1 April 2014


Ask a schoolboy what the number 69 means, and you're likely to be met with a splutter and a muffled guffaw. Because, as any teenager knows, "69" and its French equivalent, soixante-neuf, stand for mutual oral sex.

Serge Gainsburg and his breathy-voiced English girlfriend, Jane Birkin, famously sang the song "69, Année Erotique". However contrary to common belief, the number sixty-nine came to represent this sexual position not because of the way the participants' bodies line up (the circular part of each constituent digit signifying the heads and the trailing ends their legs), but because of Lyon – or rather the early Lyonnais themselves.

Long before the Romans founded Lugdunum, in 44BC, the area in and around latter-day Lyon was the home of the Lambians, a Celtic tribe of Gauls distinguished by not only their fierce fighting spirit but allegedly also by a predilection for simultaneous oral stimulation, a practice apparently uncommon elsewhere until many centuries later. 

This is attested to by a report sent to the emperor in Rome by one of the city's earliest prefects, Verpa Flaccus, shortly after his appointment. Shocked and fascinated by the strange sexual mores of the native population under his auspices, Flaccus wrote:
"Whereas the Parigii [Parisians] are well-known for their incessant fornication, the Lambii are so obsessed with licking one another's genitalia that one wonders how they ever produce children" 
In spite of this rather quaint fear of population decline as well as rigorous attempts by their Roman overlords to curtail such a non-procreative custom, the locals appear never to have lost their taste (if you'll excuse the irresistible pun) for mutual oral sex. And soon all of Europe knew about – and was eventually imitating – the Lambii.

As a result, when France numbered its 100-odd départements in alphabetical order, and the Rhône region (with Lyon as its capital) was assigned the number sixty-nine, mutual oral sex automatically and indelibly became associated first in French minds and then globally with the number 69. 

And adolescent boys the world over have been smirking ever since.


(This post was published on 1 April. The information therein should therefore be taken with an appropriate pinch of salt)

1 comment:

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