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The social construction of sexual behavior—its taboos, regulation and social and political impact—has had a profound effect on the various cultures of the world since prehistoric times.


Sexual speech - and by extension, writing - has been subject to varying standards of decorum since the beginning of history. The resulting self-censorship and euphemistic forms translate today into a dearth of explicit and accurate evidence on which to base a history. There are a number of sources that can be collected across a wide variety of times and cultures, including the following:
  • Records of legislation indicating either encouragement or prohibition
  • Religious and philosophical texts recommending, condemning or debating the topic
  • Literary sources, perhaps unpublished during their authors' lifetimes, including diaries and personal correspondence
  • Medical textbooks treating various forms as a pathological condition
  • Linguistic developments, particularly in slang.
  • More recently, studies of sexuality

The study of the history of human sexuality

The work of swiss jurist Johann Bachofen made an major impact on the study of the history of sexuality. Many authors, notably Lewis Henry Morgan and Friedrich Engels were influenced by, and criticized Bachofen's ideas on the subject, which were almost entirely drawn from a close reading of ancient mythology. In his 1861 book Mother Right: An Investigation of the Religious and Juridical Character of Matriarchy in the Ancient World Bachofen writes that in the beginning human sexuality was chaotic and promiscuous. This "aphroditic" stage was replaced by a matriarchal "demeteric" stage, which resulted from the mother being the only reliable way of establishing descendence. Only upon the switch to male-enforced monogamy was paternity certainty possible, giving rise to patriarchy - the ultimate "apolloan" stage of humanity. While the views of Bachofen are not based on empirical evidence, they are important because of the impact they made on thinkers to come, especially in the field of cultural anthropology.

Modern explanations of the origins of human sexuality are based in evolutionary biology, and specifically the field of human behavioral ecology. Evolutionary biology shows that the human genotype, like that of all other organisms, is the result of those ancestors who reproduced with greater frequency than others. The resultant sexual behavior adaptations are thus not an "attempt" on the part of the individual to maximize reproduction in a given situation - natural selection does not "see" into the future. Instead, current behavior is probably the result of selective forces that occurred in the Pleistocene. For example, a man trying to have sex with many women all while avoiding parental investment is not doing so because he "wants" to increase his fitness, but because the psychological framework that evolved and thrived in the Pleistocene never went away.

Sex in various cultures

Ancient Egypt

The couple Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, now buried in a joint Fifth-dynasty (2498-2345 BC) era tomb in Saqqaramarker, Egyptmarker, are the oldest recorded same-sex couple in human history. They served as royal manicurists during the reign of the pharaoh Nyuserre Ini. Their tomb shows a painted mural of the two embracing.


played a significant role in the history of sex, from writing one of the first literature that treated sexual intercourse as a science, to in modern times being the origin of the philosophical focus of new-age groups' attitudes on sex. It may be argued that India pioneered the use of sexual education through art and literature. As in all societies, there was a difference in sexual practices in India between common people and powerful rulers, with people in power often indulging in hedonistic lifestyles that were not representative of common moral attitudes.

The first evidence of attitudes towards sex comes from the ancient texts of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, the first of which are perhaps the oldest surviving literature in the world. These most ancient texts, the Vedas, reveal moral perspectives on sexuality, marriage and fertility prayers. Sex magic featured in a number of Vedic rituals, most significantly in the Asvamedha Yajna, where the ritual culminated with the chief queen lying with the dead horse in a simulated sexual act; clearly a fertility rite intended to safeguard and increase the kingdom's productivity and martial prowess. The epics of ancient India, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, which may have been first composed as early as 1400 BCE, had a huge effect on the culture of Asia, influencing later Chinesemarker, Japanesemarker, Tibetan and South East Asian culture.
texts support the view that in ancient India, sex was considered a mutual duty between a married couple, where husband and wife pleasured each other equally, but where sex was considered a private affair, at least by followers of the aforementioned Indian religions. It seems that polygamy was allowed during ancient times. In practice, this seems to have only been practiced by rulers, with common people maintaining a monogomous marriage. It is common in many cultures for a ruling class to practice polygamy as a way of preserving dynastic succession.

India as a whole has as diverse a set of sexual 'behaviors' as any other society, such as adultery, homosexuality, transgenderism, exhibitionism, prostitution, sadism/masochism, zoophilia, and necrophilia, even though modern India society places greater taboo and emphasis of privacy on sex.
Fresco murals from the Ajanta caves.

The most publicly known sexual literature of India are the texts of the sixty-four arts. These texts were written for and kept by the philosopher, warrior and nobility castes, their servants and concubines, and those in certain religious orders. These were people that could also read and write and had instruction and education. The sixty four arts of love-passion-pleasure began in India. There are many different versions of the arts which began in Sanskrit and were translated into other languages, such as Persian or Tibetan. Many of the original texts are missing and the only clue to their existence is in other texts. Kama Sutra, the version by Vatsyayana, is one of the well-known survivors and was first translated into English by Sir Richard Burton and F. F. Arbuthnot. The Kama Sutra is now perhaps the most prolific secular text in the world. It details ways in which partners should pleasure each other within a marital relationship.

