SEX BETWEEN MEN
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Summary of this page


Overview

The Bible does not criticize or prohibit any
form of sex between men (including oral sex,
deep kissing, fondling and mutual masturbation)
except for males penetrating males (anal
intercourse).  This criticism or prohibition applies
whether the men involved are gay, straight or
bisexual.


Biblical references to sex between men are:

  • The men of Sodom called to Lot, “Where
    are the men who came to you tonight? Bring
    them out to us so that we may know them
    (have sex with them)." (Genesis 19:5)

  • Men of the city (Gibeah) …. said to the old
    man, the master of the house, "Bring out the
    man who came to your house so that we
    may know him (have sex with him)." (Judges
    19:22)

  • Do not lie (have sex) with a male as a
    woman would. (Or  Don’t let another man
    penetrate you.)  It is disgusting. (Leviticus
    18:22)

  • If a man lies (has sex) with a male as a
    woman would, both of them have done a
    disgusting thing. They shall certainly be put
    to death and their blood shall be on their
    own heads. (Leviticus 20:13)

  • …… the males also abandoning natural
    sexual intercourse with females, were
    inflamed with lust for one another. Males
    acted shamefully with males and received in
    themselves the appropriate payback for
    their error. (Romans 1:27)

  • …… wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom
    of God males who have sex with males
    …. will not inherit the kingdom of God. (1
    Corinthians 6:9)

  • …. law is made …. for …. males who have
    sex with males ….(1 Timothy 1:9–10)

Note that the Leviticus verses
prohibit male-male
sex, the Sodom and Gibeah stories express a
strong dislike of male-male
rape, and the verses
in Romans, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy
criticize
(but do not prohibit) male-male sex.



How do we know that these verses refer to
males penetrating males and not to other
forms of sex between males?

Genesis and Judges

    The men of Sodom called to Lot, “Where
    are the men who came to you tonight?
    Bring them out to us so that we may know
    them (have sex with them)." (Genesis 19:5)
    Men of the city …. said to the old man, the
    master of the house, "Bring out the man
    who came to your house so that we may
    know him (have sex with him)." (Judges 19:
    22)

In the Sodom story (Genesis) and the story in
Judges, men say that they wish to
know another
man or men.  In each case, a woman or women
are offered to the men to have sex with instead of
the man or men they asked for.  It is therefore
clear that
know here means to have sex with
someone.  In certain other places in the early
books of the Bible (Genesis 19:8, 24:16 and 38:
26 and Judges 19:25)
know means that a man
has penetrative vaginal intercourse with a
woman.  Similarly, a man would
know another
man in a sexual way by having penetrative anal
intercourse with him.

Leviticus

    Do not lie (have sex) with a male as a
    woman would. (Or  Don’t let another man
    penetrate you.)  It is disgusting. (Leviticus
    18:22)

    If a man lies (has sex) with a male as a
    woman would, both of them have done a
    disgusting thing. They shall certainly be put
    to death and their blood shall be on their
    own heads. (Leviticus 20:13)

The main reason that the Leviticus verses refer
only to men penetrating men has been fully set
out in papers* by Saul Olyan and Jerome Walsh.  
In brief, the verses only prohibit a male having
sex (lying) with another male when the sex is
(literally)
the lyings of a woman.  The phrase the
lyings of a woman
is the opposite of the lying of
a male
, which in the Old Testament (e.g.
Numbers 31:17–18, 35, and Judges 21:11–12)
means a male doing vaginal penetration.  The
opposite of this is female vaginal receptivity – the
meaning of
the lyings of a woman  The male
equivalent of vaginal receptivity is anal
receptivity.  Therefore the Leviticus verses
prohibit a male from being anally penetrated by
another male.

The death penalty for contravening the
prohibition implies that the intercourse is anal
penetration.  It seems unlikely that the death
penalty would have been prescribed for anything
less than penetration.

Note that the use of
lying (Strong’s Number
4904) refers to the act of lying down on a couch,
bier, or bed for sexual contact.  This horizontal
position would imply penetrative contact more
than non-penetrative contact.

The references are to sex between males.  There
is no similar reference to sex between females.  
This implies that the type of sexual intercourse is
one which can be done by males but not by
females (unless the females use an instrument).  
That is, penetration is implied.

