Religion And Sexuality
This article covers the relationship between religion and sexuality.
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.
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. 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.
See also: Abrahamic religion
Main category: Sexuality in Christianity
Fornication, Christianity and sexual orientation, Homosexuality and Christianity, and Phallic saints
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, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” Importantly, Paul’s view of sex is also that it is actually unnecessary for those with certain gifts (presumably “celibacy“).
New Testament scholar N. T. Wright asserts that Paul absolutely 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.”
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, including sex, should hold little interest for Christians. 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.
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.”
In early Christianity, 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.
The valuation of virginity in the ancient church brought into relief a tension between the Genesis injunction to “be fruitful and multiply” 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”.
- 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”.
- 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…”
- 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”.
- 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…”
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”. 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, 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.
Augustine of Hippo had a different challenge: to respond to the errors of Manichaeism. The Manichees, according to Augustine, were “opposed to marriage, because they are opposed to procreation which is the purpose of marriage”. “The method of contraception practiced by these Manichees whom Augustine knew is the use of the sterile period as determined by Greek medicine”, which Augustine condemns (this stands in contrast to the contemporarily permitted Catholic use of Natural family planning).
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.”
Main article: Catholic theology of sexuality
See also: Theology of the Body and Religious views on masturbation
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. 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”. This is because they found no biblical precedent for clergy performing marriage ceremonies. Further, marriage was said to be for the “relief of concupiscence” 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”.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the flesh is the hinge of salvation”. The Catechism indicates that sexual relationships in marriage is “a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator’s generosity and fecundity” and lists fornication as one of the “offenses against chastity”, 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”. The “conjugal act” aims “at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul” since the marriage bond is to be a sign of the love between God and humanity.
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.” 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.
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 the 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.
Roman Catholics believe that masturbation is a sin.
Main article: Fornication § Mainstream Protestantism
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. This rejection of premarital sex includes even the most liberal churches.
Unlike Roman Catholics, Protestants do not disapprove of masturbation due to the lack of a Biblical injunction against the act. Mainstream and conservative 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.
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 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.
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.
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. 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.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism)
Main articles: Sexuality and Mormonism, Masturbation and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Homosexuality and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mormonism and polygamy
Within the many branches of Mormonism the principal denomination the LDS Church teaches conservative views around sexual ethics in their Law of Chastity which holds that masturbation, pre- and extra-marital sex, and same-sex sexual activity are sins. In the 1800s, however, it was allowed for men to be married to and have children with several women and this was also discontinued in the 1800s. On various occasions LDS church leaders have taught that members should not masturbate as part of obedience to the LDS law of chastity. The LDS church believes that sex outside of opposite-sex marriage is sinful and that any same-sex sexual activity is a serious sin. God is believed to be in a heterosexual marriage with Heavenly Mother and Mormons believe that opposite-sex marriage what God wants for all his children. Top LDS church leaders used to teach that attractions to those of the same sex were a sin or disease that could be changed or fixed, but now have no stance on the etiology of homosexuality, and teach that therapy focused on changing sexual orientation is unethical. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual members are, thus, left with the option of attempting to change their sexual orientation, entering a mixed-orientation opposite-sex marriage, or living a celibate lifestyle without any sexual expression (including masturbation).
The LDS church teaches that women’s principal role is to raise children. Women who rejected this role as being a domestic woman in the home, were seen as unstable and corrupted. Before 1890 the Mormon leaders taught that polygamy was a way to salvation and many had multiple wives into the early 1900s, and some women practiced polyandry.
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.
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.
According to Max Heindel, sex should be only used for procreation. All sexual intercourses intended for pleasure or for any other reason, even within marriage, are sinful against the Holy Spirit.
Further information: Islamic sexual jurisprudence and Marriage in Islam
See also: LGBT in Islam
Islam encourages marriage as a form of religious practice, and considers it as the best form that regulates the sexual relationship of human beings. Quranic 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 because 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Main article: Judaism and sexuality and Jewish Views On Marriage
See also: Homosexuality and Judaism, Judaism and masturbation, Tzniut, Niddah, Yichud, Negiah, and Adultery § Judaism
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 the physical acts of adultery, incest, intentional waste of semen, men having anal sex with men, and male masturbation as grave sins. Judaism permits relatively free divorce, with Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism requiring a religious divorce ceremony for a divorce to be religiously recognized. Worldwide movements in Judaism considered more liberal have rejected Jewish law as binding but rather inspirational and allegorical, so adapted perspectives more consistent with contemporary western general secular culture.
