Religion and sexuality

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Sculptures from Khajuraho, India

Each major religion has developed moral codes covering issues of sexuality, morality, ethics etc. These moral codes seek to regulate the situations which can give rise to sexual interest and to influence people's sexual activities and practices.

Sexual morality has varied greatly over time and between cultures. A society's sexual norms—standards of sexual conduct—can be linked to religious beliefs, or social and environmental conditions, or all of these. Sexuality and reproduction are fundamental elements in human interaction and society worldwide. Furthermore, "sexual restrictions" is one of the universals of culture peculiar to all human societies.[1] Accordingly, most religions have seen a need to address the question of a "proper" role for sexuality in human interactions. Different religions have different codes of sexual morality, which regulate sexual activity or assign normative values to certain sexually charged actions or thoughts.


The views of religions and religious believers range widely, from giving sex and sexuality a rather negative connotation to believing that sex is the highest expression of the divine. Some religions distinguish between sexual activities that are practiced for biological reproduction (sometimes allowed only when in formal marital status and at a certain age), and other activities practiced for sexual pleasure, as immoral.

Abrahamic faiths[edit]

Deuteronomic code[edit]

Main article: Deuteronomic Code
  • Regulations on taking wives from women captured during war (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)
  • Polygyny: Birthrights of the sons of multiple wives to be respected (Deuteronomy 21:15–17)
  • Transvestism: Banned for both men and women, no penalty mentioned (Deuteronomy 22:5)
  • Premarital sex: A woman accused of (and shown) not being a virgin at the time of marriage is to be stoned to death; however, if the accusation is false, the man who brings the accusation is to be punished with a fine (Deuteronomy 22:13–21)
  • Adultery (defined as a man having sex with another man's wife): Death penalty for both partners (Deuteronomy 22:22)
  • Sex with a virgin who is not yet betrothed: The man must pay a fine to the father of the woman and marry her. He may never divorce her. (Deuteronomy 22:28–29)
  • Sex with a betrothed virgin inside a town: Death by stoning for the man, and for the woman as well if she failed to cry out (Deuteronomy 22:23–24)
  • Sex with a betrothed virgin in the field: Death penalty for the man, no penalty for the woman (Deuteronomy 22:25-27)
  • Marriage: Men are forbidden from marrying their father's wife (Deuteronomy 22:30)
  • Nocturnal emissions: A man who has a wet dream while on military service is defiled, and is to observe appropriate ritual to restore his purity (Deuteronomy 23:9–11)
  • Prohibition on remarriage after divorce: A man may not remarry a wife he has previously divorced if she remarries someone else then becomes single again (Deuteronomy 24:1–4)
  • Compulsory remarriage of a dead brother's widow: A man must marry his dead brother's widow if the brother has no son; a penalty of social disgrace is imposed on a man who refuses his obligation (Deuteronomy 25:5–10)

Covenant code[edit]

Main article: Covenant Code
  • Sale and purchase of girls: A man who has purchased another man's daughter to be his concubine or to marry his son, must respect her rights (Exodus 21:7–11)
  • Pre-marital sex: A man who has sex with an unbetrothed virgin must pay bride-price and marry the girl (Exodus 22:16–17)
  • Bestiality: Death penalty (Exodus 22:19)

Holiness code[edit]

Main article: Holiness code
  • Incest: Men are forbidden to have sex with relatives, including their mother, father's wife, sister, daughter of father's wife if born to the father, father's sister, mother's sister, father's brother's wife, son's wife, or brother's wife (Leviticus 18:6–16)
  • Relatives of a woman: A man is forbidden to have sex with the daughter of a woman he has had sex with, or with her son's daughter or daughter's daughter (Leviticus 18:17)
  • Wife's sister: A man is forbidden to take his wife's sister as a second wife while she is still living (Leviticus 18:18)
  • Menstruating women: Forbidden (Leviticus 18:19)
  • Neighbor's wife: Forbidden (Leviticus 18:20)
  • Male homosexuality/Bisexuality: Sex with a man "as with a woman" forbidden, punishable by death for both participating men (Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13)
  • Bestiality: Forbidden for both men and women (Leviticus 18:23)


Main article: Judaism and sexuality

In the perspective of traditional Judaism, sex and reproduction are the holiest of acts one can do, the act through which one can imitate God, "The Creator", and in order to preserve its sanctity there are many boundaries and guidelines. Within the boundaries, there are virtually no outright strictures, and it is in fact obligatory. It prohibits sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage, maintains biblical strictures on relations within marriage including observance of Niddah, a prohibition on relations for a period including the menstrual period, and Tzniut, requirements of modest dress and behavior. Traditional Judaism views adultery, incest, and male or female homosexual acts as grave sins. See Jewish views of homosexuality. Judaism permits relatively free divorce, with Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism requiring a religious divorce ceremony for a divorce to be religiously recognized. More modern branches of Judaism have adapted perspectives more consistent with contemporary general secular culture.

Most of mainstream Judaism does not accept polyamory, although some people consider themselves Jewish and polyamorous.[2] One prominent rabbi who does accept polyamory is Sharon Kleinbaum, the senior rabbi at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York, who says that polyamory is a choice that does not preclude a Jewishly observant, socially conscious life.[2] Some polyamorous Jews also point to biblical patriarchs having multiple wives and concubines as evidence that polyamorous relationships can be sacred in Judaism.[3] There is an email list dedicated to polyamorous Jews, called AhavaRaba, which roughly translates to "big love" in Hebrew.[3] (Its name echoes the Ahava rabbah prayer expressing thanks for God's "abundant love".)


Main article: Tzniut

There are several levels to the observance of physical and personal modesty (tzniut) according to Orthodox Judaism as derived from various sources in halakha. Observance of these rules varies from aspirational to mandatory to routine across the spectrum of Orthodox stricture and observance.