Also note the context.  All the other sexual
offences (incest, adultery and bestiality) in
Leviticus 18 and 20 involve full penetrative
intercourse.  To be consistent, male-male
intercourse would also involve full penetrative
intercourse.

The restriction of these verses to anal
intercourse is the traditional Jewish Talmud
interpretation.  Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin
54a refers to a man lying with a male as with a
woman and there being only one kind of (sexual)
connection between males.  The Talmud rabbis
said that sexual practices between males, other
than anal intercourse, were not prohibited by the
Torah (Leviticus, etc) and only came under the
category of masturbation, whether solo or
involving more than one man.**

Traditional Christian and Jewish belief is that
God dictated Leviticus to Moses with every word
being included for a reason.  It can therefore be
argued that had God wanted to prohibit all sex
between men, the verses would have simply
stated that a man shall not lie (have sex) with a
male.  Instead, the addition of the words
as a
woman would lie with a man
restricts the
prohibited form of sex to the male equivalent
(anal intercourse) of how a woman usually has
sex with a man (vaginal intercourse).

These Leviticus verses forbid only male-male
penetration.  One can’t assume that other forms
of male-male sexual activity are also forbidden.

* Olyan, Saul M  “'And with a Male You Shall Not Lie the Lying
Down of a Woman': On the Meaning and Significance of
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13," in
Que(e)rying Religion: A Critical
Anthology
, ed. G. D. Comstock and S. E. Henking, 398-414,
513-24.

Walsh, Jerome T.  “Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: Who Is Doing
What To Whom?”
Journal of Biblical Literature 120/2 (2001),
201–209.  Can also see the article
here (pdf)

** Daniel Boyarin “Are there any Jews in ‘The History of
Sexuality’?”,
Journal of the History of Sexuality, vol 5 no. 3
(1995) 339



Romans

    …… the males also abandoning natural
    sexual intercourse with females, were
    inflamed with lust for one another. Males
    acted shamefully with males and received
    in themselves the appropriate payback for
    their error. (Romans 1:27)

The Romans verse states that men abandoned
natural sexual intercourse with women.  Their
subsequent activity is described in euphemistic
terms such as
inflamed with lust for one another
and males acted shamefully with males (literally
males in males working out the shameful act)
.

While not explicitly stated, it is most likely that the
male sex act criticized is the male equivalent of
their former vaginal intercourse with women, i.e.
males having anal intercourse with males.  Other
forms of sex between males would not be
covered.

The reference to
males acted shamefully with
males
implies penetration because it reflects the
ancient Greco-Roman concept that the passive
man was being penetrated like a woman and this
was a shameful thing for a man to allow or
experience.  It also repeats the criticism of males
having sex with males in 1 Corinthians and 1
Timothy and the prohibition on men penetrating
men in Leviticus
.


1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy

    …… wrongdoers will not inherit the
    kingdom of God … males who have sex
    with males …. will not inherit the kingdom
    of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9)

    …. law is made … for … males who have
    sex with males(1 Timothy 1:9–10)

Both verses criticize males who have sex with
males. One Greek word (
arsenokoitai) used for
such people literally means
males-bed or male-
bedders
, i.e. males who go to bed with males for
sex.  The word probably comes from the
Leviticus verses prohibiting men penetrating men
and therefore has a similar meaning here.  Note
that the King James Version translates the word
as
abusers of themselves with mankind.  A
second Greek word (
malakoi), used in 1
Corinthians only, literally means
soft men and, in
this context, means men who are anally
penetrated by other men.

Therefore the 2 words used in 1 Corinthians
cover both the man who does the anal
penetration and the man who is penetrated.  In 1
Timothy only the man who penetrates is criticized.


What were the reasons for the prohibition on
men penetrating men in Leviticus?

The only certain reason for this prohibition on
one man sexually penetrating another man (anal
sex) is given in Leviticus 18:3 and 24, where God
tells the Israelites that they must not follow the
practices (presumably bad) of the people of
Egypt or Canaan and are not to defile
themselves in any of the ways referred to in the
Chapter, which would include one man sexually
penetrating another man.  It would appear that
complying with the prohibition would help
maintain a pure, holy and stable community.

Other reasons which have been speculated for
this prohibition are:

  • In Mediterranean countries in Old
    Testament times, the male sexual role was
    seen as that of active penetrator and the
    female role was seen as that of passively
    being penetrated.  Therefore one man
    sexually penetrating another man was
    thought to reduce the penetrated man from
    the high status of a man (penetrator) to the
    lower status of a woman (penetrated).  This
    brought shame and dishonor on the
    penetrated man.

