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Fornication is a derogatory term for human sexual behavior that violates the general sense of morality and shame that is felt, accepted or given in a special cultural or religious context . The context dependency present here can be shaped by a secular as well as a religious environment and is not uniformly defined throughout the history of morals . Historically, fornication generally means an active act that leads a person from the state of purity to the state of impurity. As a rule, the judgment on behavior that is regarded as fornication is accompanied by social ostracism or punishment .

Concept history

Until the 1960s, in Western countries, for example, masturbation , extramarital or premarital intercourse , adultery, and homosexuality (also known as “ pederasty ”) and zoophilia, formerly known as “unnatural fornication” or “ sodomy ”, were described as fornication. This classification can also be found today, depending on the religious and ethical environment. Corresponding expressions of sexuality are no longer prosecuted in Western countries as part of cultural liberalization and the principle of sexual self-determination and are increasingly accepted in society. On the other hand, there has recently been an opposite tendency towards criminalization in the case of zoophilia, also known as “sodomy” in German.

The term also included the fornication of minors , i.e. the consensual sexual intercourse between young people and children . The language of the present has abandoned the moralizing term "fornication" and replaced it, for example, in the German criminal law reform of 1973 with the general term " sexual acts ". The criminal liability of the facts that were previously subsumed under fornication was also restricted. At the same time, the topic is viewed in a more differentiated manner and negatively viewed issues are described as sexual abuse , sexual coercion , moral hazard and abnormal sexual practices .

In China, for example, just a few years ago teenagers who masturbated were advised to " wear baggy underwear , do hard physical labor, and study the writings of Mao Zedong ."

In many African and Asian countries it is expected that a girl will enter marriage "untouched" as a virgin . There, sex before marriage is considered fornication and is subject to social taboos . If the family's honor is tainted by an offense, it must be restored, for example by punishing or rejecting the woman. The circumcision of female genitals is intended, among other things, to prevent or help curb the fornication of the girl or wife.

Even in Islamic countries fornication (Arab. Is Zina ) condemned. In many places she is socially ostracized and the lewd person is avoided. In some places, for example in Saudi Arabia , Sudan , Iran , northern Nigeria and Yemen , she is also severely punished, for example with stoning for adultery or for anal intercourse .

Legal situation in western countries


In the context of social liberalization, the term "fornication" was abandoned as a legal term in Germany: the Federal Court of Justice last ruled in 1962 that sexual intercourse between engaged but unmarried partners fornication and promoting it by providing an apartment as a coupling was punishable. With the large penal reform of Kiesinger (first grand coalition) from 1 September 1969, u. a. abolished the offenses of adultery and pimping.

In the case law in Germany, the term "fornication" is no longer used. The term “fornication with minors” can no longer be found in the Criminal Code . Section 176 of the Criminal Code refers to “sexual abuse of children”.


In Austria, the term fornication in the penal code only occurs in Section 219 of the StGB (announcement of indecent intercourse). In addition, the full title of the Pornography Act is “Federal Act of March 31, 1950 on Combating Indecent Publications and Protecting Young People from Moral Danger”. It also uses the word “lewd” in its definition of pornography .

United States

Fornication used to be a criminal offense in the United States. By this one understood any sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons and also between spouses all sexual practices except vaginal intercourse. In certain places, certain positions apart from missionary positions were also forbidden between married people . In Michigan, for example, what was forbidden for all gender constellations was called gross indecency (Michigan Common Law 750.338, 750.338a, and 750.338b governed the gay, lesbian and heterosexual variants, respectively).

In the late 20th century, many of these laws were repealed or rarely applied; the remaining ones are no longer enforced today, as they were after the judgment of the Supreme Court in July 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas constitute a violation of the right to privacy , which is implicitly (i.e. not expressly) guaranteed in the American constitution .

Sexual acts with persons below the age of consent are still punishable as statutory rape (fornication with minors).


Main article: Zinā

In many Islamic countries fornication (Arabic zinā ) is a capital crime and is punished in a draconian way (cf. Hadd penalty ). According to the widespread interpretation of the Sharia , fornication is punished for unmarried people with 100 flagellations (Sura 24,2), married people are followed by stoning , which is required in the tradition (but not in the Koran) for this offense.

