Orthodoxy talks out of both sides of its mouth in regard to this. "Material reality is sanctified; but don't have sex!" It just depends on who you talk to and when you talk to them. Are any beliefs about human sexuality outlined as dogmatic in the Orthodox church? I would assume there should be some dealing with fornication at least... Just curious to know.
[These are complicated questions. Please send me a PM if you wish to see an email with the primary sources and scholarly material that this comment will draw from.]
I must admit that I found reading this thread incredibly discouraging; I had often feared that sharing the conclusions of my personal theological and historical research might lead to scandal or confusion, but, as this thread has shown, the level of ambiguity and confusion that *already* exists on extremely relevant questions of sexual morality within our contemporary context is absolutely intolerable and harmful to those attempting to take their faith seriously within a dating or marriage relationship.
I will be as clear and concise as I possibly can. Previous Christian thought on sex was based on two premises, I will discuss each separately:
1) The primary purpose/justification of the release of seminal fluid is procreation.
2) Sex is morally illicit between (free) men and women without permission from those who own/have rule over the latter.
The first premise leads to the discouragement of masturbation and/or eroticism of any kind no matter how serious the relationship before
marriage and of sexual acts unlikely to end in procreation after
marriage has taken place. Patristic literature, pastoral policy and canon law throughout the centuries seemed to largely agree with this assumption, although emphasis on the latter has fluctuated over time. Sex as lovemaking could not emerge as a dominant Christian concept until the scientific/philosophical model upon which dogma was applied was proven repudiated.
Christian moral reasoning on sex throughout the centuries involved a continuous dialogue with Christian dogmatic textual sources, Jewish thought, Stoicism, contemporary science, etc."Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted"
Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2 (A.D. 191)."To have coitus other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature."
Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor of Children 2:10:95:3 (A.D. 191)."[Some] complain of the scantiness of their means, and allege that they have not enough for bringing up more children, as though, in truth, their means were in [their] power . . . or God did not daily make the rich poor and the poor rich. Wherefore, if any one on any account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from relations with his wife."
Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6:20 (A.D. 307)."Again, vice is the wrong use of our conceptual images of things, which leads us to misuse the things themselves. In relation to women, for example, sexual intercourse, rightly used, has as its purpose the begetting of children. He, therefore, who seeks in it only sensual pleasure uses it wrongly, for he reckons as good what is not good. When such a man has intercourse with a woman, he misuses her."
(St. Maximus the Confessor)
Carefully examine at their reasoning. Why must sex always have its end *either* selfish pleasure or the explicit intent to procreate? Because they "knew" semen had certain biochemical properties and effects upon the male psyche if continually released, sexual pleasure which results in the frequent release of it *must* have procreation as its primary or sole purpose. Contra this position, we now know that each milliliter of seminal fluid contains several tens of millions of sperm cells that are constantly being recreated and "vainly ejaculated, damaged, and wasted" in all healthy men. If they knew this, I suspect they would have arrived at moral conclusions similar to that of most Christians today, that is, in favor of responsible contraceptive use. The Church has (relatively) quietly ceased its condemnation of birth control as an intrinsic evil because the empirical basis for doing so passed into non-existence. What of the second premise?:
2) Sex is morally illicit between (free) men and women without permission from those who own/have rule over the latter.
[Before I proceed with my discussion of sexual morality in general, I encourage everyone to examine for themselves the meaning of the relevant New Testament terms in their original language and historical context: http://www.religioustolerance.org/pornea.htm
Prior to the theological and scientific separation of procreation from sex, another revolution in legal and moral thought had occurred a few centuries earlier: absolute legal and moral intolerance of the ownership of persons by persons.
However, central to traditional Jewish, Roman or Christian legal and moral reasoning on sex is this *not* being the case. Why is consensual sexual intercourse between a free unbetrothed man and a free unbetrothed woman condemned in the Torah? Because the female is the father's property; and without his permission the relationship must end with a payment of the father. Why is it condemned in Roman law? Because the relevant master and/or male authority has not given his permission. Why is it condemned in ancient church canons? For the same reason. I will substantiate these claims with textual support from Emperor Justinian laws and St. Basil's canons. Notice the change in policy if the woman is free:
JUSTINIAN LAWSMarriage is the union of a man and a woman, a partnership for life, involving divine as well as human law.
Marriage cannot take place unless everyone involved consents, that is, those who are being united and those in whose power they are.
When a man lives with a free woman, it is not considered concubinage but genuine matrimony, if she does not make money as a prostitute.