Sculpture from a temple at Khajuraho
When the Islamic and Victorian English culture arrived in India, they generally had an adverse impact on sexual liberalism in India. Within the context of the Indian religions, or dharmas, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, sex is generally either seen as a moral duty of each partner in a long term marriage relationship to the other, or is seen as a desire which hinders spiritual detachment, and so must be renounced. In modern India, a renaissance of sexual liberalism has occurred amongst the well educated urban population, but there is still discrimination and forced marriage incidents amongst the poor.

Within certain schools of Indian philosophy, such as Tantra, the emphasis in sex as a sacred duty, or even a path to spiritual enlightenment or yogic balance is greatly emphasized. Actual sexual intercourse is not a part of every form of tantric practice, but it is the definitive feature of left-hand Tantra. Contrary to popular belief, "Tantric sex" is not always slow and sustained, and may end in orgasm. For example, the Yoni Tantra states: "there should be vigorous copulation". However, all tantra states that there were certain groups of personalities who were not fit for certain practices. Tantra was personality specific and insisted that those with pashu-bhava (animal disposition), which are people of dishonest, promiscuous, greedy or violent natures who ate meat and indulged in intoxication, would only incur bad karma by following Tantric paths without the aid of a Guru who could instruct them on the correct path. In Buddhist tantra, actual ejaculation is very much a taboo, as the main goal of the sexual practice is to use the sexual energy towards achieving full enlightenment, rather than ordinary pleasure. Tantric sex is considered to be a pleasurable experience in Tantra philosophy.


Matriarchy was practiced in the earlier period of Mesopotamian civilization. , the southern area of Babylonia between the Tigrismarker and Euphrates rivers to Assyria, the northern part of Mesopotamia. The Mesopotamian society practiced sexual openness.

In ancient Mesopotamia, Ishtar was the primary Goddess of life, men and women, nature and fertility, sex, sexual power and birth. Ishtar was also the goddess of war and weapons and any victory was celebrated in her temples with offerings of produce and money as well as through a feast and orgy of sex and fornication with holy temple prostitutes. Every woman was required, at least once in her lifetime, usually after she was married, to go to the Temple of Ishtar. She waited there till any stranger came and threw silver in her lap. Then she left the temple and had sex with the stranger, after which she could return home. She was not allowed to refuse the first stranger. To quote the Greek historian Herodotus:
"The worst Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land once in her life to sit in the temple of love and have... intercourse with some stranger... the men pass and make their choice"

With the changing time, the shift from matriarchy to patriarchy occurred. . With this shift, Ishtar lost some of her status and glory, and several male gods surfaced. Temples of Ishtar became abode to sacred prostitutes or priestesses known as Ishtaru or Joy-Maidens and places for exchange of sexual services for a price. This was in no way considered a shameful profession and laws were passed making it serious offense to talk badly about the holy prostitutes.

In some temples of Ishtar, even male prostitutes (for the use of other men) were found. They were referred to as men "...whose manhood Ishtar has changed into womanhood." At a later stage of Babylonian culture, the attitude had changed: the Middle Assyrian Law Tablets, dating back to 12th century BC make it clear that some kinds of homosexuality could lead to castration. As in most civilizations, incest of any kind was strictly forbidden and was considered a capital crime.


In the I Ching (The Book of Changes, a Chinese classic text dealing with what would be in the West termed metaphysics), sexual intercourse is one of two fundamental models used to explain the world. With neither embarrassment nor circumlocution, Heaven is described as having sexual intercourse with Earth. Similarly, with no sense of prurient interest the male lovers of early Chinese men of great political power are mentioned in one of the earliest great works of philosophy and literature, the Zhuang Zi (or Chuang Tzu, as it is written in the old system of romanization).

China has had a long history of sexism, with even moral leaders such as Confucius giving extremely pejorative accounts of the innate characteristics of women. From early times, the virginity of women was rigidly enforced by family and community and linked to the monetary value of women as a kind of commodity (the "sale" of women involving the delivery of a bride price). Men were protected in their own sexual adventures by a transparent double standard. While the first wife of a man with any kind of social status in traditional society was almost certainly chosen for him by his father and/or grandfather, the same man might later secure for himself more desirable sexual partners with the status of concubines. In addition, bondservants in his possession could also be sexually available to him. Naturally, not all men had the financial resources to so greatly indulge themselves.