  • A prohibition on dwelling on lascivious or immoral thoughts.
  • A prohibition on staring at members of the opposite sex, particularly at the reproductive anatomy.
  • A requirement to keep most of one's body clothed in respectable clothing.
  • A requirement to avoid the company of uncouth individuals and avoid frequenting places where an atmosphere of levity and depravity prevails.
  • A prohibition on looking at pictures or scenes that will be sexually arousing.
  • A prohibition on touching a person of the opposite sex, especially in a lingering arousing manner. See Negiah.
  • A prohibition on wearing the clothing of a member of the opposite sex.
  • A prohibition on looking at animals copulating.
  • A prohibition on erotically hugging (chibuk) or kissing (nishuk) one's spouse in public,
  • A prohibition on sexual contact or touching between spouses when the wife is a niddah ("menstruant") or has not immersed in a mikvah following the niddah period.
  • A prohibition on seclusion with a person of the opposite sex who is not a spouse or close relative (Yichud)
  • A requirement that men and women be separated during prayer, dancing, and on certain other occasions (Mechitza)
  • A prohibition on hotza'at zera levatala—"secreting semen in vain" by men. There is no equivalent prohibition for women since there is no secretion. However, masturbation by women is considered to be a lewd act and is thus included in the general commandment "And you shall be holy".
  • A prohibition on sex between men, or with any type of animal, or with a corpse.

Orthodox Judaism also maintains a strong prohibition on interfaith sexual relations and marriage. Orthodox Judaism, alone of all the Jewish denominations, retains relatively mild traditional disabilities on divorce, including a Biblical prohibition on a Kohen (priestly descendant of Aaron) marrying a divorcee or a woman who has engaged in certain types of sexual misconduct. These strictures, while observed, are generally regarded as matters of personal status rather than morality. An Orthodox bill of divorce is required for a divorce to be recognized.


Conservative Judaism, consistent with its general view that Halakha (Jewish law) is a binding guide to Jewish life but subject to periodic revision by the Rabbinate, has lifted a number of strictures observed by Orthodox Judaism. In particular, in December 2006, Conservative Judaism's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards adopted responsa presenting diametrically opposed views on the issue of homosexuality. It adopted an opinion restricting a prior prohibition on homosexual conduct to male-male anal sex only, which it declared to be the only Biblical prohibition, declaring all other prohibitions (e.g. male-male oral sex or lesbian sex) rabbinic, and lifting all rabbinic restrictions based on its interpretation of the Talmudic principle of Kevod HaBriyot ("human dignity"). While declining to develop a form of religious gay marriage, it permitted blessing lesbian and gay unions and ordaining openly lesbian and gay rabbis who agree not to engage in male-male anal sex.[4] It is also a traditionalist opinion, upholding all traditional prohibitions on homosexual activity, also adopted as a majority opinion,[5] The approach permits individual rabbis, congregations, and rabbinical schools to set their own policy on homosexual conduct. It reflects a profound change from a prior blanket prohibition on male homosexual practices. It acknowledges a sharp divergence of views on sexual matters within Conservative Judaism, such that there is no single Conservative Jewish approach to matters of sexuality. Conservative Judaism currently straddles the divide between liberal and traditional opinion on sexual matters within contemporary American society, permitting both views.[6]

Conservative Judaism has maintained on its books a variety of requirements and prohibitions, including a requirement that married women observe the family purity laws and a general prohibition on non-marital heterosexual conduct. The family purity laws require women to be recognize as Tumah or Niddah during their menstrual period. As a tumah, a woman is to wait 7 days for her menstrual cycle to end and then 7 “clean days" in order to enter the Mikveh and begin sexual relations.[7] During this time, it is forbidden to have any type of contact with the Niddah, thus anything she touches is not to be touched and no physical contact is permitted.[8] On the same day as the CJLS released its homosexuality responsa, it released multiple opinions on the subject of Niddah including a responsum lifting certain traditional restrictions on husband-wife contact during the niddah period while maintaining a prohibition on sexual relations. The permissive responsum on homosexuality used the Conservative movement's approach to Niddah as an analogy for construing the Biblical prohibition against male homosexual conduct narrowly and lifting restrictions it deemed Rabbinic in nature. The responsum indicated it would be making a practical analogy between an approach in which male homosexual couples would be on their honor to refrain from certain acts and its approach to Niddah:

We expect homosexual students to observe the rulings of this responsum in the same way that we expect heterosexual students to observe the CJLS rulings on niddah. We also expect that interview committees, administrators, faculty and fellow students will respect the privacy and dignity of gay and lesbian students in the same way that they respect the privacy and dignity of heterosexual students.

The responsum enjoined young people not to be "promiscuous" and to prepare themselves for "traditional marriage" if possible, while not explicitly lifting or re-enforcing any express strictures on non-marital heterosexual conduct.[4]

Even before this responsum, strictures on pre-marital sex had been substantially ignored, even in official circles. For example, when the Jewish Theological Seminary of America proposed enforcing a policy against non-marital cohabitation by rabbinical students in the 1990s, protests by cohabiting rabbinical students resulted in a complete rescission of the policy.

Conservative Judaism formally prohibits interfaith marriage and its standards currently indicate it will expel a Rabbi who performs an interfaith marriage. It maintains a variety of formal strictures including a prohibition on making birth announcements in synagogue bulletins for children on non-Jewish mothers and accepting non-Jewish individuals as synagogue members. However, interfaith marriage is relatively widespread among the Conservative laity, and the Conservative movement has recently adapted a policy of being more welcoming of interfaith couples in the hopes of interesting their children in Judaism.

Conservative Judaism, which was for much of the 20th century the largest Jewish denomination in the United States declined sharply in synagogue membership in the United States the 1990s, from 51% of synagogue memberships in 1990 to 33.1% in 2001, with most of the loss going to Orthodox Judaism and most of the rest to Reform. The fracturing in American society of opinion between increasingly liberal and increasingly traditionalist viewpoints on sexual and other issues, as well as the gap between official opinion and general lay practice vis-a-vis the more traditionalist and liberal denominations, may have contributed to the decline.[9]

Reform, Reconstructionist and Humanistic[edit]

Reform Judaism, Humanistic Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism do not observe or require traditional sexuality rules and have welcomed non married and homosexual couples and endorsed homosexual commitment ceremonies and marriages.

Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism are more tolerant of interfaith marriage, and many rabbis in both communities will perform one. Humanistic Judaism permits interfaith marriage. Reform, Reconstructionist and Humanistic Judaism also do not require a religious divorce ceremony separate from a civil divorce.

It has been speculated that the more tolerant attitudes of Reform, Reconstructionist and Humanistic Judaism towards both sexual diversity and interfaith marriage may have contributed to the rise in their popularity during the 1990s, from about 33% of affiliated households to 38%, making it pass Conservative Judaism as the largest Jewish denomination in the United States.[9]


Biblical References to Sex and Sexuality

There are several references to sexuality in the Bible. It is important to note that biblical interpretation of scripture is varied throughout time and across traditions, and have consequently shaped Christian thought on sex.


  • Genesis 1:27 God creates both male and female in god’s image (imago Dei)
  • Genesis 2:24 explains the role of marriage as a means by which humans are built to be in relationship with one another. This particular verse describes marital relationship as being between a man and a woman.

Songs of Solomon

  • Erotic poems in the Old Testament. Describes two lovers engaging in intercourse. Sometimes interpreted as the relationship God has with God’s people, or the goodness of sex within marriage. Does not mention procreation.

The Gospels

  • Jesus rarely addresses sexuality in scripture, except to encourage the cultural practice of marriage and denounce divorce and adultery (Mark 10:2-12,Matthew 9:3-10, Matthew 5:27-32, and Luke 16:18). In Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus defines adultery as not only acts of the body, but acts concerning the mind and spirit (lust).

Paul's Letters

  • Much of Christian thought regarding sex and sexuality comes from the writing of the Apostle Paul. His apocalyptic worldview greatly influenced his beliefs on sex and marriage, believing that one’s bodily self can greatly inhibit one’s spiritual self. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul suggests that marriage is permissible for those who cannot curb their sexual desires, but encourages celibacy for both men and women.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-13 Paul confronts sexual immorality and defines the role of sex as solely for procreation. In these passages Paul describes the sins that prevent one from entering the “Kingdom of God” including but not limited to idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, and thievery.
    • Most scholars[weasel words] suggest that the use of “homosexuality” in this verse is linked closer to the act pedophilia (particularly older men pursuing sex with young boys) that was practiced among Greeks at the time. The words Paul used to refer to this act can be more closely translated to male prostitutes. It has also been suggested that admonishing this practice was an attempt to separate Jewish culture from Greek culture.

As noted above, interpretation of these texts within Christian tradition vary. While much of scripture has served to promote chastity, celibacy, and heterosexual marriages and denounce actions such as premarital sexual behavior and homosexuality, some denominations and groups including but not limited to Feminist, Queer, and Black Theologians have used these texts (and others) to further sex-positivity within a Christian context.

The Mormon religion teaches that marriage should be with a man and a woman. The LDS church teaches its members to obey the law of chastity which says that "sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife". Violations of this code include "adultery, being without natural affection, lustfulness, infidelity, incontinence, filthy communications, impurity, inordinate affection, fornication". The traditional Mormon religion forbids all homosexual behavior, whether it be intra-marriage or extramarital. In Romans 1:24-32, Paul preached to the Romans that homosexual behavior was sinful. In Leviticus 20:13, Moses included in his law that homosexual actions and behaviors were against God's will. In the 1830s, LDS founder Joseph Smith instituted the private practice on polygamy. The practice was defended by the church as a matter of religious freedom. In 1890, the church practice was terminated. Since the termination of polygamy, Mormons have solely believed in marriage between two people, and those two people being a man and a woman. The LDS community states that they still love homosexuals as sons and daughters of the Lord, but if they act upon their inclinations then they are subject to discipline of the church.[10] [11]

Historical background[edit]

In early and ascetic Christianity, sex (procreation of children) was not emphasized, while celibacy and virginity were highly praised.[12] Paul the Apostle stated in 1 Corinthians that it is good for [the unmarried] to remain this way, but if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, "for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." Some have suggested that Paul's treatment of sex was influenced by his conviction that the end of the world was imminent. Under this view, Paul, believing that the world would soon end, took it as a corollary that all earthly concerns,[13] including sex, should hold little interest for Christians.[14] Paul's letters show far greater concern with sexual issues than the gospel writers attributed to Jesus, since Paul was building Christian communities over decades and responding to various issues that arose.

Paul did, however, support marriage, and sex within marriage.[15] He recognized that for married couples, sex is helpful in protecting them with respect to their temptations[16] and he recommends ongoing sexual relations between spouses,[17] even if their religious observances may prompt them to abstain for a time.[16] Importantly, Paul’s view of sex is also that it is actually unnecessary for those with certain gifts[18] (presumably "celibacy").

New Testament scholar N. T. Wright asserts that Paul absolute forbade fornication, irrespective of a new Christian's former cultural practices. Wright notes "If a Corinthian were to say, ‘Because I’m a Corinthian, I have always had a string of girl-friends I sleep with, that’s part of our culture,’ Paul would respond, ‘Not now you’re a Christian you don’t.’... When someone disagreed with Paul’s clear rules on immorality or angry disputes, the matters he deals with in Colossians 3.5-10, he is... firm, as we see dramatically in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6. There is no place in the Christian fellowship for such practices and for such a person."[19]

Scriptures in the New Testament dealing with sexuality are varied. Subjects include: the Apostolic Decree (Acts 15), sexual immorality, divine love (1 Corinthians 13), mutual self-giving (1 Corinthians 7), bodily membership between Christ and between his wife (1 Corinthians 6:15-20) and honor versus dishonor and of adultery(Hebrews 13:4).

