Sex within Marriage


Click below for more information

Home Page - Index
Authorities Assessed
Old Testament
New Testament
Apostolic Traditions
Church Fathers
General Church Councils
Early Christian History
What Jesus Believed
Who Founded Christianity?
Creation of Doctrine
Origin of Ideas & Practices
The Concept of Orthodoxy
Origin of the Priesthood
Maintaining Deceptions
Suppress Facts
Selecting Sources
Fabricating Records
Retrospective Prophesy
Ambiguous Authorities
Ignore Injunctions
Invent, Amend and Discard
Manipulate Language
Case Studies
Re-branding a Sky-God
Making One God out of Many
How Mary keeps her Virginity
Fabricating the Nativity Story
Managing Inconvenient Texts
Christianity & Science
Traditional Battlegrounds
Modern Battlegrounds
Rational Explanations
Religion in General
Christianity in Particular
Divine Human Beings
Ease of Creating Religions
Arguments for and Against
Popular Arguments
Philosophical Arguments
Moral Arguments
Supernatural Arguments
  • Miracles
  • Revelation
  • Faith
  • Practical Arguments
    Record of Christianity
    Social Issues
  • Slavery
  • Racism
  • Capital Punishment
  • Penal Reform
  • Physical Abuse
  • Treatment of Women
  • Contraception
  • Abortion
  • Divorce
  • Family Values
  • Children
  • Romanies
  • The Physically Ill
  • The Mentally Ill
  • The Poor
  • Animals
  • Ecology
  • Persecution
  • Persecutions of Christians
  • Persecutions by Christians
  • Church & State
  • Symbiosis
  • Meddling in Governance
  • Interference in Politics
  • Abuse of Power
  • Church Law and Justice
  • Exemption from the Law
  • Unofficial Exemption
  • Financial Privileges
  • Control Over Education
  • Human Rights
  • Freedom of Belief
  • Religious Toleration
  • Freedom of Expression
  • Freedom of Enjoyment
  • Attitudes to Sex
  • Celibacy
  • Sex Within Marriage
  • Sex Outside Marriage
  • Incest
  • Rape
  • Homosexuality
  • Transvestism
  • Prostitution
  • Pederasty
  • Bestiality
  • Sadomasochism
  • Necrophilia
  • Consequences
  • Science & Medicine

  • Ancient Times
  • Dark and Middle Ages
  • Sixteenth Century
  • Seventeenth Century
  • Eighteenth Century
  • Nineteenth Century
  • 20th and 21st Centuries
  • Medical Records Compared
  • Violence & Warfare
  • Crusades
  • God's Wars
  • Churches' Wars
  • Christian Atrocities
  • Cultural Vandalism
  • The Classical World
  • Europe
  • The Wider Modern World
  • Possible Explanations
    Summing up
    Marketing Religion
    Marketing Christianity
    Continuing Damage
    Religious Discrimination
    Christian Discrimination
    Moral Dangers
    Abuse of Power
    A Final Summing Up
    Search site
    Bad News Blog
    Religious Quotations
    Christianity & Human Rights
    Christian Prooftexts
    Social Media
    Christianity is unique in having hated and outlawed sex and in making people feel guilty because they are sexual beings.
    Karen Armstrong, The Gospel According to Women


    Despite the Church's revulsion at all matters sexual, or perhaps because of it, churchmen have throughout the centuries felt obliged to impose their views on others. Sex was held to be disgusting enough even when it was carried out in the most conventional way. It was acceptable only between a man and (one) wife, only for the purpose of conception, only on approved days, only at night, only in bed, only in moderation, and only in the permitted manner. Priests encouraged couples to remain partially clothed. Only one copulatory position was allowed. Others were regarded as debauched or bestial. The story grew up that the Devil mated women from the rear, so this method was regarded with particular horror. To this day missionaries try to stop converts from practising it, and encourage the adoption of the one acceptable position — which is thus known as the missionary position. Theologians once held that a wife's acquiescence in any deviation from their approved position was as grave a sin as murder1. The whole area was set about with danger. At one time sexual intercourse of any sort was discouraged for much of the year. As one commentator has observed:

    Some rigid theologians recommended abstention on Thursdays, in memory of Christ's arrest; Fridays, in memory of his death; Saturdays, in honour of the Virgin Mary; Sundays in honour of the Resurrection; and Mondays, in commemoration of the departed. Tuesdays and Wednesdays were largely accounted for by a ban on intercourse during fasts and festivals — the forty days before Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas; the seven, five, or three days before Communion; and so on2.