Chinese literature displays a long history of interest in affection, marital bliss, unabashed sexuality, romance, amorous dalliances, homosexual alliances -- in short all of the aspects of behavior that are affiliated with sexuality in the West. Besides the previously mentioned Zhuang Zi passages, sexuality is exhibited in other fine works of literature such as the Tang dynasty Yingying zhuan (Biography of Cui Yingying), the Qing dynasty Fu sheng liu ji (Six Chapters of a Floating Life), the delightfully and intentionally salacious Jin Ping Mei, and the incredibly multi-faceted and insightful Hong lou meng (Dream of the Red Chamber, also called Story of the Stone). Of the above, only the story of Yingying and her de-facto husband Zhang fail to describe homosexual as well as heterosexual interactions. The novel entitled Rou bu tuan (Prayer mat of flesh) even describes cross-species organ transplants for the sake of enhanced sexual performance. Among Chinese literature are the Taoist classical texts. [118410] This philosophical tradition of China has developed Taoist Sexual Practices which have three main goals: health, longevity, and spiritual development.

The desire for respectability and the belief that all aspects of human behavior might be brought under government control has until recently mandated to official Chinese spokesmen that they maintain the fiction of sexual fidelity in marriage, absence of any great frequency of premarital sexual intercourse, and total absence in China of the so-called "decadent capitalist phenomenon" of homosexuality. The result of the ideological demands preventing objective examination of sexual behavior in China has, until very recently, made it extremely difficult for the government to take effective action against sexually transmitted diseases, especially AIDS. At the same time, large migrations to the cities coupled with significant amounts of unemployment have led to resurgence of prostitution in unregulated venues, a prominent accelerant of the propagation of STDs to many ordinary members of society.

In recent decades the power of the family over individuals has weakened, making it increasingly possible for young men and women to find their own sexual and/or marriage partners.


In what is perhaps the very earliest novel in the world, the Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji), which dates back to around the eighth century AD, eroticism is treated as a central part of the aesthetic life of members of the nobility. The sexual interactions of Prince Genji, the central figure in this extremely long story, are described in great detail, in an objective tone of voice, and in a way that indicates that sexuality was as much a valued aesthetic component of cultured life as would be music or any other of the arts. While most of his erotic interactions involve women, there is one telling episode in which Genji travels a fairly long distance to visit one of the women with whom he occasionally consorts but finds her away from home for an extended period. It being late, and intercourse already being on the menu of the day, Genji takes pleasure in the availability of the lady's younger brother who, he reports, is equally satisfactory as an erotic partner.

From that time down at least as far as the Meiji Reformation, there is no indication that sexuality is treated in a pejorative way. While homosexuality was driven out of sight for some time, it seems to have continued unabated for it reemerged in the wake of the sexual revolution in the West with seemingly little if any need for a period of acceleration. Likewise, prostitution was practiced more discreetly but did not disappear.

In Japan, sexuality was governed by many of the same social forces that make the culture of Japan considerably different from the culture of Western nations, and also different from the culture of China. In Japanese society, the primary method used to secure social control is the threat (and, occasionally, the actuality) of ostracism. Japanese society is a shame society. Therefore, more attention is paid to what is appropriate to expose to the view of other people than is paid to what behaviors would make a person "guilty." Also important is the strong tendency of people in Japanese society to group in terms of "in group" individuals and "out group" individuals. What may be open to knowledge by one's in group may be different from what is open to knowledge by one's out group, and, what may be avoided because of pressure by one's in group may be of little or no consequence in one's relationships to one's out group.

A frequent locus of misconceptions in regard to Japanese sexuality is the institution of the geisha. Rather than being a prostitute, a geisha was a woman trained in arts such as music and cultured conversation, and who was available for non-sexual interactions with her male clientele. These women differed from the wives that their patrons probably had at home because, except for the geisha, women were ordinarily not expected to be prepared for anything other than the fulfillment of household duties. This limitation imposed by the normal social role of the majority of women in traditional society produced a diminution in the pursuits that those women could enjoy, but also a limitation in the ways that a man could enjoy the company of his wife. The geisha fulfilled the non-sexual social roles that ordinary women were prevented from fulfilling, and for this service they were well paid. That being said, the geisha were not deprived of opportunities to express themselves sexually and in other erotic ways. A geisha might have a patron with whom she enjoyed sexual intimacy, but this sexual role was not part of her role or responsibility as a geisha.

As a superficial level, in traditional Japanese society women were expected to be highly subservient to men and especially to their husbands. So, in a socionormal description of their roles, they were little more than housekeepers and faithful sexual partners to their husbands. Their husbands, on the other hand, might consort sexually with whomever they chose outside of the family, and a major part of male social behavior involves after-work forays to places of entertainment in the company of male cohorts from the workplace -- places that might easily offer possibilities of sexual satisfaction outside the family. In the postwar period this side of Japanese society has seen some liberalization in regard to the norms imposed on women as well as an expansion of the de facto powers of women in the family and in the community that existed unacknowledged in traditional society.