The theologian Lee Gatiss states that "the word "fornication" has gone out of fashion and is not in common use to describe non-marital sex. However, it is an excellent translation for [the Biblical term] porneia, which basically referred to any kind of sex outside of marriage... This has been contested... but the overwhelming weight of scholarship and all the available evidence from the ancient world points firmly in this direction. "Flee sexual immorality (porneia) and pursue self-control" (cf. 1 Thess 4:1–8) was the straightforward message to Christians in a sex-crazed world."[20]

In the early Church, reflection on scriptural texts introduced an eschatological hermeneutic to the reading of the Book of Genesis: the Garden of Eden was seen as a normative ideal state to which Christians were to strive; writers linked the future enjoyment of Heaven to the original blessedness of Adam and Eve in their reflections.[21]

The valuation of virginity in the ancient church brought into relief a tension between the Genesis injunction to "be fruitful and multiply" Gen 1:28, with its understood contextual implication of marriage as a social institution, and the interpretation of the superiority of virginity over marriage, sexual activity and family formation from the Gospel texts Matt 19:11-12, Matt 19:29. One way patristic thinkers tried to harmonize the texts was through the position that there had actually been no sexual intercourse in Eden: on this reading, sex happened after the fall of man and the expulsion from Eden, thus preserving virginity as the perfect state both in the historical Paradise and the anticipated Heaven. John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Justin Martyr, Epiphanius of Salamis, and Irenaeus of Lyons all espoused this view:

Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity, 12 "He did not yet judge of what was lovely by taste or sight; he found in the Lord alone all that was sweet; and he used the helpmeet given him only for this delight, as Scripture signifies when it said that he knew her not till he was driven forth from the garden, and till she, for the sin which she was decoyed into committing, was sentenced to the pangs of childbirth. We, then, who in our first ancestor were thus ejected, are allowed to return to our earliest state of blessedness by the very same stages by which we lost Paradise. What are they? Pleasure, craftily offered, began the Fall, and there followed after pleasure shame, and fear, even to remain longer in the sight of their Creator, so that they hid themselves in leaves and shade; and after that they covered themselves with the skins of dead animals; and then were sent forth into this pestilential and exacting land where, as the compensation for having to die, marriage was instituted".[22]

John Chrysostom, On Virginity, 14.3 "When the whole world had been completed and all had been readied for our repose and use, God fashioned man for whom he made the world... Man did need a helper, and she came into being; not even then did marriage seem necessary... Desire for sexual intercourse, conception, labor, childbirth, and every form of corruption had been banished from their souls. As a clear river shooting forth from a pure source, so they were in that place adorned by virginity." 15.2 "Why did marriage not appear before the treachery? Why was there no intercourse in paradise? Why not the pains of childbirth before the curse? Because at that time these things were superfluous".[23]

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, ch 22:4 "But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin (for in Paradise they were both naked, and were not ashamed, inasmuch as they, having been created a short time previously, had no understanding of the procreation of children: for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race..." .[24]

Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 78.17-19 "And as in paradise Eve, still a virgin, fell into the sin of disobedience, once more through the Virgin [Mary] came the obedience of grace".[25]

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho ch 100 "For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her..." .[26]

These theories can be viewed in contrast with, for example, Original Unity in the system of Theology of the Body (see section 2.1, "Man and woman ‘in the beginning’").

One noteworthy element in some of the above Fathers is use of arguments from fittingness, which had a place in ancient rhetoric, though are perceived as heuristic in contemporary philosophy.[27] Arguments from fittingness follow a basic structure: God is, God is good,[28] God made the world, a good God would make the world as perfectly as possible.[29] If multiple theories arise about a matter that cannot be empirically tested, and no other methodological test can apply, the most fitting (understood as rational, elegant, or beautiful) is the reasonable one to think true — it is thus an epistemological argument.

Epistemological arguments from fittingness are associated with medieval philosophy,[27][30] but are also used in the ancient period. Justin Martyr and Epiphanius of Salamis employ arguments from fittingness – in their view, it is more elegant that there be a symmetry between the virgin that caused the fall and the virgin that caused salvation. Eve-Mary typology appears to have been one of the first prominent strands in Christian Mariology.

In addition to the above examples, the reader might refer to Origen’s Against Celsus, Book I, chapter 32.

Arguments from fittingness are also used in ethics and aesthetics in the ancient world.[31]

Prof. John Noonan suggests that "if one asks... where the Christian Fathers derived their notions on marital intercourse – notions which have no express biblical basis – the answer must be, chiefly from the Stoics".[32] He uses texts from Musonius Rufus, Seneca the Younger, and Ocellus Lucanus, tracing works of Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Jerome to the works of these earlier thinkers,[32] particularly as pertaining to the permissible use of the sexual act, which in the Stoic model must be subdued, dispassionate, and justified by its procreative intent.[33]

Augustine of Hippo had a different challenge: to respond to the errors of Manichaeism.[34] The Manichees, according to Augustine, were "opposed to marriage, because they are opposed to procreation which is the purpose of marriage".[34] This may have reinforced the theological commitment to the twin theories of the procreative purpose of marriage and that of procreation being the only permissible intended end of the sex act, over and above the Stoic influence. Interestingly, "the method of contraception practiced by these Manichees whom Augustine knew is the use of the sterile period as determined by Greek medicine",[34] which Augustine condemns (this stands in contrast to the contemporarily permitted Catholic use of Natural family planning).

From the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Catholic Church formally recognized marriage between a freely consenting, baptized man and woman as a sacrament—an outward sign communicating a special gift of God's love. The Council of Florence in 1438 gave this definition, following earlier Church statements in 1208, and declared that sexual union was a special participation in the union of Christ in the Church.[35] However the Puritans, while highly valuing the institution, viewed marriage as a "civil", rather than a "religious" matter, being "under the jurisdiction of the civil courts".[36] This is because they found no biblical precedent for clergy performing marriage ceremonies. Further, marriage was said to be for the "relief of concupiscence"[36] as well as any spiritual purpose.

