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Sexual morality

Sexual morality entails the beliefs and practices by which a culture, group, faith, etc. regulates their members' behaviour in matter of sexual activities. Many cultures and religions have a sexual morality that they would like to apply even to non adherents; sometimes force has been used in spreading concepts of morality.

These rules sometimes distinguish between sexual activities that are practiced for biological reproduction (sometimes allowed only when in formal marital status and in fertile age) and other activities practiced for the pleasure of sex only (or mainly).

In this sense, a concept of sexual morality can be expressed in any of the possible directions, and groups exist that recommend restrictive behaviours as well as groups that recommend totally free self-determination, as well as a variety of intermediate positions.

The respective efficacy of these rules depends on the social position of the group that develops them, on its eventual political representativity, on its relationships with the laws of the related country.

Views on sexual morality have varied greatly over time and from culture to culture. Usually, they derive from religious beliefs, but some writers have pointed out that social and environmental conditions play a part in the development of a given society's views on sexual morality.

In Western pluralistic societies of the 20th and 21st centuries, there often exists debate on not only whether there is a common morality, but on whether it is right to expect such a common view. In most western societies, laws allowing a wide range of sexual relationships between consenting adults is the norm, although that legal range varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The debate thus often includes a sub-argument of what is legal vs. what is moral.

In previous centuries and in many non-western cultures of the 20th and 21st centuries, there has been less room for debate. This does not mean, however, that views on sexual morality have ever been homogenous.

For example, in Hellenic society, homosexual behavior was often encouraged and accepted as part of the socialization and upbringing of young men, especially those in the military. These relationships were in addition to heterosexual relationships entered into for the establishment of families and the production of progeny so that property would be inherited and kept within a larger kinship group. The importance of the kin-group and the maintenance of its property was such that, under certain circumstances, Athenian law allowed an uncle to marry his niece in order to keep family property together. It could be therefore argued that the needs of the family constituted a higher morality that helped to define the sexual mores of the society as a whole.

Another example is the contrast between traditional European and traditional Asian or African views of permitted familial relationships. British law and custom, for example, frequently forbade intermarriage between those related by marriage. However, in rural regions of India, Nepal, and surrounding nations, fraternal polyandry, in which two (or more) brothers marry the same woman, is culturally accepted. Likewise, European mores generally advocate monogamy strongly. However, polygamy is a much more common social pattern worldwide, with some 80 percent of world cultures considering it acceptable. Polygyny is widely practiced by many societies throughout Asia and Africa, and polyandry is the accepted norm in a few Indian and African societies.

In the United States, what many conservatives call "traditional morality" is held to prohibit all extramarital sex, because of the moral belief that sexual relations should occur only between husband and wife. This view of morality thus disapproves of some or all of the following--premarital, extramarital, and homosexual relations--whether consensual or not.

There are people who disagree with this traditional view. Generally they believe that sex is a natural behavior which should be only minimally restricted by legislation or other imposed moralities. Even among the most liberal views of sexual morality in the US, there is generally agreement that involving non-consenting partners (or those unable to give consent legally) in sexual relationships should be restricted and punishable under the law.

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Spreading sexual morality to non-adherents

Many cultures intend to develop a regulation of individual behaviours, in the sense that if non-members too could be forced (or however convinced) to respect its "code", in many cases the culture-group-etc would have achieved its goal. The proposed regulation is usually declared in a universal form, as an absolute "law".

Like other types of behaviour, various religious and cultural groups attempt to persuade or force others to behave according to their view of sexual morality. Various groups amongst followers of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all do so. Most of the Islamic world has strict rules enforced with sometimes violent punishments to enforce their views on morality, including sexual morality on their citizens, and often attempt to impose it on non-Muslims living within their societies. The same was true of various European Christian kingdoms at some stages in history, and still many Christians attempt to resist laws guaranteeing sexual freedom (for instance, many US states retain laws against homosexuality despite the impossibility of prosecution), mostly unsuccessfully. Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel try to coerce their fellow Jews to follow the Jewish laws of sexuality. They don't literally force anyone to do this, and rather use use words (newspapers, books, radio shows, websites, etc.) to promote their views.

Jewish views of sex and morality

In "A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice", Rabbi Isaac Klein writes a summation of Jewish views towards sex. "Modern man is heir to two conflicting traditions neither of which is Jewish: On the one hand, the rebirth of the old paganism which found its extreme expression in the sacred prostitutes of Canaan...and on the other hand, the Christian reaction to the excesses of paganism...sex became identified with original sin, and celibacy was regarded as the ideal form of life. Modern man, while opting for pagan libertinism, also suffers a guilty conscience because of his Christian heritage....Judaism is free of both extremes. It rejects the espousal of uncontrolled sexual expression that paganism preaches, and also Christianity's claim that all sexual activity is inherently evil. Jewish marriage is based on a healthy sexual viewpoint that rejects the two extremist principals [principles?], and so are the regulations governing the conjugal relations between husband and wife, taharat hamishpacha, the purity of family life."

The Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative Judaism) has published a pastoral letter on human sexuality, "This Is My Beloved, This Is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations". Topics include sex within marriage; having children; infertility; divorce; adultery; incest; single parenthood; non-marital sex; contraception; homosexuality; and the laws of family purity (taharat hamishpacha).

Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of Jewish law are the laws related to toharat ha'mishpach (Hebrew: literally "family purity"). These rules inform us that a women enters a state of "tameh" when she is menstruating. During this time a couple must refrain from all physical contact, especially sexual relations. After the cessation of her menstrual flow, the women counts seven days before immersing herself in a mikva, at which time sexual relations between man and wife can then continue. The words "tahor" and "tameh" are often, but erroneously, translated as physically clean and unclean. However, these terms actually describe a state of ritual applicability in regards to fulfilling biblical commandments, such as those associated with the Temple in Jerusalem, the cultic function of Kohanim (priests), and sexual relations within in a Jewish marriage. Modern Jewish authors often translate tahor and tameh as "ritually pure" and "ritually impure".

Judaism has historically viewed homosexuality as a grave sin; in recent years some of the more liberal Jewish denominations have begun rethinking this understanding for various reasons; this topic is discussed separately in the entry on Jewish views of homosexuality.

For more details, see Rabbi Michael Gold's "Does God Belong in the Bedroom?" and Rabbi Shmuel Boteach's "Kosher Sex".

Christian views of sex and morality

The New Testament holds forth a number of discussions on sex and sexuality; these discussions are mainly by Paul. In these parts of the New Testament Paul informs Christians that celibacy and chastity are more desirable than entering into a sexual relationship with a woman - "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." (Corinthians I, 7:1) The later Church Fathers took this teaching to heart and taught that chastity and celibacy were a better state than marriage." All forms of sexual relations, even within marriage, are denoted as fornication and unsavory. "The body is not meant for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body...Do you know that your bodies are members of Christ? (Corinthians I, 6:13,15)

Granting a concession to what the New Testament views as a human weakness, Paul states that if a person is absolutely unable to maintain chastity, then only then may he marry a woman and engage in sexual relations. However, the practice of engaging in sex is ultimately a lack of self-control and is looked down upon. "Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife and every woman have her own husband."(Corinthians I, 7:2); "I say this by way of concession, not of command. For I wish that all men were as I myself am...Therefore, I say to the unmarried and the widows that it is good for them to remain singles as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." (Corinthians I, 7:6-9)

The New Testament holds marriage to be undesirable and a cause of distress. "Now concerning the unmarried...I think that in the view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is...Are you free from a wife? Then do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry shall have trouble in flesh." (Corinthians I, 7:25-28); "I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord, but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife and his interest is divided...The unmarried woman cares for the affairs of the Lord, that she may be holy in body and spirit; but a married woman cares for worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." (Corinthians I, 7:32,35); "So that he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marrying will do better." (Corinthians I, 7:38)

In summary, Paul's teaching to the early Christian church includes encouragement to "...abide even as I"--unmarried. (Corinthians I, 7:8) However, this is spoken of as a preference Paul had--one which he notes as not being for every man (Corinthians I, 7:7)--in order that Christians "...may attend upon the Lord without distraction." (Corinthians I, 7:35) But, if the temptation of the flesh be too great, one should marry, "...and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned." (Corinthians I, 7:28)

It is worth noting that the early patriarchs of the Old Testament were not without wives. In fact the first book of the Bible reveals God noting that "...It is not good that man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18). Out of this God created Eve, a helper for Adam. Was not this relationship condoned by God? But, perhaps the result from this union was what Paul was referring to when he wrote, "But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife." (Corinthians I, 7:33) Was Adam not pleasing Eve when he bit into the apple?--quite certainly the ultimate division between Adam and God.

(Sections need to be written on the modern day views of Catholic Christians, Orthodox Christians, Protestant Christians. Their views are often different, if not antithetical, to those in the New Testament, so it would be useful to trace how their views evolved.)

Muslim views of sex and morality

(to be written)

(New sections may be added here.)

See: Homosexuality and morality; Religion and homosexuality, incest, sodomy law, sexual revolution

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