In the years since people first became aware of the AIDS epidemic, Japan has not suffered the high rates of disease and death that characterize, for example, some nations in Africa, some nations in Southeast Asia, etc. In 1992, the government of Japan justified its continued refusal to allow oral contraceptives to be distributed in Japan on the fear that it would lead to reduced condom use, and thus increase transmission of AIDS. As of 2004, condoms accounted for 80% of birth control use in Japan, and this may explain Japan's comparably lower rates of AIDS.


In ancient Greecemarker, the phallus, often in the form of a herma, was an object of worship as a symbol of fertility. This finds expression in Greek sculpture and other artworks. One ancient Greek male idea of female sexuality was that women envied penises of males. Wives were considered as commodity and instruments for bearing legitimate children. They had to compete sexually with eromenoi, hetaeras and slaves in their own homes.

Homosexuality, in the form of pederasty, was a social institution in ancient Greece, and was integral to education, art, religion, and politics. Relationships between adults were not unknown but they were disfavored. Lesbian relations were also of a pederastic nature.

Ancient Greek men believed that refined prostitution was necessary for pleasure and different classes of prostitutes were available. Hetaera, educated and intelligent companions, were for intellectual as well as physical pleasure, Peripatetic prostitutes solicited business on the streets, whereas temple or consecrated prostitutes charged a higher price. In Corinthmarker, a port city, on the Aegean Seamarker, the temple held a thousand consecrated prostitutes.

Rape - usually in the context of warfare - was common and was seen by men as a “right of domination”. Rape in the sense of "abduction" followed by consensual lovemaking was represented even in religion: Zeus was said to have ravished many women: Leda in the form of a swan, Danaë disguised as a golden rain, Alkmene disguised as her own husband. Zeus also ravished a boy, Ganymede, a myth that paralleled Cretan custom.


The ancient Etruscansmarker had very different views on sexuality, when compared with the other European ancient peoples, most of whom had inherited the Indo-European traditions and views on the gender roles.

Greek writers, such as Theopompus and Plato named the Etruscan 'immoral' and from their descriptions we find out that the women commonly had sex with men who were not their husbands and that in their society, children were not labelled "illegitimate" just because they did not know who the father was. Theopompus also described orgiastic rituals, but it is not clear whether they were a common custom or only a minor ritual dedicated to a certain deity.

French Polynesia

The Islands have been noted for their sexual culture. Many sexual activities seen as taboo in western cultures were viewed as appropriate by the native culture. Contact with Western societies has changed many of these customs, so research into their pre-Western social history has to be done by reading antique writings.

Children slept in the same room as their parents and were able to witness their parents while they had sex. Intercourse simulation became real penetration as soon as boys were physically able. Adults found simulation of sex by children to be funny. As children approached 11 attitudes shifted toward girls.

Premarital sex was not encouraged but was allowed in general, restrictions on adolescent sexuality were incest, exogamy regulations, and firstborn daughters of high-ranking lineage. After their firstborn child, high-ranking women were permitted extramarital affairs.

Adam Johann von Krusenstern in his book about the same expedition as Yuri's, reports that a father brought a 10-12 year old girl on his ship, and she had sex with the crew.According to the book of Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu and Étienne Marchand, 8 year old girls had sex and performed other unnatural acts in public.


The sexual atmosphere in the earlier stages of Roman civilization included celebrations associated with human reproductive organs. Over time there emerged institutionalization of voluntary sex as well as prostitution. This resulted in a virtual sexual caste system in Roman civilization – different grades and degrees of sexual relationships. Apart from the legally wedded spouses, a number of males used to have Delicatue, the kept mistresses of wealthy and prominent men. The next were the Famosae (literal meaning: soiled doves from respectable family), mostly the daughters and even wives of the wealthy families who enjoyed sex for its own sake. Then, there was another class known as Lupae, who were willing to have sexual union with anyone for a price. Copae (literal meaning: bar maids) were the serving girls in the taverns and inns and who did not mind being hired as bedmates for the night by travelers. Handsome adolescent menservants known as concubini would serve their master in bed, until they matured and fell into disfavor.

The sexual revolution

The sexual revolution was a substantial change in sexual morality and sexual behaviour throughout the West in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One factor in the change of values pertaining to sexual activities was the improvement of the technologies used for the control of fertility. Prime among them, at that time, was the first birth control pill.

Psychology and sex

Especially before the development of dependable methods of contraception, the control of sexual behavior was of extreme practical importance to parents in some societies. The methodologies employed by parents to try to prevent their children from prematurely becoming parents themselves could have a profound effect on the minds of those children. In some societies, guilt was inculcated in an attempt to prevent premarital sexual activity, and the guilt could contaminate the entire self image of the individuals who, after all, were biologically predetermined to have the "guilty" sexual impulses that their families (and, usually, their religions) were trying to head off. In other societies, shaming was done with the same goals and with similar psychological damage possible.