The Catholic moral theologian Charles E. Curran stated "the fathers of the Church are practically silent on the simple question of masturbation".[37]

As monastic communities developed, the sexual lives of monks came under scrutiny from two theologians, John Cassian and Caesarius of Arles, who commented on the "vices" of the solitary life. "Their concerns were not with the act of masturbation, but with the monks who vowed chastity. The monks' vow made masturbation an illicit act; the act itself was not considered sinful... In fact... prior to Cassian, masturbation was not considered a sexual offence for anyone."[38]


The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "the flesh is the hinge of salvation."[39] The Catechism indicates that sexual relationships in marriage is "a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator's generosity and fecundity"[40] and lists fornication as one of the "offenses against chastity",[41] calling it "an intrinsically and gravely disordered action" because "use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose."[41][42] The "conjugal act" aims "at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul"[43] since the marriage bond is to be a sign of the love between God and humanity.[44]

Pope John Paul II's first major teaching was on the theology of the body, presented in a series of lectures by the same name. Over the course of five years he elucidated a vision of sex that was not only positive and affirming but was about redemption, not condemnation. He taught that by understanding God's plan for physical love we could understand "the meaning of the whole of existence, the meaning of life."[45] He taught that human beings were created by a loving God for a purpose: to be loving persons who freely choose to love, to give themselves as persons who express their self-giving through their bodies. Thus, sexual intercourse between husband and wife is a symbol of their total mutual self-donation.[original research?]

For John Paul II, "The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and divine." He says there is no other more perfect image of the unity and communion of God in mutual love than the sexual act of a married couple, whereby they give themselves in a total way - exclusively to one another, and up to end of their lives, and in a fruitfully generous way by participating in the creation of new human beings. Through this perspective, he understands the immorality of extra-marital sex. It falsifies the language of the human body, a language of total love worthy of persons by using the body for selfish ends, thus treating persons as things and objects, rather than dealing with embodied persons with the reverence and love that incarnate spirits deserve. John Paul II stresses that there is great beauty in sexual love when done in harmony with the human values of freely chosen total commitment and self-giving. For him, this sexual love is a form of worship, an experience of the sacred.[46][47]

Roman Catholics believe that masturbation is a sin.[48]


Nearly all Protestants assert that any and all sex outside of marriage, including that conducted between committed engaged or cohabiting couples, is the sin of fornication.[49][50]

This rejection of premarital sex includes even the most liberal churches.[51][52] [53]

Protestants do however, approve of masturbation unlike Roman Catholics, due to the lack of a Biblical injunction against the act. Mainstream[54] [55][56] and conservative[57] Protestants agree masturbation is not a sin, although there are various restrictions, such as making sure it does not lead to use of pornography or looking lustfully at people or mutual masturbation or addiction to the act. It must also not be undertaken in a spirit of defiance against God.[58]

In most Lutheran, Reformed and United churches of the Evangelical Church in Germany and in the Netherlands and Switzerland view homosexuality as a violation of the 7th commandment. In these Lutheran, United and Reformed churches (Luther/Calvin) gay ministers are not permitted in ministry and gay couples are not allowed in their churches.

Inside the Lutheran Church of Sweden, the Bishop of Stockholm, Eva Brunne is a lesbian.[59]

The Metropolitan Community Church, also known as the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, has a specific outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families and communities.[60]


In the Anglican church there is a large discussion over the blessing of gay couples and over tolerance of homosexuality. The discussion is more about the aspect of love between two people of the same sex in a relationship than it is about the sexual aspect of a relationship.[61] In some dioceses, Anglican (Episcopal) churches in Canada and the USA permit openly gay priests in ministry and allow same-sex blessings, which has drawn much criticism from other parts of the Anglican Communion. Anglican churches in parts of Africa are extremely conservative in their attitude towards homosexuality. Gay priests in most Anglican churches must be celibate if they wish to continue their work as priests.


Most evangelical churches, such as Southern Baptists, for example, interpret the Bible to say that homosexual activity is a sin. Although Leviticus calls for the killing of anyone who commits a homosexual act, evangelicals believe that this was part of the Mosaic law. They point out that in the new testament, Romans 1:27, while it is still a sin, sinners have a chance for forgiveness. The theme of Leviticus, death, is not echoed in this reading.[citation needed]


On various occasions LDS church leaders have taught that members should not masturbate as part of obedience to the LDS law of chastity.[62][63][64][65][66][67][68]


The LDS church believes that sex out of marriage is sinful and that homosexual behavior should be condemned.[69] Hetereosexual marriage is seen as the highest form of relationship in the Mormon church. Homosexuals are believed to have the ability to overcome their homosexuality through strong faith practices and repentance for their actions and thoughts. [69]

Women's Sexuality[edit]

Women's sexuality is solely for the purpose for having children. Women were given rights from God to perform their Godly duty to bear children. In the 19th century women's roles were to live their lives around their husband and children. Women who rejected this role as being a domestic women in the home, were seen as unstable and corrupted.[70] Women were expected to be pure, stable, and spiritual.

Plural Marriage[edit]

Outsiders to Mormonism ,in the 19th century, believed that polygamy was unacceptable and therefore Mormon women were seen in a different light if they participated in a plural marriage. Although their marriage arrangements were against the odds of society, Mormon women continued to defend their right to be in a polygamist marriage. [70] All Mormon women had to accept the possibility of being a plural wife if they wanted to continue in the Latter Day Saints religion. Polygamy became not only a social duty, it became a way to salvation. Plural wives gained salvation but only the first wive received societal status.[70] Many believed that the outside socitey was much greater than what they were doing with polygamy. Even though the concept of being a plural wife was widely accepted at the time, there were also a good amount of women who didn't think that plural marriages were a good thing. Many,within the LDS church,whom were in opposition of polygamy stated that women who were in polygamous marriages were degrading the sanctity of marriage. For some, the idea of polygamy ruined a woman's sexuality and their role.[70]

Unity Church[edit]

While the Unity Church at one point in its history offered prayers for the healing of homosexuality, the church has consistently ordained openly gay ministers, beginning with Ernest C. Wilson, who was ordained as a minister by founder Charles Fillmore, who sent him to a church in Hollywood, California on learning of his orientation.


See also: LGBT in Islam

Few modern Muslim countries have legal systems based fully on Islamic law (called shariah).[71]

Islam encourages marriage as a form of religious practice, and considers it as the best form that regulates the sexual relationship of human beings.

