Sexuality

by Claire Clinton (RE Adviser to The London Borough of Newham)

What Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Christians and Humanists say and think about sexuality, love and intimacy, marriage and partnership.

All religions and secular world views agree on a lot of shared values when it comes to relationships. Mainly they agree that how people treat one another is very important.  People should be treated with respect, love and understanding.

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Most religions teach that a morally good sexual relationship can only take place in a committed relationship (and for most religions this is after a marriage ceremony between a man and a woman).  Sexual relationships outside of marriage are always regarded as morally wrong.  This is often because without a marriage ceremony the religious community sees that there is no long term commitment between the two parties.  Without this commitment, sexual intercourse can become only about personal sexual gratification which is not seen as a good thing.  Many religions also see the purpose of having a sexual relationship linked to conceiving children and bringing them up in a stable, loving environment.

Therefore whether sexual intercourse between two individuals outside marriage is between a man and a woman, or between two people of the same gender, most religions would say all of this is morally wrong behaviour.  Many religions make a differentiation between a person’s thoughts and their actions.  So feeling a desire for something/someone is not necessary seen as wrong, but acting on that desire could be, if it goes against the Holy Book’s teachings.

Religions teach that overcoming desires is an important aspect of growth in a human being’s life.  Self control needs to be grown, and in fact tempting thoughts are seen by some religions as a test from God that the individual should overcome. 

There is a belief that the safest way to have a good sexual relationship is within a faithful marriage, as it guards the person from emotional hurt and selfishness, as well as physically protecting them against sexually transmitted diseases.

Here are some more specific teachings about what each religion’s Holy Books say, as well as some quotations from faith leaders about its application in the 21st century.

Buddhism

One of the 5 precepts in Buddhism deals with sexual conduct:

Do not misuse sex.  For monks and nuns, this means they are not allowed to have any sexual relationships.  For Buddhists who are not a monk or nun, adultery (sex between two people when one is already married to another person) is forbidden, along with any sexual harassment or exploitation, including that within marriage.

‘Don't give way to heedlessness (thoughtlessness) or to intimacy with sensual delight – for a heedful (mindful, careful) person, absorbed in jhana (where your mind is free) attains an abundance of ease.’  The Buddha, Dhammapada

‘Trust and confidence in your partner makes a relationship strong.’ Dr Sunil Kariyakarawana,East LondonBuddhist Cultural Centre

So Buddhists expect people to stay celibate until marriage, and overcome sexual thoughts when they occur in your mind.

In Judaism & Christianity the first thing the Torah/Bible reports God telling Adam and Eve to do is to multiply. So sexual relations within marriage are never seen as something wrong in both of these faiths.

There is a book in the Torah called the Song of Solomon which traditionally Jewish children are not allowed to read until after their Bar/Bat Mitzvah, as it is a love song between a groom and his bride and the imagery is fairly erotic.  The song is also understood as a love song between God (the groom) and his people (the bride) by some commentators.  Here is a small extract:

‘You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How beautiful is your love…my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!’ Song of Solomon 4:9

Judaism

Judaism teaches that the purpose of sex is not just to have children, it is also for married people to demonstrate their love for each other.  Marriage sanctifies the relationship between men and women.

‘The mating of animals is a temporary and purely physical act. Through the sanctification of marriage, a husband and wife become the closest of relatives.’ Maimonides (12th century Rabbi)

‘Adultery is always wrong.’  Rabbi Maurice Michaels, SouthWest Essex& Settlement Reform Synagogue

Christianity

In the Christian New Testament it says:

‘In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.’ Ephesians 5:28-33

‘Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?’ 1 Corinthians 6:18-19

‘First of all Christianity teaches that sex is something good.  It is something that should be enjoyed between a man and a woman.’ Jo Sell, Plaistow Christian Fellowship

‘One faithful marriage relationship is the ideal that the Anglican Church teaches.  But the church recognises that this is not something everyone manages, and for that there is forgiveness and a new start.’ Dr Rev Jane Freeman, St Bartholomew’s Church, East Ham

‘The Bible is a love story, it tells of the love God has for people.  Loving Relationships are at the heart of the Bible.’ Bimbo Folo-Alade, Trinity Chapel, Redeemed Christian Church of God

Christians and Christian churches have many different beliefs when it comes to homosexuality.  Most traditional Christians would say that being an active homosexual was wrong, as this is sex outside of marriage – they would not recognise a civil partnership as a marriage.  Having homosexual feelings or thoughts are not seen as wrong unless acted upon, in the same way as it would be morally wrong for a man and woman who are not married to have a sexual relationship.