The ability to function sexually depends a great deal on activities that occur not in the sexual organs but in the brain. When the individual has been psychologically traumatized by abusive practices intended to control premarital sexual activities, he or she may be unable to perform well even after marriage has presumably legitimized sexual intercourse. Dysfunctions for males may include: inability to achieve an erection, penile insensitivity, premature ejaculation, etc. For the female they may include: inability to achieve orgasm, vaginismus, etc. These problems may lead to secondary problems if, for instance, affected individuals self medicate with alcohol, marijuana (in the case of premature ejaculation), or even more dangerous drugs.

The treatment of sexual dysfunctions and the problems of low self esteem, guilt, self-destructive impulses, etc., has been one of the main activities of helping professions such as psychiatry, clinical psychology, etc.

Same-sex relations

Shah Abbas I embracing his wine boy.
Painting by Muhammad Qasim, 1627.
The poem reads “May life grant all that you desire from three lips, those of your lover, the river, and the cup.” Louvre, Paris

Historiographic considerations

Interestingly, while the reverse is often not true, much of the history of different-gender sexuality and romance may be read from the history of same-sex sexuality and romance. The term "homosexuality" was invented in the 19th century, with the term "heterosexuality" invented later in the same century to contrast with the earlier term. The term "bisexuality" was invented in the 20th century as sexual identities became defined by the predominate sex to which people are attracted and thus a label was needed for those who are not predominantly attracted to one sex. This points out that the history of sexuality is not solely the history of different-sex sexuality plus the history of same-sex sexuality, but a broader conception viewing of historical events in light of our modern concept or concepts of sexuality taken at its most broad and/or literal definitions.

Historical personalities are often described using modern sexual identity terms such as straight, bisexual, gay or queer. Those who favour the practice say that this can highlight such issues as discriminatory historiography by, for example, putting into relief the extent to which same-sex sexual experiences are excluded from biographies of noted figures, or to which sensibilities resulting from same-sex attraction are excluded from literary and artistic consideration of important works, and so on. As well as that, an opposite situation is possible in the modern society: some LGBT-supportive researchers stick to the homosexual theories, excluding other possibilities.

However, many, especially in the academic world, regard the use of modern labels as problematic, owing to differences in the ways that different societies constructed sexual orientation identities and to the connotations of modern words like "queer." For example, in many societies same-sex sex acts were expected, or completely ignored, and no identity was constructed on their basis at all. Academic works usually specify which words will be used and in which context. Readers are cautioned to avoid making assumptions about the identity of historical figures based on the use of the terms mentioned above.

Ancient Egypt

Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum are considered by many to be the first male couple in recorded history. They shared the title of Overseer of the Manicurists in the Palace of King Niussere during the Fifth Dynasty of Egyptian pharaohs, and are listed as "royal confidantes" in their joint tomb.

Ancient Greece

Greek men had great latitude in their sexual expression, while their wives were severely restricted and could hardly move about the town unsupervised. It was said that a woman could travel about town freely only if she was old enough that people would ask not whose wife she was, but whose mother.

Unmarried adult women had more freedom, but often had to sell their favors to survive. Besides the common prostitutes there was a class of highly educated and paid entertainers known as hetairas who frequented men's symposia, drank with them, debated politics and philosophy with them, and slept with them.

Men could also seek adolescent boys as partners as shown by some of the earliest documents concerning same-sex pederastic relationships, which come from Ancient Greece. Often they were favored over women. One ancient saying claimed that "Women are for business, boys are for pleasure." Though slave boys could be bought, free boys had to be courted, and ancient materials suggest that the father also had to consent to the relationship. Such relationships did not replace marriage between man and woman, but occurred before and concurrent with it. A mature man would usually not have a mature male mate, though there frequent exceptions (among whom Alexander the Great) but he would be the erastes (lover) to a young eromenos (loved one). Dover suggests that it was considered improper for the eromenos to feel desire, as that would not be masculine. Driven by desire and admiration, the erastes would devote himself unselfishly to providing all the education his eromenos required to thrive in society. In recent times, Dover's theory has been questioned in light of massive evidence of ancient art and love poetry that suggests a more emotional connection than earlier researchers liked to acknowledge. Some research has shown that ancient Greeks believed semen to be the source of knowledge, and that these relationships served to pass wisdom on from the erastes to the eromenos.

Ancient Rome

The deification of Antinous, his medals, statues, temples, city, oracles, and constellation, are well known, and still dishonor the memory of Hadrian. Yet we remark, that, of the first fifteen emperors, Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct. --Edward Gibbon

It was said by some that Julius Caesar, at the age of twenty, had an affair with King Nicomedes of Bithynia. Of his tastes, a political opponent once said that "He is every woman's man and every man's woman."

The Middle Ages

Two male lovers are burned at the stake, Zurich 1482 (Zurich Central Library)
Through the medieval period, homosexuality was generally condemned and thought to be the moral of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Historians debate if there were any prominent homosexuals and bisexuals at this time, but it is argued that figures such as Edward II, Richard the Lionheart, Philip II Augustus, and William Rufus were engaged in same-sex relationships.