The right is granted to the father to kill a man who commits adultery with his daughter while she is under his control. Therefore no other relative can legally do this, nor can a son under paternal control, who is a father, do so with impunity.
Where the law says, "He may kill his daughter at once;" this must be understood to mean that having to-day killed the adulterer he can not reserve his daughter to be killed subsequently; for he should kill both of them with one blow and one attack, and be inflamed by the same resentment against both. But if, without any connivance on his part, his daughter should take to flight, while he is killing the adulterer, and she should be caught and put to death some hours afterwards by her father, who pursued her, he will be considered to have killed her immediately.http://faculty.cua.edu/pennington/Canon%20Law/RomanLaw/MarriageRomanLaw.htm
ST. BASIL'S CANONS
XXII: ...In the case of a girl who has been taken when not betrothed, she ought first to be removed, and restored to her own people, and handed over to the will of her own people whether parents, or brothers, or any one having authority over her. If they choose to give her up, the cohabitation may stand...
XXXVIII. Girls who follow against their fathers' will commit fornication; but if their fathers are reconciled to them, the act seems to admit of a remedy. They are not however immediately restored to communion, but are to be punished for three years.
XL. The woman who yields to a man against her master's will commits fornication; but if afterwards she accepts free marriage, she marries. The former case is fornication; the latter marriage. The covenants of persons who are not independent have no validity.
XLII. Marriages contracted without the permission of those in authority, are fornication. If neither father nor master be living the contracting parties are free from blame; just as if the authorities assent to the cohabitation, it assumes the fixity of marriage.
Both Church and contemporary society legally and morally now reject the assumption that persons can own other persons and/or that procreation is the primary end of or inseparable from lawful sexual activity. The first happened a few centuries ago and the latter theological consensus emerged late last century (1970s-ish); which is like 30 minutes in Church time. Applying our theology to a more modern intellectual and legal context,
I will address two among the most relevant questions. First, what is sex? Sex includes the whole range of acts that begins with intentional arousal and ends with failed or successful attempts at bringing one or both of the persons to a climax. Mutual masturbation/oral sex/etc. are all really sex in my opinion because (1) they begin with acts of intentional arousal that seek to end in orgasm and (2) effective manual/oral stimulation is often more physically pleasurable than/more emotionally intimate than/ and preferred over vaginal intercourse by a large percentage men and women.
Secondly, what is sex for? Theologically, this question has NEVER formally been raised and addressed within a context where nobody owns anyone, where long term serious, emotionally intimate relationships before marriage are accepted as normal by both Church and society, where the enjoyment of sexual pleasure has been physically and philosophically separated from procreation and where the loss of seminal fluid at regular intervals is accepted as a sign of biological health rather than a disease that needs to be cured. So the question is just 30-70 years old depending on one's starting point. I believe a theologically sound and intellectually defensible understanding of sex within this context would understand its role as expressing and reinforcing shared commitment and love through shared pleasure and mutual vulnerability. Virtually everyone today (Christian and non-Christian) who condemns promiscuous/recreational sex seems to accept this viewpoint either explicitly or implicitly, from the most strict (no kissing before marriage) to the most lax (just use protection). That is, they both understand sex as having the same purpose but disagree on the previously inconceivable non-dogmatic question of how much commitment should precede a given level of physical intimacy. However, at that point we talking about respect and responsible risk management rather than good vs. evil. It's ideal for parents/authorities to offer advice to young people and for them to work it out themselves when they enter committed relationships.To summarize, there is no theologically normative form, starting point or relationship of church/state to marriage, period; the same could be said for the question of what precisely legitimizes sexual relations.
No Jew or Christian would at any time in history deny that our bodies belong to God and this entails is that they should not be misused; but what constitutes an instance of misuse remains unexplained by this mere fact. Given that previous Christian thought on this question had many moral, legal and scientific presuppositions that are no longer accepted by anyone, both explicitly and implicitly and that examination of the relevant texts in their original languages and historical contexts reveals significantly fewer easy answers than many would suspect, the means and ends that need to be respected and taken into consideration must be carefully reconsidered and not thoughtlessly parroted. Speaking personally, I think marrying guys off to women because they are burning to have sex is a bad idea in our own time and within our current understanding of things. The desire for sexual release should never be the primary justification for marrying one person rather than another. Sex should be an afterthought with respect to whom one marries because it is the non-physical aspects of persons that are most important and the non-physical aspects of relationships that make worthwhile or not.