Moral relativism deleted
Orthodox teachings concerning
(human) sex overwhelmingly hold that it ought to be confined to the [[sacrament]] of [[marriage]] (which is assumed to be voluntary, monogamous, heterosexual, and permanent). That is, Orthodox believers are expected to choose between two paths of equal dignity: (1) a life of [[virginity]] or [[celibacy]], possibly including [[monastic]] vows; or (2) the married life. Various biblical and patristic writings condemn sex acts which occur outside of these bounds, including:
:*Adultery (sex which violates the marriage commitment)
A focus on sexual sin obscures the fact that Orthodoxy views sex within marriage as fundamentally good--at least in this world. (Apparently sex does not exist in the afterlife, though marriage may.) In contrast to Western (Roman Catholic) views of sex as an instrumental good (thus accounting for that church's well-known opposition to birth control, as the "purpose" of sex is said to be procreation), the Orthodox tendency has been to prefer a sacramental over an instrumental interpretation.
Orthodox interpretations of the first chapters of[[Book of Genesis | Genesis]] inform the Church's view of sexuality. There God is credited with the origin of life on earth, the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:22), and human sexual differentiation (Gen. 1:27, cf. 2:18 ff)
. While the Church is not committed to a literal interpretation of the Creation story, or the historicity of Adam and Eve, it insists that the story is nevertheless "true," at least typologically.
In the patristic tradition, marriage is a consequence of the fall of the protoplasts. Athanasius the Great remarks that in God's initial plan for man, marriage was not part of it
: But the transgression of the commandment brought in marriage because Adam transgressed the law given to him by God. Adam’s fall, which resulted to death, created the need of putting on ''"garments of skin"'' (Gen. 3:2). This garment is interpreted as man adapting to the condition that was created after the Fall and does not belong to the pre-Fall condition; it does not belong to the condition of the Kingdom of God. St. Gregory of Nyssa elaborates on the ''"irrational skin,"'' saying what man put on includes the following: marital relations, procreation, food, growth, old age and death, none of which will exist in the transformation and assimilation of humanity in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Until humanity lives for eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven, God has ordained marriage as pathway leading to salvation. Marriage is a sort of adaptation to the new condition of man created after the fall of the protoplasts. St. Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians makes recommendations on how people can avoid fornication by getting married. According to the Apostle, true sexual relations can exist only within marriage, because marriage restores sexuality. In the Patristic tradition and in Holy Scripture this view is present, as it is apparent in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.
==Lust and temptation==
Orthodox tradition urges believers to resist not only sexual transgressions, but even thoughts of sexual transgressions. As Christ says, ''"If a man looks at a woman with
lust, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart."'' (Matt. 5:27) Some critics hold this to be an impossible standard, for who can purge his heart of illicit sexual thoughts? Others (including many monastics) insist that such a purgation is in fact possible, though difficult.
In this context, the question of masturbation is an interesting one. Several church fathers (such as Nicodemus the Hagiorite) condemn it as "onanism," although scholars now agree that Onan's sin was avoiding a divinely-ordered impregnation (Gen. 38:10). The prevalence of masturbation--indeed, standard psychology texts describe it as developmentally normal--leads critics to complain that its proscription represents an impossible command. At the same time, the popularity of a sin does not prevent it from being a sin ("the way is narrow..."). Also, a few people apparently never masturbate, or succeed in resisting the impulse.
But why is masturbation a sin? In contrast to adultery or rape, what harm does it do? One answer is that a masturbator is probably also entertaining lustful thoughts--precisely the sin mentioned by Christ. But might one legitimately fantasize about one's spouse, or intended spouse
? Or masturbate without thinking about anything at all? Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the question is not mentioned in the creeds, nor has Orthodoxy produced the equivalent of papal [[encyclical]] capable of finally deciding the matter.
==Some illicit sex acts==
Many sex acts are proscribed ''de facto'' because their participants are not allowed to marry (or more precisely, because any marriages which they might attempt would not be recognized by the Church). For example, since the Church does not accept "gay marriage," all homosexual acts are therefore forbidden, sex being limited to marriage. The same could be said of sex between close relatives (including certain fictive kinships such as in-law, adoptive, or godparent relationships), or sex between humans and nonhumans. On the other hand, sex between Orthodox believers and non-Orthodox is not similarly proscribed, since mixed marriages are recognized (though not celebrated) by the Church. If an Orthodox believer happens to be married to a non-Orthodox, they are of course permitted to have sex. If that believer happens to be "married" to a same-sex partner, however, then the Church would tend not to accept that, even if their "marriage" were legally recognized
. The status of a "Herodian" marriage is theologically murky.
Other sex acts are mentioned in various places as inherently illicit, even when performed by married couples. "Sodomy" is usually taken to refer to anal sex (including heterosexual), though depending on the context it might have other meanings.