Also, historian Allan A. Tulchin recently argued that a form of male same-sex marriage existed in Medieval France, and possibly other areas in Europe, as well. There was a legal category called "enbrotherment" (affrèrement) that allowed two men to share living quarters, pool their resources, and effectively live as a married couple. The couple shared "one bread, one wine, one purse." The article received considerable attention in the English-language press, since Tulchin may have discovered the earliest form of same-sex marriage. Tulchin's views have also sparked significant controversy, as they challenge the generally held view that the medieval period was one of the most anti-gay in history.


19th century

Early twentieth century

For events in Germanymarker see the articles on Magnus Hirschfeld and History of Gays during the Holocaust.



Wolfenden Report


Freud, among others, argued that neither predominantly different- nor same-sex sexuality were the norm, instead that what is called "bisexuality" is the normal human condition thwarted by society. A 1901 medical dictionary lists heterosexuality as "perverted" different-sex attraction, while by the 1960s its use in all forums referred to "normal" different-sex sexuality.

In 1948 Alfred Kinsey publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, popularly known as the Kinsey Reports.

Homosexuality was deemed to be a psychiatric disorder for many years, although the studies this theory was based on were later determined to be flawed. In 1973 homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in the United Kingdommarker. In 1986 all references to homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder were removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association.

The sexual revolution

During the Sexual Revolution, the different-sex sexual ideal became completely separated from procreation, yet at the same time was distanced from same-sex sexuality. Many people viewed this freeing of different-sex sexuality as leading to more freedom for same-sex sexuality.

Gay-rights movement

See also Gay rights, Timeline of LGBT history and :Category:LGBT history.

Stonewall riots

The Stonewall riots were a series of violent conflicts between New York City police officers and the gay men and transgender women at the Stonewall Inn, a gay hangout in Greenwich Villagemarker. The riot began on Friday, June 27, 1969. "Stonewall", as it is often called, is considered the start of the modern gay rights movement in the U.S.marker and worldwide. It was the first time any significant body of gays resisted arrest. For many, this is the primal scene of the modern gay rights movement, although some advances in gay rights had taken place previously (Canada had legalized sodomy earlier that year, whereas France had legalized it in the 18th century).

Religion and sex

Although not the case in every culture, most religious practices contain taboos in regard to sex, sex organs and the reproductive process.


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 re-emphasised the Jewish attitudes on sexuality with two new concepts. First, there was the re-iterated idea that marriage was absolutely exclusive and indissoluble, placing further guidance on divorce and expanding on the reasons and principles behind those laws. Second, in Old Testament times marriage was almost universal, in continuity with the total matrimony in Eden, but in the New Testament, the trajectory is extended forward to the goal of no marriage in the new heavens and new earth (see Matthew 22). Practically therefore the new age after Jesus now has marriage as only normative, but celibacy is a valuable gift in and of itself.

New Testament
The New Testament is quite clear on principles regarding sexual relations. In one of his letters to the Corinthian church, Paul directly answers some questions they had asked about this.

1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: 'It is well for a man not to touch a woman.' 2 But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 This I say by way of concession, not of command. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind." (1 Corinthians 7:1-9, NRSV)

Paul is speaking into a situation where the church was falling into lust, and some members even using prostitutes (6:16), while others advocated a 'higher spirituality' that wrongly denied pleasure from earthly things, including abstinence from sex (7:1). Paul writes to them to explain the right context for sex in marriage, and the importance of couples keeping having sex and giving each other pleasure, but encourages them to pursue celibacy (as he later explains [7:32-35], so that they may devote more time and energy to others) wherever God has granted that gift (7:7).

Many other passages refer to sex or marriage

Later Christian Thought
St. Augustine opined that before Adam's fall, there was no lust in the sexual act, but that 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 Reformed schools, as represented for example by the Westminster confession, three purposes of marriage are drawn out: for mutual encouragement, support, and pleasure; for having children; and to prevent lustful sin.

Today, many Christians have adopted the view that there is no sin whatsoever in the uninhibited enjoyment of marital relations. Some Christians will tend to limit the circumstances and degree to which sexual pleasure is morally licit, for example to build self control to prevent sex becoming addictive, or as a fast.


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 Khajurahomarker 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 and is punishable. According to the chapter Al-Israa', verse 32 of the Qur'an, Allah (God) prohibits Muslims from getting close to (engaging in) zina.

Politics of sex

With the rise of government and laws, personal behaviors, including sex, became increasingly politicized.

The politics (and, therefore, laws) in regards to sex vary widely. In several countries (and different states of countries) there are or were, laws, both civil and religious, forbidding some sexual practices or to forbid sexual intercourse between partners of difference races. Laws that forbid to have sex with a person younger than a fixed age are very common.