Most of mainstream Judaism does not accept polyamory, although some people consider themselves Jewish and polyamorous. One prominent rabbi who does accept polyamory is Sharon Kleinbaum who was ordained in Reconstructionist Judaism which considers biblical Jewish law as not considered binding, but is treated as a valuable cultural remnant that should be upheld unless there is reason for the contrary. She is the senior rabbi at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York which works independently of any major American Jewish denomination; R Kleinbaum says that polyamory is a choice that does not preclude a Jewishly observant, socially conscious life. Some polyamorous Jews also point to biblical patriarchs having multiple wives and concubines as evidence that polyamorous relationships can be sacred in Judaism. There is an email list dedicated to polyamorous Jews, called AhavaRaba, which roughly translates to “big love” in Hebrew. (Its name echoes the Ahava rabbah prayer expressing thanks for God’s “abundant love”.)
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. It is also a traditionalist opinion, upholding all traditional prohibitions on homosexual activity, also adopted as a majority opinion, 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.
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 recognized 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. 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. On the same day as the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards 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.
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.
Main article: Tzniut and Modesty in Judaism
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.
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. An Orthodox bill of divorce is required for a divorce to be recognized.
Reform, Reconstructionist and Humanistic
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.
Main article: Buddhism and sexuality
See also: Buddhism and sexual orientation
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. In Chinese Buddhism, the third vow is interpreted to refrain from sex outside marriage.
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.” While laypersons may have sex within marriage, monks may not have sex at all.
See also: History of sex in India and Homosexuality and Hinduism
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 and their vocations, respectively.
According the Dharmasastras or the religious legal texts of Hinduism, Marriage In Hinduism is an institution for reproduction and thus is naturally limited to heterosexual couples. Furthermore, sex outside of marriage is prohibited. The Manusmriti list 8 types of marriage of which 4 are consensual and encouraged and 4 are non consensual and are discouraged. However, popular practices did not necessarily reflect the religious teachings.
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 in ancient India. The erotic sculptures of Khajuraho also offer an insight. Abhigyana Shakuntalam, a drama in Sanskrit by Kalidasa, cited as one of the best examples of shringara ras (romance, one of the nine rasas or emotions), talks of the love story of Dushyanta and Shakuntala.
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”, 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.
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.”
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.”
In Chinese mythology, Jiutian Xuannü is the goddess of war, sex, and longevity. She is closely related to Sunü (素女), who is her divine sister. Both their names combined, as xuansu zhidao (玄素之道), signify the Daoist arts of the bedchamber. Most books bearing Jiutian Xuannü’s name were about warfare, but there were a few books that were specifically about sex. The Xuannü Jing (玄女經, “Mysterious Woman Classic”) and the Sunü Jing (素女經, “Natural Woman Classic”), both dating to the Han dynasty, were handbooks in dialogue form about sex. Texts from the Xuannü Jing have been partly incorporated into the Sui dynasty edition of the Sunü Jing. From the Han dynasty onwards, these handbooks would be familiar to the upper class. On the other side, during the Han dynasty, Wang Chong had criticized the sexual arts as “not only harming the body but infringing upon the nature of man and woman.” During the Tang dynasty and earlier periods, Jiutian Xuannü was often associated with the sexual arts. The Xuannü Jing remained a familiar work among the literati during the Tang and Sui dynasties. The Dongxuanzi Fangzhong Shu (洞玄子房中術, “Bedchamber Arts of the Master of the Grotto Mysteries”), which was likely written by the 7th-century poet Liu Zongyuan, contains explicit descriptions of the sexual arts that was supposedly transmitted from Jiutian Xuannü. The sexual practices, that Jiutian Xuannü supposedly taught, were often compared to alchemy and physiological procedures for prolonging life. In Ge Hong’s Baopu Zi, there’s a passage in which Jiutian Xuannü tells Huangdi that sexual techniques are “like the intermingling of water and fire—it can kill or bring new life depending upon whether or not one uses the correct methods.”
Tu’er Shen (Chinese: 兔儿神 or 兔神), The Leveret Spirit is a Chinese Shenist or Taoist deity who manages love and sex between men. His name is often colloquially translated as “Rabbit God”. Wei-Ming Temple in the Yonghe District of New Taipei City in Taiwan is dedicated to Tu’er Shen. About 9000 pilgrims visit the temple each year to pray to find a suitable partner. The Wei-ming temple also performs love ceremony for gay couples.
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.” 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.”
Western esotericism and occultism
Main article: Sex magic
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. 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:
…one 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.
Aleister Crowley became involved with Theodor Reuss and Ordo Templi Orientis following the publication of The Book of Lies between 1912 and 1913. 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.”
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:
- 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”. 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.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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