  • One man sexually penetrating another man
    was believed to be an abomination because
    it violated the God–given order of things in
    society and confused the boundaries of
    clearly assigned male and female sexual
    roles. The man being penetrated was
    thought to be crossing from the God-given
    category of male (and how a male should
    act) to the God-given category of female
    (and how a female should act) thus
    confusing the categories and he no longer
    being seen as wholly male.  In other words,
    his masculine identity was undermined.  The
    penetrator was also acting wrongly by
    helping the penetrated man to cross the
    gender (sex role) boundaries.  A similar
    gender differentiation argument stresses
    that males and females (and their sexual
    organs) were created to complement each
    other.  (These God-given categories are
    part of the Creation story but note that
    Leviticus 18 and 20 do not directly refer to
    the Creation).  A good explanation of mixing
    and purity and male honor is given in this
    article.

  • The placing of the prohibition on one man
    sexually penetrating another man (verse 22)
    between the prohibition on offering one’s
    seed (children or semen) to Molech (verse
    21) and the prohibition on bestiality (verse
    23) indicates that the compiler of these
    laws, and probably the Israelite community
    generally, saw sex between men as a non-
    standard way of sexual intercourse.  The
    standard way was sex between a man and a
    woman as explained in Genesis 1:28 and 2:
    24.

  • Men penetrating men reminded people of
    the practice of strong or unruly men
    sometimes raping weaker men, by forced
    anal sex, to show their power and to
    degrade or humiliate the weaker men as it
    was treating them like women.  This was
    attempted at Sodom (Genesis 19:4-9) and
    Gibeah (Judges 19:22-25).

  • One man sexually penetrating another man
    was wasting semen instead of its being
    used in its divinely intended purpose of
    procreation in marriage.  It was important
    that the Israelite tribes increase their
    population in order to survive.  However
    Leviticus contains no prohibition on male
    masturbation, coitus interruptus, male-
    female anal intercourse or other non-vaginal
    ejaculatory sexual acts.  So wasting semen
    was apparently not a major concern.

  • One man sexually penetrating another man
    would result in the mixing of defiling
    emissions (excrement and semen) in the
    receptive body, thus violating the Israelite
    purity code. However it seems unlikely that
    this was considered as a major reason
    because there would be the same type of
    mixing in male-female anal intercourse,
    which was not prohibited.

  • One man sexually penetrating another man
    was an improper use of semen.  In fact all
    sexual acts prohibited in Chapters 18 and
    20 involve an improper use of semen.  This
    explains why female-female sex is not
    prohibited, why giving one’s seed (semen)
    to Molech is prohibited and why instances of
    sexual crime are ignored where no improper
    use of semen is made, e.g. seduction.  For
    further details of this point see Martin Cohen, "The
    Biblical Prohibition of Homosexual Intercourse," Journal
    of Homosexuality, 1990, Vol 19(4), p 3-20.

  • The Leviticus prohibition on one man
    sexually penetrating another man covered
    both men.  This was a wider prohibition than
    in nearby cultures, where usually only being
    penetrated was prohibited or despised.  
    Doing the penetrating was okay in these
    cultures.  This difference was one of the
    ways in which the ancient Israelites tried to
    keep themselves separate from other
    peoples.


Why did people dislike the practice of men
penetrating men in Bible times and why do
they often still do so today?

The Bible does not say, and other sources do not
reveal any predominant special reason.  
Reasons for disliking such intercourse could
include the following:

  • There is a view that men should act like
    they are supposed to act, especially when
    having sex.  In other words, a man should
    penetrate and a woman should be
    penetrated.  Therefore if a man is
    penetrated by another man, he is thought to
    be acting like a woman.  (This is
    emphasized in the Leviticus prohibitions).  
    This is interpreted by some people as
    crossing sex-role boundaries (breaching
    gender differentiation) and by other people
    as bringing shame to male honor (breaching
    gender stratification).  This concept of men
    acting like men and not like women, seems
    to be common across cultures and
    throughout history.

  • Some people claim that men and women
    were created by God to complement one
    another, anatomically and in other ways.  
    They state that anatomical complementarity
    (where one body part fits into another) can
    only be achieved by men having vaginal sex
    with women, not by men having anal sex
    with men.  These people point to God’s
    instruction that men and women should form
    family units and have sex to produce
    children.  This would rule out men having
    sex with men.