There are Christians from many denominations from the more liberal wing of the church that believe that homosexual relationships, if within a loving committed relationship, are not necessarily wrong. They would interpret passages that mention homosexuality from the Old and New Testaments as being written within a cultural context where homosexuality was understood as unnatural and wrong.  These Christians would say that this isn’t the case today, therefore the Church needs to change its teachings.

Hinduism

Hindus believe that kama(sensual pleasure) is one of the four purusharthas (aims of life). Sex is considered a good thing which is to be enjoyed as one of the duties of married life, particularly in the desire to produce children.

However, self-control is an important aspect of Hindu teaching, so sexual intercourse has to take place between married couples only.  Before marriage young people should be in the brahmacharya (the first stage of life) when they should be concentrating on learning the sacred scriptures and observing their religious duties. Sex would be a distraction.  Sexual activity then is for the second stage in life, when you get married and put your energies into creating a home and family.

‘A loving sexual relationship is a beautiful thing.’ Mr Prem Nath Fing

Humanism

‘Bearing in mind the legal laws of the land, Humanists believe it is up to each couple to decide if and when they would start to have a sexual relationship.  They also believe that each relationship is unique to each couple, and it is something that they need to develop.’  Lane Taylor, Newham SACE representative.

For a Humanist, a couple can be of the same sex or different sexes, and a marriage ceremony is not necessary to signal a committed relationship. Humanists are free to marry or to live together, it is their choice.

Islam

Muslims view sexual intercourse as an act of worship that fulfils emotional and physical needs as well as being procreative. Having children is the way in which humans can contribute towards Allah’s creation. Sexual intercourse is a gift from Allah and therefore can only take place within a married relationship. Islam encourages people to marry and not to lead celibate lives. Marriage places a responsibility on both the husband and the wife to meet each other’s sexual needs.

One Qur'an verse states ‘The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: On them will God pour His mercy: for God is Exalted in power, Wise.’ (Al-Tauba, 9:71)

‘The Qur’an states that you should marry if you are able to, and if you are not able to then you must keep yourself chaste.  All sexual relationships should be in marriage.’  Asela Ibrahim-ElMorsy[

Muslims believe that life is a test of faith, that suffering is part of Allah’s plan.

What about homosexuality in Islam?

>Homosexuality is not allowed in Islamic law.

>Part of the reason is that no pregnancy can result, and this is what God wills for male and female relationships

>The Qur’an says that if two people of the same gender have sex, but are sorry, they should be left alone. However, if they repeat the act, so are obviously not sorry, they should be punished.

‘As far as Islam is concerned, this isn’t about prejudice and discrimination; it is about law and order.  We believe that God created us and commanded us to recreate in order that humans may worship Him. Without children and families this society would not progress.’ Muhammid Nahid.

‘Self control is an important aspect of being a good Muslim. It is not homosexual thoughts that are punishable but the act of homosexual sex.’ Aisha Ibrahim.

‘God knows best what it is you are doing. God will judge between you on the Day of Judgment concerning the matters in which you differ.’ (22:76-69)

All of this means that the Qur’an says it is up to the individual whether they follow the Qur’an. If they go against it, then only God should judge them, as humans do not have the power to judge other people.

Sikhism

Being virgin for your husband/wife is a best way to start an faithful life. Chastity is a very important aspect of Sikh teaching because the divine spark of Waheguru (God) is present in every human body, and so the body has to be kept clean and perfect.

The Guru Granith Sahib says ‘Don't look at the vines of others, be a true husband.’  page: 1095 Guru Arjan Sahib ji.

Marriage is seen as a commitment before Waheguru and the purpose is companionship and help on their spiritual path, rather than sexual enjoyment. The married relationship is summed up in the phrase ‘one soul in two bodies’, so being faithful to a husband or wife is central to Sikh life. Monogamy is the rule in Sikhism.

At a marriage ceremony, four vows are taken by both the man and the woman: 1) To lead an action-oriented life based on righteousness and to never shun obligations of family and society; 2) to maintain a bond of reverence and dignity between them; 3) to keep enthusiasm for life alive in the face of adverse circumstances and remain detached from worldly attachments; and 4) to cultivate a ‘balanced approach’ in life, avoiding all extremes.

‘Sex before marriage is completely forbidden.  Before marriage men and women must think and behave like brothers and sisters towards each other.’ Mr Sukhdev Singh Marway.