The laws generally fit into the following types.
  • Partner laws regulate the choice of the partner on the following attributes: species, state, sex, age, number, group, time.
  • Species (human/non-human): Permitted: a human partner. Not permitted: a non-human partner. e. g. sex with animals (zoophilia) is not permitted.
  • State (living/dead): Permitted: a living human. Not permitted: a dead one e. g. sex with the dead (necrophilia) is not permitted.
  • Sex (opposite/same): Permitted: a living human of the opposite sex. Not permitted: a living human of the same sex e. g. sex with the members of one's own sex Homosexual sex) is not permitted.
  • Age: Permitted: a partner with a certain age. Not permitted: a partner with an age less than a certain age. These restrictions are of two types.
    • Absolute age: Permitted: a partner with the age greater than or equal to the age of consent as determined by the applicable law. Not permitted: a partner with the age less than the age of consent. The value of Age of consent ranges from 9 to 21.
    • Relative age: Permitted: a partner with the age greater (or less) than one's own age. Not permitted: a partner with the age less (or greater) than one's own age. E. g. a law that prohibits the woman being elder to the man.
  • Number (one/many): Number of partners for sexual activity.
  • Group: Permitted: a partner from one's own race, religion, caste, creed, community and/or group. Not permitted: a partner outside one's own race, religion, caste, creed, community and/or group. These are of two types.
    • Same: Permitted: a partner from the same group. Not permitted: a partner from a different group.
    • Different: Permitted: a partner from a different group. Not permitted: a partner from the same group. E. g. sex with one's blood-relatives (incest), sex with the members of one's own sex (homosexual sex) are prohibited.
  • Time: The time in the life of the partner e. g. a law that prohibits the woman from engaging in sexual activity while she menstruates.
  • Activity laws regulate the choice of the sexual activity e. g. a law that prohibits genital-genital intercourse. Activity laws are of the following types.

The laws sorted in the decreasing order of perceived severity for a single (number) living (state) adult (absolute age) human (species) being:

  • Legend
AT = Attribute Type = [ A: Absolute | R: Relative ]

A relative attribute takes its value relative to a single living human being.

PT = Permission Type = [ Same | Opposite ]

A permission type takes the value 'Same' if and only if the permitted matches with a single living adult human being in either the species or the state or the absolute age or the number.

Type Attribute Sub-attribute AT PT Permitted Not Permitted
Partner Species R Same Human Non-human. Sex with animals i. e. zoophilia
__State R Same Living Dead. Sex with the dead i. e. necrophilia
____Group Sex R Opposite A partner with a sex different from one's own. Sex with a partner with a sex different from one's own i. e. heterosexual sex. A partner from one's own sex. Sex with a partner from one's own sex i. e. homosexual sex
____Group Family R Opposite A partner from one's own family. Sex with a partner from one's own family i. e. incest
____Age Adulthood with respect to the age of consent R Same A partner with age >= the age of consent A partner with age the age of consent. Sex with a partner with age the age of consent i. e. pedophilia
____Group Race, religion, caste, creed, community, etc. R Same A partner from a group same as one's own A partner from a group different from one's own
____Number At a single sexual encounter R Same One Opposite i. e. many
____Number In a particular period in life R Same One i. e. monogamy (monandry, monogyny) or many i. e. polygamy (polyandry, polygyny)) Many i. e. polygamy (polyandry, polygyny))
____Number In different periods in life R Same One i. e. serial monogamy (monandry, monogyny) or many i. e. polygamy (polyandry, polygyny)) Many polygamy (polyandry, polygyny))
____Age Relative R E. g. a woman elder than a man.
____Time E. g. a menstruating woman
Activity Genital-genital intercourse

The value of Age of consent ranges from 9 to 21.

Technology and sex

Scientific and technological advances have significantly affected the enjoyment and outcomes of sex, especially in recent history.

Recreational uses

Sex toys such as vibrator were introduced to the market in the late 1880s, some 10 years before domestic vacuum cleaners [118415]. More recently, Internet sites dealing in sexual images developed the infrastructure for Internet commerce well in advance of most other sectors.

Birth control

Withdrawal, various herbal contraceptives and abortifacients, as well as crude pessaries, were available to cultures in ancient times. The invention of vulcanized rubber in the nineteenth century, and the promotion of condoms made from that rubber, began the modern birth control movement. A large number of birth control options are now available.

Technology and infertility

In the mid 20th century advances in medical science and modern understanding of the menstrual cycle led to observational, surgical, chemical and laboratory techniques to allow diagnosis and treatments many forms of infertility.


Many cultures normalized or promoted adult males and male youths, usually teenagers, entering into pedagogic friendships or love affairs that also had an erotic dimension. These were usually sexually expressed, but chaste ones were not infrequent. If sexual, that phase of the relationship lasted until the youth was ready for adulthood and marriage. Other cultures saw such relationships as inimical to their interests – often on religious grounds – and tried to stamp them out.