  • Men penetrating men reminded people of
    the practice of strong or unruly men
    sometimes raping weaker men, by forced
    anal sex, to show their power and to
    degrade or humiliate the weaker men as it
    was treating them like women.  This was
    attempted at Sodom (Genesis 19:4-9) and
    Gibeah (Judges 19:22-25).  This practice
    was also expressed by soldiers sometimes
    raping defeated enemy soldiers.

  • The gut–feeling that it is unnatural for men
    to penetrate men, especially as it is done by
    a minority and is felt by many to be dirty and
    unclean.  Men who do this are often disliked
    (as “others") as they are thought to be
    different from the majority.  They can cause
    fear or anxiety when viewed as non-
    conformists acting outside the boundaries or
    expectations set by society.  This is
    reinforced by the fact that men penetrating
    men is against the cultural mores and
    attitudes of many societies, including their
    individuals and institutions.

  • One man penetrating another man is
    wasting semen instead of its being used in
    its divinely intended purpose of procreation
    in marriage.  Alternatively, one man
    penetrating another man results in the
    mixing of defiling emissions (excrement and
    semen) in the receptive body, thus violating
    the Israelite purity code.

  • Men penetrating men reminded people of
    the practice of men having sex with sacred
    male prostitutes during pagan idol worship.


Responses to these reasons for disliking the
practice of men penetrating men

  • First are the views that men should act like
    men, a penetrated man is thought to be
    acting like a woman, strong men or soldiers
    sometimes rape weaker men or defeated
    enemy soldiers, and it is unnatural for men
    to penetrate men.  Although these views
    about male sex roles are common across
    cultures, they are still just cultural views, not
    eternal truths. These views and attitudes
    are formed by the views of families,
    ancestors, friends, and cultural and religious
    institutions.  It is recognized that these views
    are still important in many cultures today.

  • The claim that men and women were
    created by God to complement one another,
    anatomically and in other ways, is only part
    of the story.  In fact, the first woman was
    created to help and be a companion to the
    first man, with the emphasis being on the
    fact that both are the same species,    i.e.
    humans.  Anatomical complementarity (the
    sexual parts fitting) was obviously important
    or else they could not have had children.  
    Nevertheless the creation story does not
    state or imply that male-female
    complementarity is the only type there is.

  • While male-female complementarity is
    important, there is also male-male and
    female-female complementarity, although
    they are not so strong anatomically.  
    Nevertheless the parts still fit when men
    penetrate men.  But same-sex
    complementarity can be just as strong as
    opposite-sex complementarity in non-sexual
    areas, e.g. in interests and tastes.  This
    follows from opposites attracting each other,
    even if they are both male or both female.

  • While the Creation story in Genesis explains
    the origin of marriage between men and
    women and its primary purpose of having
    children, it does not refer to any other forms
    of sexual intercourse.  Therefore one can’t
    use this story to say that other forms of
    sexual intercourse, including men
    penetrating men, are wrong.

  • The argument that men penetrating each
    other wastes semen instead of its being
    used for procreation, is undermined by the
    Bible containing no similar prohibition on
    semen being wasted by male masturbation,
    coitus interruptus, male-female anal
    intercourse or other non-vaginal ejaculatory
    sexual acts.  Also, as most men in Bible
    times were married, they could still
    procreate children with their wives as well
    as penetrating other men.  Similarly, the
    concept that men penetrating each other
    results in the mixing of defiling emissions
    (excrement and semen) in the receptive
    body, is also undermined by there being no
    Biblical prohibition on male-female anal
    intercourse, which would have the same
    type of mixing.

  • In regard to the practice of men having sex
    with sacred male prostitutes, Leviticus
    prohibits men letting themselves be anally
    penetrated by other men.  This rules out the
    prohibition meaning that men customers are
    not to anally penetrate sacred male
    prostitutes.


Is there any practical reason for the Biblical
prohibition on men penetrating men?

There appears to be no major practical reason to
prohibit male-male penetration other than to
encourage having children through male-female
penetration.  Most Biblical prohibitions of specific
sex practices can be seen to have practical
bases, e.g. the prohibition on incest aims to stop
the spread of certain congenital defects or avoid
father/son or sibling rivalry over sex partners.  
Similarly, prohibiting adultery aims to stop one
man from stealing another man’s wife.