Qur'anic verses made it legal for Muslim men to marry women from other Abrahamic religions (i.e. Jews and Christians), provided that the women are faithful (adherent) to their own religious beliefs. Contemporary scholars have upheld this ruling.

A Muslim woman, on the other hand, is only allowed to marry a Muslim man, one of the reasons being, to marry a non-Muslim man would mean that the children would grow up as non-Muslims. A marriage contract between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man is traditionally considered illegal and void, and hence legally an adulterous affair. Another reason is to insure that the woman's legal rights are fully recognized in a marriage contract.

The Qur'an states the following conditions for men with regard to marriage:

4:22 And marry not women whom your fathers married save for what is past: it is shameful and odious—indeed an abominable custom.

4:23 Prohibited to you (For marriage) are: Your mothers, daughters, sisters; father's sisters, Mother's sisters; brother's daughters, sister's daughters; foster-mothers, foster-sisters; your wives' mothers; your stepdaughters under your guardianship, born of your wives to whom ye have gone in,- no prohibition if ye have not gone in; (Those who have been) wives of your sons proceeding from your loins; and two sisters in wedlock at one and the same time save for what is past; for God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

4:24 Also (prohibited are) women already married. Thus hath God ordained (Prohibitions) against you: Except for these, all others are lawful, provided ye seek (them in marriage) with gifts from your property: desiring chastity, not lust, seeing that ye derive benefit from them, give them their dowers (at least) as prescribed; but if, after a dower is prescribed, agree mutually (to vary it), there is no blame on you. And God is All-Knowing, All-Wise.

4:25 If any of you have not the means where with to wed free believing women, they may wed believing girls from among those whom your right hands possess. And God hath full knowledge about your faith. Ye are one from another: wed them with the leave of their owners, and give them their dowers, according to what is reasonable. They should be chaste, not lustful, nor taking paramours: when they are taken in wedlock, if they fall into shame, their punishment is half that for free women. This (permission) is for those among you who fear sin; but it is better for you that ye practice self-restraint. And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

4:26 Allah doth wish to make clear to you and to show you the ordinances of those before you; and (He doth wish to) turn to you (In Mercy): And God is All-Knowing, All-Wise.[citation needed]

Most forms of sexual contact within a marriage are allowed. Sex is considered a pleasurable, even spiritual activity, and a duty. At least one hadith explicitly states that for a married couple to have sex is a good deed rewarded by God. Another hadith suggests that a man should not leave the proverbial bed until the woman is satisfied, a reference many say points to orgasm.

Sharia law[edit]

Adultery warrants severe punishment. Pre-marital sex is also considered sinful, albeit less severe. All shari'a laws regulating sexual conduct apply to both men and women equally, apart from those concerning menstruation.

Forbidden sexual contact includes genital contact with a woman while she is menstruating. In such case, other sexual contact (such as kissing and any sexual activity that does not include vaginal contact) is explicitly allowed. Temporary marriage (Mut'a, marriage designated for a preset period of time) is not allowed by the majority Sunni schools, but is allowed by Shia schools. Debate continues on its validity.

There are dissenting views on the topic of masturbation. While some scholars consider it unlawful and thus prohibited according to Islamic doctrine, others (such as those of the Hanbali doctrine) believe that those who masturbate out of fear of committing fornication or fear for their bodies have done nothing wrong and are not punished if (and only if) they are unable to marry. According to some hadiths however, men are encouraged to fast in order to avoid fornication and tempting oneself with sexual thoughts or conversations with opposite sex outside marriage is strongly discouraged.


  • sexual intercourse in the nights of fast is permitted. Sexual intercourse during Iʿtikāf in Mosques is prohibited. (Al-Quran 2:182)
  • Rules of Ela are mentioned. (Al-Quran 2:224-227)
  • Marriage with Mushriks is prohibited. (Al-Quran 2:221)
  • Sexual intercourse during menstruation is prohibited. (Al-Quran 2:222)
  • Divorced women have to wait three periods before remarriage. Concealing pregnancy is prohibited. (Al-Quran 2:228)
  • Marriage with the same woman after third divorce is prohibited until woman marries another husband and then the latter divorces her. (Al-Quran 2:229-230)
  • Remarriage with same husband after first or second divorce is permitted. (Al-Quran 2:232)
  • Widow has to wait four months and ten days before remarrige. Propsal during Iddah is allowed while marriage is prohibited before the expiry of iddah. ( Al-Quran 2:234)
  • divorce before or after the fixing of mahr is allowed. However men are ordered to give something to women even if mahar was not fixed. (Al-Quran 2:236)
  • if husband divorces wife before touching her while mahr has been fixed then half mahr is due unless they both change with mutual consideration. Men are encouraged to give full mahar. (Al-Quran 2:237)
  • Men are obliged to make will in favor of their wives that they should be given maintenance and residence for whole year. Women can themselves leave and marry. (Al-Quran 2:240)
  • Divorced women are given right of maintenance. (Al-Quran 2-241)
  • Man is allowed to marry two, three or four wives. However, if he fears injustice he must keep one. (Al-Quran 4:3)
  • Men are ordered to give mahr to women happily (Al-Quran 4:4)
  • If women commit lewdness, four witnesses are to be called. If they witness then such women are closed in homes until death or God make some other resource. Those two who commit it are punished. If they repent then they should be left. Repentance at deathbed is unacceptable. (Al-Quran 4:15-18)
  • inheriting women is prohibited. Closing women in homes for the sake of getting back what is given to them is prohibited. (Al-Quran 4:19)
  • instructions about exchange of spouse are given. Men are prohibited to take back property they have given to divorced women (Al-Quran 4:20-21)
  • marriage with the wife or former wife of father is prohibited. (Al-Quran 4:22)
  • Marriage with mothers, daughters, sisters, paternal aunts, maternal aunts, brothers' daughters, sisters' daughters, suckling mother, sister from suckling, mother of one's women, step-daughters (if marriage was consummated otherwise it is allowed), women of sons is prohibited. Marrying two sisters is prohibited. What has already passed that is forgiven. (Al-Quran 4:23)
  • Married women except what right hand possess are prohibited. All other women are allowed. (Al-Quran 4:24)
  • Man who can't marry free-believing women are encouraged to marry slave-believing women. Marriage with slave women should be contracted with the permission of her master by paying her mahar. If slave women commit lewdness after marriage, her punishment is half as compared free women. This is only for impatient men. Patience is encouraged. (Al-Quran 4:25)
  • Muslim men are allowed to marry chaste women of people of the book (Jews and Christians). (Al-Quran 5:5)
  • Punishment of Zina (illegal sex) for both man and woman is 100 strips. (Al-Quran 24:2)
  • Believers are prohibited to marry those who commit Zina or illegal sex. (Al-Quran 24:3)
  • Accusing chaste women without 4 witnesses is prohibited. Penalty is eighty strips and witness will not be accepted forever. (Al-Quran 24:4)
  • Rules and regulations of "Lian" are mentioned. (Al-Quran 24:6-9)
  • Believer men are ordered to lower their gaze and guard private parts. (Al-Quran 24:30)
  • Believer women are ordered to lower their gaze and guard their private parts. Believer women are ordered to hide their adornment except what is already visible. Believer women are ordered to keep scarves on their chests. They are prohibited from showing their adornments except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, their brothers' sons, their sisters' sons, their women, what their right hands possess, their male servants free of sexual desire, or the children not aware of women's private parts. Believer women are prohibited from stamping their foot on ground which may show their hidden adornment. (Al-Quran 24:31)
  • Unmarried persons, righteous male slaves and, righteous female slaves are encouraged to marry. (Al-Quran 24:32)
  • Those who can't afford marriage are ordered to remain chaste until he can afford it. Forcing women, who want chastity, into prostitution is prohibited. If they are forced then they are sinless and forgiven. (Al-Quran 24:33)
  • Old-aged women, who don't have hope of marriage, are allowed to undress provided that they hide their adornments. However, chastity is glorified. (Al-Quran 24-60)