See Pederasty, Shudo, Pederasty in ancient Greece, Historical pederastic couples


Prior to and outside the influence of the major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), sex with animals (also known as zoophilia, or bestiality) was sometimes forbidden, and sometimes accepted. Occasionally it was incorporated into religious ritual. The Abrahamic religions by and large forbid it, and make it a sin against God, and during the Middle Ages in Europe people and animals were often executed if found guilty. With the age of enlightenment, bestiality became subsumed into sodomy and a civil rather than religious offence.

Since the 1980s, many alternative sexualities have formed social networks, and zoosexuality (a more modern name for the spectrum of affinity and attraction to animals) is no exception to this. Although society in general is hostile, several decades of research seem to form a consensus that it is commonly misunderstood and mistaken for zoosadism . Regardless, although there are signs of slow attitude change over decades , it is usually considered a crime against nature in public, and illegal in most countries, and for that reason it is not much evidenced other than online, in private, and in the light of prosecution.

See main articles: Zoophilia, Historical and cultural perspectives on zoophilia


Prostitution is the sale of sexual services, such as oral sex or sexual intercourse. Prostitution has been described as the "world's oldest profession". Men, women and transgender people may engage in prostitution, although the majority of prostitutes in history have been women.

In some cultures, prostitution has been an element of religious practises. Religious prostitution is well documented in the ancient cultures of the near East, such as Sumer, Babylonmarker, ancient Greece and Israelmarker, where prostitutes appear in the Bible. In Greecemarker the hetaerae were often women of high social class, whereas in Romemarker the meretrices were of lower social order. The Devadasi, prostitutes of Hindu temples in south Indiamarker, were made illegal by the Indian government in 1988.


Abortion is a means of ending a pregnancy, practiced since antiquity. Its legality has varied from country to country. At the present time it is, particularly in the US, the subject of vigorous debate in political and religious circles due to claimed conflicts with the definition of life, issues of personal freedom, and other beliefs.

Sexually transmitted diseases

For much of human history, sexually transmitted diseases have been the scourge of humanity. They raged unchecked through society until the discovery of antibiotics. For a period of about thirty years (in the second half of the twentieth century) their threat subsided. However, due to the free movement of people and uncontrolled distribution of antibiotics, new diseases resistant to antibiotics quickly spread and at the present time pose a threat to people who are sexually active.

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AIDS has profoundly changed modern sexuality. It was first noticed (although many historians feel that the first case was in 1959) spreading among gay men and intravenous drug users in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, the majority of victims are heterosexual women, men, and children in developing countries. In most developing countries, fear of epidemic has drastically changed many aspects of twentieth century human sexuality. Fear of contracting AIDS has driven a revolution in sex education, which now centers far more the use of protection and abstinence, and spends much more time discussing sexually transmitted diseases.

Further effects of this disease run deep, radically impacting the average lifespan of afflicted countries. So stark is the difference that BBC News reports: "It is falling in many African countries - a girl born today in Sierra Leonemarker could expect only to live to 36, in contrast to Japanmarker, where today's newborn girl might reach 85 on average." [118416]

See also


  1. The Adapted Mind (Google Books Link) "Cognitive Adaptations for Social Change" by Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, page 219.
  2. The Adapted Mind (Google Books Link) On the Use and Misuse of Darwinism in the Study of Human Behavior by Donald Symons, page 137
  3. the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality in volume 1,French Polynesia(Anne Bolin, Ph.D.),5. Interpersonal Heterosexual Behaviors,A. Children, edited by Robert T. Francoeur publish by Continuum International Publishing Group[1][2]
  4. Sexual Behavior in Pre Contact Hawai’i: A Sexological Ethnography from Milton Diamond[3][4]
  5. Reise um die Welt in den Jahren 1803, 1804, 1805 und 1806 auf Befehl Seiner Kaiserliche Majestät Alexanders des Ersten auf den Schiffen Nadeschda und Newa (Journey around the World in the Years 1803, 1804, 1805, and 1806 at the Command of his Imperial Majesty Alexander I in the Ships Nadezhda and Neva) published in Saint Petersburg in 1810. volume I,p116
  6. Voyage autour du monde par Étienne Marchand, précédé d'une introduction historique ; auquel on a joint des recherches sur les terres australes de Drake, et un examen critique de voyage de Roggeween, avec cartes et figures, Paris, years VI-VIII, 4 vol. p109
  7. Allan A. Tulchin, "Same-Sex Couples Creating Households in Old Regime France: The Uses of the Affrèrement," The Journal of Modern History. Volume 79, Issue 3, Page 613–647, Sep 2007. [5]
  8. The Telegraph [6], NPR [7]]]

Further reading

  • Hubbard, Thomas K. (ed.) Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents, University of California Press, 2003.
  • George Rousseau and Roy Porter. Sexual Underworlds of the Enlightenment (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1987). ISBN 0-7190-1961-3
  • Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Volumes 1, 2 and 3. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. ISBN 0-679-72469-9

External links

Sexual orientation

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