However, the only obvious practical reason for
the Biblical prohibition of male-male penetration
is that its practice could lower the birth rate of the
community.  All the other reasons appear to be
either religious (violation of the God-given
boundaries of male and female sexual roles or
males having sex with male cult prostitutes) or
ones of perception (men seeming to act like
women when having sex or anal sex being seen
as dirty and unhygienic).


In the following books or articles, the authors
agree that the Bible, especially Leviticus,
condemns only men penetrating men (anal
sex) and not other forms of sexual
intercourse between males

The page numbers (p) are those on which the
authors refer to men penetrating men.

Alter, Robert
, The five books of Moses: a
translation with commentary,
2004,  p 623, 632
Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 54a and b

Boyarin, Daniel, “Are there any Jews in ‘The
History of Sexuality’?”
, Journal of the History of
Sexuality,
vol. 5 no. 3 (1995) p 339, 343

Brooten, Bernadette, Love Between Women:
Early Christian Responses to Female
Homoeroticism,
1996,  p 61

Cohen, Martin, "The Biblical Prohibition of
Homosexual Intercourse,"
Journal of
Homosexuality
(1990) Vol 19(4)  p 6

Daube, David, "The Old Testament Prohibitions
of Homosexuality."
Zeitschrift der Savigny-
Stiftung fur Rechtsgeschichte Romantische
Abteilung
103 (1986) p 447

Goss, Robert, Queering Christ: Beyond Jesus
Acted Up
, 2002,  p 190

Greenberg, Steven, Wrestling with God and
Men: Homosexuality and the Jewish Tradition
,
2004, p 80-81

Helminiak, Daniel, What the Bible Really Says
About Homosexuality
, 2000,  p 59

Josephus, Against Apion 2.199

Levine, Baruch, Leviticus, 1989, p 123

Milgrom, Jacob, Leviticus 17-22, 2000,  p 1568

Nissinen, Martti, Homoeroticism in the Biblical
World: A Historical Perspective,
1998, p 44

Olyan, Saul, "And with a Male You Shall Not Lie
the Lying Down of a Woman”: On the Meaning
and Significance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13",

Journal of the History of Sexuality,
vol. 5, no. 2,
(1994)  p 185

Philo, Abraham 135

Roughgarden, Joan, Evolution's Rainbow:
Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and
People,
2003,  p 373

Satlow, Michael, "'They Abused Him Like a
Woman': Homoeroticism, Gender Blurring, and
the Rabbis in Late Antiquity."
Journal of the
History of Sexuality,
5.1 (1994)  p 5 note 12, 10.

Thurston, Thomas, "Leviticus 18:22 and the
Prohibition of Homosexual Acts," in
Homophobia
and the Judaeo-Christian Tradition,
ed. by
Michael L. Stemmeler & J. Michael Clark, 1990, p
16

Walsh, Jerome, “Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: Who
Is Doing What To Whom?”
Journal of Biblical
Literature,
Volume 120, No. 2 (2001)  p 208

On the other hand, it might be noted that very
few authors specifically say that the Bible
condemns all forms of sexual intercourse
between males.

Although many authors say that the Bible
condemns
homosexuality, they don’t say
whether
homosexuality means same-sex
orientation or same-sex activity or both.  This
means that they don’t state what same-sex
activity means.  Their attitude seems to reflect
uncertainty, intellectual laziness or anachronistic
thinking.


Online sites which state that the Bible,
especially Leviticus, condemns only men
penetrating men (anal sex) and not other
forms of sexual intercourse between males

The abovementioned article by Jerome Walsh
(pdf)


Interesting facts

There is no specific recorded case of same-sex
intercourse in early Judaism (from the Second
Temple period to c 300 CE).  Regarding the
possibility of Jews engaging in this behavior, a
text from the rabbinic Tosefta comments simply:
“Israel is not suspected” (Qiddushin 5:10).  
Robert Gagnon

Nowhere in the historical Hebrew literature (Old
Testament) is homosexual behavior among
consenting males mentioned.  More importantly,
prophetic denunciations of Israel's sins do not
include homosexual behavior.  Charles D. Myers,
Jr


Joke

I read an article that said one man in ten men is
gay.  

I thought, No, one man in one man is gay; one
man in ten men is a show off.

Sam Morril, June 2009




Author: Colin Smith
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