“A woman and a man who commit fornication scourge each of them with a hundred lashes. If you believe in Allah and the Last Day, do not feel pity for them both in the face of the religion of Allah. And a part of the believers should be present at (the execution) of the punishment against them. "

- Sura 24, verse 2; King Fahd Complex (Abdullah Frank Bubenheim and Nadeem Elyas)


The term fornication is often used in the biblical context where it does not leave much room for interpretation. The term of fornication (Greek porneia ) is coined in the Tanach mainly by Leviticus 18 and 20, as well as by the sixth / seventh of the Ten Commandments (“You shall not commit adultery”). In Leviticus 18 it is about sexual intercourse among relatives ( incest ) ( Lev 18.6-18  ELB ), sexual intercourse during menstruation ( Lev 18.19  ELB ), sexual intercourse between men ( homosexual acts ) ( Lev 18.22  ELB ) and Sexual intercourse with animals ( zoophilia ) ( Lev 18.23  ELB ).

For Hellenistic Judaism such as Philo of Alexandria , who lived around the time of Christ's birth and assigned the scattered Mosaic laws to the Decalogue commandments, the commandment against adultery included premarital intercourse, incest, marriage with daughters of foreign peoples, remarriage of the same partner after previous one Divorce, touch during menstruation, knowingly marrying sterile women, same-sex acts with both youths and men, effemination of men, eunuchs, bestiality (zoophilia) and prostitution. With this, Hellenistic Judaism went beyond the Mosaic precepts.

Historical relativity

As a term used to judge actions, “fornication” is largely time-dependent and relative. What was considered a civilized way of life (“breeding”) at one time or was at least tolerated is not in the value system of another time, is reevaluated and persecuted (“non-breeding”).


The Jewish law ( Torah ) set new moral standards and branded these forms of sexuality as fornication. Christianity has largely adopted this, as is clear above all in the resolution of the Council of Apostles and in many passages in Paul's letters . In the New Testament the German translation Unzucht was used for the Greek term porneia .

As a result, fornication also became a legal term for all offenses that contradicted the valid norms of sexual morality, in particular the sexual abuse of people. By doing a distinction rape ( rape ).

Colloquially, the term fornication was used for all sexual behaviors that did not correspond to the heterosexual approach within marriage. Accordingly, prostitution was designated as industrial lunacy .

Historical handling of fornication

In most cultures, what is defined as fornication has been rejected and negatively sanctioned . This ranged from mere disregard (especially in Western Europe) to imprisonment and the death penalty (in some Islamic states).

In some cultures, fornication of women (such as female masturbation ) was viewed more strictly than malpractice. In other cultures it was exactly the opposite; In the GDR, West Germany and other European countries, for example, male homosexuality was prosecuted until the 1960s / 1970s, which was not the case with female homosexuality. In Austria, female homosexuality was also a criminal offense, but it was punished less often.

In ancient Israel, indecent acts, such as adultery , were punished by stoning . (( Lev 20.10 ff  ELB ) and ( Dtn 22.22 ff  ELB ))

Particularly in the Middle Ages fornication with the death penalty, with which was corporal punishment or the flogging occupied. Girls and women in particular were assumed to have a seductive and unbridled sexuality (see: witch hunt , devil's allegiance ).

The Constitutio Criminalis Carolina of 1532 provided for severe corporal punishment for fornication .

From 1868 Heinrich von Friedberg drafted a penal code for the North German Confederation , which came into force on May 31, 1870. After the establishment of the German Empire it was still in effect. With editorial changes it was re-promulgated on May 15, 1871 as the Reich Criminal Code.

