Religion and sexuality  

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"Does the Bible come within the ruling of the Lord Chief Justice as to obscene literature? Most decidedly it does, and if prosecuted as an obscene book, it must necessarily be condemned, if the law is justly administered." --"Is the Bible Indictable?" (c. 1877), a pamphlet by Annie Besant

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Most world religions have sought to address the moral issues that arise from people's sexuality in society and in human interactions. Each major religion has developed moral codes covering issues of sexuality, morality, ethics etc. Though these moral codes do not address issues of sexuality directly, they 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. 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.



In Jewish law, sex is not considered intrinsically sinful or shameful when conducted in marriage, nor is it a necessary evil for the purpose of procreation. Sex is considered a private and holy act between a husband and wife. Certain deviant sexual practices, enumerated below, were considered gravely immoral "abominations" sometimes punishable by death. The residue of sex (as with any lost bodily fluid) was considered ritually unclean outside the body, and required ablution.

Recently, some scholars have questioned whether the Old Testament banned all forms of homosexuality, raising issues of translation and references to ancient cultural practices. However, rabbinic Judaism had unambiguously condemned homosexuality.

Mosaic law

  • And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the sky and over all the beasts that tread upon the earth. (Genesis 1:28)

The Torah, while being quite frank in its description of various sexual acts, forbids certain relationships. Namely, adultery, all forms of incest, male homosexuality, bestiality, and introduced the idea that one should not have sex during the wife's period:

  • You shall not lie carnally with your neighbor's wife, to become defiled by her. (Lev. 18:20)
  • Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. (Lev. 18:22)
  • And with no animal shall you cohabit, to become defiled by it. And a woman shall not stand in front of an animal to cohabit with it; this is depravity. (Lev. 18:23)
  • And to a woman during the uncleanness of her separation, you shall not come near to uncover her nakedness. (Lev. 18:19)

The above passages may, however, open to modern interpretation. The original meanings of these verses did not change, but their interpretation may have changed after they were translated into English and other languages.


Christianity supplemented the Jewish attitudes on sexuality with two new concepts. First, there was the idea that marriage was absolutely exclusive and indissoluble, thereby restricting the sphere of sexual activity and eliminating the husband's ability to divorce at will. Second, there was the notion of virginity as a moral ideal, rendering marital sexuality as a sort of concession to carnal weakness and the necessity of procreation.

New Testament

The Council of Jerusalem decided that, although Jesus may have admonished Jews to keep to their traditions and laws, these were not required of gentiles converting to Christianity, who did not, for instance, need to be circumcised, and could continue to consume shellfish. The Council's final communication to the various gentiles' churches was,

That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
Acts 15:29

It is unclear exactly which sexual practices are considered fornication (sometimes translated as sexual immorality). Throughout the New Testament, there are scattered injunctions against adultery, promiscuity, homosexuality, and incest, consistent with earlier Jewish ethics supplemented by the Christian emphasis on chastity.

  • It is good for a man not to touch a woman. (1 Corinthians 7:1 (KJV))
  • They that have wives be as though they had none; (1 Corinthians 7:29)
Later Christian Thought

A general consensus developed in medieval Christianity that sexual acts were at least mildly sinful, owing to the necessary lust involved in the act. Nonetheless, marital relations were encouraged as an antidote to temptations to promiscuity and other sexual sins. St. Augustine opined that before Adam's fall, there was no lust in the sexual act, but it was entirely subordinate to human reason. Later theologians similarly concluded that the lust involved in sexuality was a result of original sin, but nearly all agreed that this was only a venial sin if conducted within marriage without inordinate lust.

In the modern era, many Christians have adopted the view that there is no sin whatsoever in the uninhibited enjoyment of marital relations. More traditional Christians will tend to limit the circumstances and degree to which sexual pleasure is morally licit.


In India, Hinduism accepted an open attitude towards sex as an art, science and spiritual practice. The most famous pieces of Indian literature on sex are Kamasutra (Aphorisms on Love) and Kamashastra (from Kama = pleasure, shastra = specialised knowledge or technique). This collection of explicit sexual writings, both spiritual and practical, covers most aspects of human courtship and sexual intercourse. It was put together in this form by the sage Vatsyayana from a 150 chapter manuscript that had itself been distilled from 300 chapters that had in turn come from a compilation of some 100,000 chapters of text. The Kamasutra is thought to have been written in its final form sometime between the third and fifth century AD.

Also notable are the sculptures carved on temples in India, particularly the Khajuraho temple. The frank depiction of uninhibited sex hints towards a liberated society and times where people believed in dealing openly with all aspects of life. On the other hand, a group of thinkers believe that depiction of sexually implicit carvings outside the temples indicate that one should enter the temples leaving desires (kama).

Apart from Vatsyayana's Kamashastra, which is no doubt the most famous of all such writings, there exist a number of other books, for example:

  • The Ratirahasya, literal translation - secrets (rahasya) of love (rati, the union);
  • The Panchasakya, or the five (panch) arrows (sakya);
  • The Ratimanjari, or the garland (manjari) of love (rati, the union)
  • The Anunga Runga, or the stage of love.

The Secrets of Love was written by a poet named Kukkoka. He is believed to have written this treatise on his work to please one Venudutta, considered to be a king. This work was translated into Hindi years ago and the author's name became Koka in short and the book he wrote was called Koka Shastra. The same name crept into all the translations into other languages in India. Koka Shastra literally means doctrines of Koka, which is identical with the Kama Shastra, or doctrines of love, and the names Koka Shastra and Kama Shastra are used indiscriminately.


In Islam sexual intercourse is allowed only after marriage and only with one's spouse. Sex outside of marriage, called zina, is considered a sin and strictly prohibited. According to the chapter Al-Israa', verse 32 of the Qur'an, Allah (God) prohibits Muslims from getting close to (engaging in) zina.

Early historiography

See also: lingam, phallic worship, sexual symbolism, love magic, sex magic, sacred sexuality, sexual ritual

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Religion and sexuality" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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