Bahá'í faith[edit]

In the Bahá'í Faith, sexual relationships are permitted only between a husband and wife. Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith in his book of laws, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, forbid extramarital sexual intercourse.[72][73] The Baha'i understanding of sex is that chastity should be practised by both sexes before marriage because it is commendable ethically and that it leads to a happy and successful marital life. The Bahá'í Faith recognizes the value of the sex impulse, but that its proper use is within the institution of marriage; Baha'is do not believe in the suppression of the sex impulse but in its regulation and control.[74]

Dharmic religions[edit]


The most common formulation of Buddhist ethics are the Five Precepts and the Noble Eightfold Path, which say that one should neither be attached to nor crave sensual pleasure. These precepts take the form of voluntary, personal undertakings, not divine mandate or instruction.

Of the Five Precepts, the third vow is to refrain from sex with others' spouse, someone under age (namely, those protected by their parents or guardians), and who have taken vows of religious celibacy.[75][76] In Chinese Buddhism, the third vow is interpreted to refrain from sex outside marriage.[77]

Buddhist monks and nuns of most traditions are expected to refrain from all sexual activity and the Buddha is said to have admonished his followers to avoid unchastity "as if it were a pit of burning cinders."[78] While Laypersons may have sex within marriage, monks may not have sex at all.


Religiously, Hindus begin life at the Brahmacharya or "student" stage, in which they are directed to chastely advance themselves educationally and spiritually to prepare themselves for a life of furthering their dharma (societal, occupational, parental, etc. duties) and karma (right earthly actions); only once they reach the Grihastya or "householder" stage can they seek kama (physical pleasure) and artha (worldly achievement, material prosperity) through marriage (generally arranged) and their vocations, respectively.[citation needed]

The Kama Sutra (Discourse on Kāma) by Vatsayana, widely believed to be just a manual for sexual congress, offers an insight into sexual mores, ethics and societal rules that were prevalent at that time. Shringara Ras (Romance, one of the nine rasas or emotions). A drama in Sanskrit, Abhijnana Shakuntalam by Kalidasa, cited as one of the best examples of Shringara Ras, talks of the love story of Dushyanta and Shakuntala.[79][80]

Western esotericism and occultism[edit]

Main article: Sex magic
Aleister Crowley in ceremonial garb, 1912.

Sex magic is a term for various types of sexual activity used in magical, ritualistic, or otherwise religious and spiritual pursuits found within Western esotericism which is a broad spectrum of spiritual traditions found in Western society, or refers to the collection of the mystical, esoteric knowledge of the Western world.. One practice of sex magic is using the energy of sexual arousal or orgasm with visualization of a desired result. A premise of sex magic is the concept that sexual energy is a potent force that can be harnessed to transcend one's normally perceived reality. The earliest known practical teachings of sex magic in the Western world come from 19th-century American occultist Paschal Beverly Randolph, under the heading of The Mysteries of Eulis.[81] In the latter part of the 19th century, sexual reformer Ida Craddock published several works dealing with sacred sexuality, most notably Heavenly Bridegrooms and Psychic Wedlock. Aleister Crowley reviewed Heavenly Bridegrooms in the pages of his journal The Equinox, stating that it was: of the most remarkable human documents ever produced, and it should certainly find a regular publisher in book form. The authoress of the MS. claims that she was the wife of an angel. She expounds at the greatest length the philosophy connected with this thesis. Her learning is enormous.

...This book is of incalculable value to every student of occult matters. No Magick library is complete without it.[82]

Aleister Crowley became involved with Theodor Reuss and Ordo Templi Orientis following the publication of The Book of Lies between 1912 and 1913.[83] According to Crowley's account, Reuss approached him and accused him of having revealed the innermost (sexual) secret of O.T.O. in one of the cryptic chapters of this book. When it became clear to Reuss that Crowley had done so unintentionally, he initiated Crowley into the IX° (ninth degree) of O.T.O. and appointed him "Sovereign Grand Master General of Ireland, Iona and all the Britains."[83][84][85]

While the O.T.O. included, from its inception, the teaching of sex magick in the highest degrees of the Order, when Crowley became head of the Order, he expanded on these teachings and associated them with different degrees as follows:[86]

  • VIII°: masturbatory or autosexual magical techniques were taught, referred as the Lesser Work of Sol
  • IX°: heterosexual magical techniques were taught
  • XI°: anal intercourse magical techniques were taught.

