The sex life of Ivan the Terrible

In my new book, I cite more than 150 examples of queers in history who contributed to the progress of civilization, one of whom is Ivan, the first Tsar of Russia, better known as Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584). But if he was so terrible, how can I include him in my list of civilization’s benefactors?

I include him because many contemporary Russians revere Ivan as a highly capable strongman who founded the nation. During the early part of his reign, he introduced self-government in rural regions, reformed tax collection, and instituted statutory law and church reform.

Moreover, Russians claim that when Ivan ruled Russia, terrible was a direct translation of the Russian word “grozny,” which means to inspire fear or terror through strength and heroism.

Nonetheless, the description of Ivan as “terrible” is certainly accurate by today’s standards. In later life, Tsar Ivan was prone to fits of rage and paranoia. Many historians believe him to have been mentally ill. Unstable and vindictive, he unleashed terror throughout the land.

Among his countless victims were seven of his eight wives. His first marriage was reasonably happy, but all the others proved disappointing. Ivan disposed of his unwanted wives in various ways: poisoning, drowning, imprisonment in nunneries, or exile to foreign lands.

But Tsar Ivan did not lack for bedfellows. His preferred sex-partners were boys dressed in women’s clothing, and there was an endless supply of these available to him.

In this connection, I have long been amused by this old couplet describing the marriages of King Henry the Eighth:

In this vein, I offer the following:

Read more about Ivan and others in my new book QUEERS & CIVILIZATION: How Sexual Diversity Enlivens, Enriches and Elevates Society, available now on, as a paperbackeBook or special Pride all-color version of the book. Read the synopsis and early reviews of the book so far. Please let me know what you think of it. Thanks.

— Byron

Leave a Reply