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Fornication is a term which typically refers to consensual sexual intercourse between persons not married to each other.

The term for many people carries a moral or religious association. Fornication is regarded differently by various religions, societies and cultures.


The origin of the word derives from Latin. The word fornix means "an archway" or "vault" and it became a common euphemism for a brothel as prostitutes could be solicited in the vaults beneath Rome. More directly, fornicatio means "done in the archway"; thus it originally referred to prostitution. The first recorded use of the noun in its modern meaning was in 1303 AD, with the verb fornicate first recorded around 250 years later.


For a broad overview, see Religion and sexuality.


In the New Testament, πορνεία (porneia) is commonly translated incorrectly into English as fornication rather than its truer meaning of sexual immorality and is prohibited by the Apostolic Decree. In Biblical Greek, the word porneia meant "sexual immorality" or "sexual perversions." It was often used as a blanket term to encompass all sexual activity and even sexual thoughts (ie. sexual lust/fantasies) that were considered unrighteous by the laws of Leviticus.


The laws on fornication have historically been tied with religion and the legal and political traditions within the particular jurisdiction. In the common law countries (England, USA, Canada, Australia, etc.), the Courts were never interested in punishing subjects for purely private moral deviations - even incest - although sodomy was an exception. What laws did exist were purely statutory. In many other countries, however, there have been attempts to secularize constitutions, and laws differ greatly from country to country. Most Western countries and some secular Muslim countries like Turkeymarker and Azerbaijanmarker have no laws against fornication if both parties are above the age of consent.


In a handful of countries, most identifying with Islam, fornication is a criminal offence.

This is a list of countries where fornication is illegal.







Saudi Arabiamarker


United Arab Emiratesmarker



Jurisdictions within the United States of America

Premarital sex, Adultery, and other ethical issues arising from sexual relations between heterosexuals were viewed as a matter of private morality, and, as such, were never viewed as criminal offenses in the common law. This legal position was inherited by the U.S.marker from the U.K.marker. Later, some jurisdictions, a total of 16 in the southern and eastern United Statesmarker, as well as the states of Wisconsinmarker and Utahmarker passed statutes creating the offense of "fornication" that prohibited (vaginal) sexual intercourse between two unmarried people of the opposite sex. Most of these laws either were repealed, were not enforced, or were struck down by the courts in several states as being odious to their state constitutions. See also State v. Saunders, 381 A.2d 333 (N.J. 1977), Martin v. Ziherl, 607 S.E.2d 367 (Va. 2005).

Some acts may be prohibited under criminal laws defining the offense of "sodomy," rather than the laws defining the offense of "fornication." The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas (2003) rendered the states' remaining laws related to "sodomy" unconstitutional. Lawrence v. Texas is also presumed by many to invalidate laws prohibiting fornication, as the decision declared sodomy laws unconstitutional due to the interference of such laws with private, consensual, non-commercial intimate relations between unrelated adults, and therefore are odious to the rights of liberty and privacy, such rights being retained by the people of the United Statesmarker.

In recent years, political debate in the U.S.marker about abstinence-only sex education has brought the issue of premarital sex to the forefront of the "Culture Wars."

See also


  1. WordNet Search - 3.0
  2. Merriam Webster Dictionary
  3. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
  4. Jim Thompson, The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Nov. - Dec., 1958), pp. 350-356
  5. Jim Thompson The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Nov. - Dec., 1958), pp. 350-356, 353

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