Professor Hugh Urban, Professor of Comparative Religion at The Ohio State University, noted Crowley's emphasis on sex as "the supreme magical power".[84] According to Crowley:

The Book of the Law solves the sexual problem completely. Each individual has an absolute right to satisfy his sexual instinct as is physiologically proper for him. The one injunction is to treat all such acts as sacraments. One should not eat as the brutes, but in order to enable one to do one's will. The same applies to sex. We must use every faculty to further the one object of our existence.[87]



Most Neopagan religions have the theme of fertility (both physical and creative/spiritual) as central to their practices, and as such encourage what they view as a healthy sex life, consensual sex between adults, regardless of gender.

Wicca, like other religions, has adherents with a broad spectrum of views ranging from conservative to liberal. It is a largely nondogmatic religion and has no prohibitions against sexual intercourse outside of marriage or relationships between members of the same sex. The religion's ethics are largely summed up by the Wiccan Rede: "An it harm none, do as thou wilt", which is interpreted by many as allowing and endorsing responsible sexual relationships of all varieties. Specifically in the Wiccan tradition of modern witchcraft, one of the widely accepted pieces of Craft liturgy, the Charge of the Goddess instructs that "...all acts of love and pleasure are [the Goddess'] rituals",[88] giving validity to all forms of sexual activity for Wiccan practitioners.

In the Gardnerian and Alexandrian forms of Wicca, the "Great Rite" is a sex ritual much like the hieros gamos, performed by a priest and priestess who are believed to embody the Wiccan God and Goddess. The Great Rite is almost always performed figuratively using the athame and chalice as symbols of the penis and vagina. The literal form of the ritual is always performed by consenting adults, by a couple who are already lovers and in private. The Great Rite is not seen as an opportunity for casual sex.[89]

Most Neopagan religions generally accept same-sex relationships as equal to heterosexual ones; notable exceptions include the early writings of Gerald Gardener, which are sometimes cited as homophobic, and some reconstructionists regard same-sex relationships as second to heterosexuality. Homophobia is considerably most-common amongst Germanic Neopaganism,[citation needed] though some are outspoken advocates of civil rights for same-sex-loving persons, and as homosexual or bisexual, themselves.


LaVeyan Satanism is critical of Abrahamic sexual mores, considering them narrow, restrictive and hypocritical. Satanists are pluralists, accepting gays, lesbians, bisexuals, BDSM, polyamorists, transgender people, and asexuals. Sex is viewed as an indulgence, but one that should only be freely entered into with consent. The Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth only give two instructions regarding sex: "Do not make sexual advances unless you are given the mating signal" and "Do not harm little children", though the latter is much broader and encompasses physical and other abuse. This has always been consistent part of CoS policy since its inception in 1966, as Peter H. Gillmore wrote in an essay supporting same sex marriage: "Finally, since certain people try to suggest that our attitude on sexuality is "anything goes" despite our stated base principle of "responsibility to the responsible," we must reiterate another fundamental dictate: The Church of Satan’s philosophy strictly forbids sexual activity with children as well as with non-human animals."[90]

In that essay he also stated: "The Church of Satan is the first church to fully accept members regardless of sexual orientation and so we champion weddings/civil unions between adult partners whether they be of opposite or the same sex. So long as love is present and the partners wish to commit to a relationship, we support their desire for a legally recognized partnership, and the rights and privileges which come from such a union."[90]

Unitarian Universalism[edit]

While Unitarianism and Universalism are terms used to express Christian theological ideas, since the 1950s Unitarian Universalism has changed to be less focused on Scripture and the traditions of Christianity and started to draw from a wider range of sources.

Several UU congregations have undertaken a series of organizational, procedural and practical steps to become acknowledged as a "Welcoming Congregation": a congregation which has taken specific steps to welcome and integrate gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender (LGBT) members. UU ministers perform same-sex unions and now same-sex marriages where legal (and sometimes when not, as a form of civil protest). On June 29, 1984, the Unitarian Universalists became the first major church "to approve religious blessings on homosexual unions."[91] Unitarian Universalists have been in the forefront of the work to make same-sex marriages legal in their local states and provinces, as well as on the national level. Gay men, bisexuals, and lesbians are also regularly ordained as ministers, and a number of gay, bisexual, and lesbian ministers have, themselves, now become legally married to their partners. In May 2004, Arlington Street Church was the site of the first state-sanctioned same-sex marriage in the United States. The official stance of the UUA is for the legalization of same-sex marriage—"Standing on the Side of Love." In 2004 UU Minister Rev. Debra Haffner of The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing published An Open Letter on Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality to affirm same-sex marriage from a multi-faith perspective. In December 2009, Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the bill to legalize same-sex marriage for the District of Columbia in All Souls Church, Unitarian (Washington, D.C.).

Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness is a group within Unitarian Universalism whose vision is "for Unitarian Universalism to become the first poly-welcoming mainstream religious denomination."[92]

Spread to non-adherents[edit]

Many cultures attempt to codify their prescriptions concerning individual sexual behaviors. Such codifications are frequently enacted as laws, extending their application beyond the culture to other cultures under the purview of the laws, including dissenters.

Most of the Islamic world has strict rules enforced with sometimes violent punishments to enforce Islamic moral codes, including sexual morality on their citizens, and impose it on non-Muslims living within their societies. The same was true of various European Christian regimes at some stages in history, and some contemporary Christians support restrictions on the private expression of sexuality outside of marriage, ranging from prohibitions of prostitution to restrictions on oral sex and sodomy.

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Further reading[edit]

Critical perspectives