    At one time there had been 273 fast days and feast days, but the number was down to 140 by the sixteenth century. Copulating at prohibited times could have terrible consequences. Churchmen assured their flocks that it could lead to leprous, epileptic, possessed or deformed children3. Copulation was also prohibited while the wife was menstruating, in accordance with the requirement of Leviticus 18:19. Pope Gregory I warned that "the law of God punishes a man with death if he has intercourse with a woman during menstruation"4. Intercourse was also prohibited while the wife was pregnant, since the object could not be procreation.

    Even when intercourse was permitted, the Church considered it sinful to enjoy it too much. If you enjoyed it as much as you would enjoy adulterous sex, then it was adulterous sex even if it was with your spouse:

    Nothing is more sordid than to make love to your wife as you would to an adulteress. The origins of love are respectable, but its perversion is an enormity.
    §1. It gives no respectable motive for losing one's self control. Hence, the Sentences of Sixtus says, ``He is an adulterer who is too passionate a lover of his wife.''
    (Decretum gratiani, Case 32, q IV, C5)

    Sex even within marriage was considered somehow dirty, and called for cleansing before doing something as important as entering a church:

    After sleeping with his wife, a man should not enter a church, unless he is washed with water.
    (Decretum gratiani, Case 32, q IV, C5)

    Marriage was tolerated as the best that ordinary people could manage. According to St Jerome there was as much difference between wedlock and virginity as there is between managing not to sin and being a saint. Marriage was an unfortunate but practical remedy against sin. Virginity was much more, a true holy state. Childbirth was a particularly sinful activity and required reconciliation with the Church. (This reconciliation was originally a ritual purification after the birth, later to become the Churching of Women.) Now the sin of bearing a child is rather underplayed, but in the past a mother who died in childbirth might be refused a Christian burial because of her sin5. This did not happen everywhere. In some places she was permitted a Christian burial, but her child, dead inside her, was not. Not having had the chance of baptism, the child was infected by Original Sin, and thus ineligible for a Christian burial. The child had to be buried in unconsecrated ground. As one fifteenth century priest, John Mirke, put it:

    A woman that [has] died in childing shall not be buried in church, but in churchyard, so that the child first be taken out of her and buried outwith churchyard6.

    In other words the dead baby had to be cut from its mother's womb so that it could be buried separately, on its own, in unhallowed ground7.

    The whole area of sex is set about with possibilities to sin. Demanding sex from a spouse without intending to procreate was venial sin. Lustfully exciting a spouse was a mortal sin. Masturbation and coitus interruptus were grave sins. The Christian obsession with limiting sexual activity has led to some laws that now seem anachronistic. For example, it is still an offence in England for a man to have anal sex with his wife, although it is no longer an offence for him to have anal intercourse with a man. Masturbation was still illegal in at least one US state into the 1960s. So were other sexual activities. In 1988 a certain Jim Mosely was shocked to find himself sentenced to five years in gaol in Georgia, in the USA. His crime, unwittingly revealed in a divorce hearing, was having had oral sex with his wife8. Around 1,000 years earlier, in Europe, he could have expected seven to 15 years penance — roughly the same as for anal intercourse, and twice that for murder9.


    Buy the Book from



    Buy the Book from
    Beyond Belief: Two Thousand (2000) Years of Bad Faith in the Christian Church
    More Books






    1. Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, p 141.

    2. D. B. Sherwin (2) The Man-Woman Relation in Christian Tradition ( London, 1959), pp 133-4.

    3. A number of specific examples are given by Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, pp 120ff.

    4. Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, p 123.

    5. Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, pp 16-17.

    6. Danniel, Death and Burial in Medieval England, p 127 citing Erbe, Theodor (ed.), Mirk's Festival, Early English Text Society Extra Series 96, (1905), p 298.

    7. Opinions differed on this matter, but respected theologians such as Johannes Beleth, for example, who taught at Paris in the twelfth century, would not allow the bodies of pregnant women to be buried in consecrated ground with a foetus still inside them. His views are entirely in keeping with St Augustine's doctrine of Original Sin.

    8. "Oral Evidence", The Sunday Correspondent, 8 th October 1989.

    9. A number of examples of tariffs from ancient penitentials are given by Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, pp 129-130.






    •     ©    •     Further Resources     •    Link to Us    •         •    Contact     •