Its § 180 read:

“Anyone who habitually or out of self-interest, through his mediation or by granting or providing opportunities, encourages fornication will be punished with imprisonment for pimping; also the loss of civil rights and the admissibility of police supervision can be recognized. "

The concept of fornication itself is further subdivided in older penal codes or in moralizing language into:

  • simple fornication (sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who are not married to each other)
  • unnatural fornication (“contra naturam”, “not serving the purpose of procreation”), sodomy was used synonymously for a long time, scientifically until about the middle of the 19th century, church until about the middle of the 20th century; always same-sex acts (practiced homosexuality ) and acts with Animals (practiced zoophilia ), often also "unnatural acts" between different sexes ( anal intercourse , oral intercourse ), sometimes also "unnatural acts" with oneself ( masturbation ))
  • Rape ( rape )

Beginning in the 18th century and especially from the 19th century onwards, there was a " medicalization of sin" in Europe and North America , fornication changes from (punishable) religious sin to (partially punishable) medical perversion and became something Considered pathological. This continued until the beginning of the 20th century. For example, doctors and scientists claimed that masturbation led to diseases of the spinal cord , cancer , leprosy, or madness and softening of the brain . This heresy contributed to the fact that in North America male newborns were circumcised in order to discourage them from masturbating (more on masturbation considerations ).

In the course of the 20th century, attitudes changed and the concept of fornication changed significantly. For example, many people in Western Europe no longer count masturbation , but do count sex with children and rape in marriage. Homosexuality was still regarded as “lewd” well into the 20th century and was punishable. For example, there was a total ban in the Austrian penal code until 1971, an advertising and association ban until 1997 and a different age of consent for men until 2002 .

The term “fornication” was defined narrowly, especially during the Nazi era . The ideal image of the “ Aryan man” included diligence, order, love for the fatherland, sacrifice and secrecy as well as marital fidelity and chastity. While homosexuality was still reluctantly tolerated in the ranks of the National Socialist leaders until 1934 - the homosexuality of SA chief Ernst Röhm was generally known, without anything being done about it - the persecution of homosexuals rose to extremes after Röhm's murder in 1934 . Sometimes the slightest suspicion of "fornication" or " antisociality " was sufficient for a delivery to a concentration camp, the so-called " protective custody ". Even politicians or military officials who were uncomfortable or who had become unpopular with the regime - for example Colonel General Werner von Fritsch - were accused of homosexuality or other forms of fornication in order to harm them. Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg's marriage to a former prostitute who had previously been convicted of commercial fornication was used by the Nazi regime to force him - and Fritsch - to resign in February 1939 (see Blomberg-Fritsch crisis ).

The extreme discrimination against illegitimate children, which was generally practiced up to then, was rejected by the Nazi regime, provided they were "children of good blood", because the Nazi regime promoted population growth. For anonymous births and illegitimate German (“Aryan”) children there was the “ Lebensborn ” facility . The fertility of the "inferior foreign races" according to the ideology of the regime and of the "inferior German blooded " such as the disabled or the "anti-social" should be restricted by all means (see: Sterilization ).


Web links

Wiktionary: fornication  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. § 175 RStGB . Unnatural fornication: Unnatural fornication which is committed between persons of the male sex or by persons with animals is to be punished with imprisonment; Loss of civil rights can also be recognized. Quoted from Martin Anetzberger: When injustice is right. Süddeutsche Zeitung November 12, 2014.
  2. Brockhaus Konversationslexikon, 14th edition in 16 volumes, 12th volume. FA Brockhaus in Leipzig, Berlin and Vienna, 1895, p. 803, entry pederasty , […] unnatural fornication (sd) between persons of the male sex .
  3. Sex with and without power. Sexual-ethical liberality allows every little animal to have its place as long as there is no coercion involved. Only animals can so poorly articulate their consent. Die Zeit No. 50/2012, December 6, 2012.
  4. Annual Report of the Federal Government , 1973, p. 125: "The following changes compared to the previously applicable law are of particular importance: a) The term 'fornication' is replaced by that of 'sexual acts'."
  5. Christine Schirrmacher : The Sharia. 2nd Edition. 2009, pp. 50-51.
  6. ( Memento from June 12, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  7. ^ Philon: The Special Laws. 3.1-82.
  8. ^ Haeberle: Das 19. Jahrhundert , Archive for Sexology, as of October 13, 2008