beautiful red, long-stemmed genitalia?"

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