fornication/fornicate - malicious, adulterous?

< Previous | Next >

Thomas Tompion

Senior Member
English - England
In a recent thread a difference of opinion about the meaning of fornicate became evident.

<< What's the meaning of "she slept her way to the top"? >>

I have always taken the word to mean consensual sex between a man and a woman not married to each other.

There have been, however, other suggestions:

1. That the sex needs to be maliciously aimed by one of the participants at disrupting the marriage of the other.

2. That the sex needs also to be adulterous; i.e. that one of the participants needs to be married to some other person, not present.

3. That the sex can be between married partners; the word just means to have heterosexual relations with someone.

I may not have exhausted the possible misunderstandings.

What do members think? Does to fornicate mean anything other than to have extramarital heterosexual relations?
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Does to fornicate mean anything other than to have extramarital heterosexual relations?
    :eek::eek::eek: Please don't reserve yourself all the fun, Mr.T. I've known many a homosexual who did virtually nothing but fornicate;)

    But seriously: fornication, to me, means 'non-specifically illicit or excessive sexual relations with whomsoever you choose':)
     

    Gwan

    Senior Member
    New Zealand, English
    I think there is definitely a tinge of "sin" about it (if you buy into that whole notion) i.e. I wouldn't use it with meaning #3, but I wouldn't necessarily go as far as meaning #1. I think it can either be pre-marital or extra-marital (it doesn't have to be adulterous, but it could be). So, in short, I agree with you I think, with the caveat that it really is a word I imagine out of the mouth of a fire-and-brimstone preacher or the like.

    Edit : And thanks Ewie for the reminder that homosexuals can fornicate too! (I'm sure my imaginary preacher would have a thing or two to say about that as well :D)
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    :eek::eek::eek: Please don't reserve yourself all the fun, Mr.T. I've known many a homosexual who did virtually nothing but fornicate;)

    But seriously: fornication, to me, means 'non-specifically illicit or excessive sexual relations with whomsoever you choose':)
    I'm sorry I excluded homosexual relations, Mr E. I wondered about that.

    You suggest you aren't serious in that comment, however, and I wonder if someone knows whether and how the word is commonly used among homosexuals.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Well, like Gwan said, I can't really think of any group of people who'd use it 'commonly', Mr.T*. (I use it occasionally, but more for comic effect than anything else.)

    *My great-great-great-grandfather might've used it routinely when he was preaching to the licentious folk of East Lancs. in the 1860s, I suppose.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Well, like Gwan said, I can't really think of any group of people who'd use it 'commonly', Mr.T. (I use it occasionally, but more for comic effect than anything else.)
    Would your use of it suggest casual sex? Would it be an expression you would use of sex between established partners?
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I tend to use it in suchlike stuff as Look at them all, fornicating left, right and centre! It probably has more to do with 'excess' rather than 'illicitness' when I use it, Mr.T.
     

    Gwan

    Senior Member
    New Zealand, English
    Well, like Gwan said, I can't really think of any group of people who'd use it 'commonly', Mr.T*. (I use it occasionally, but more for comic effect than anything else.)

    *My great-great-great-grandfather might've used it routinely when he was preaching to the licentious folk of East Lancs. in the 1860s, I suppose.
    Yes, fire-and-brimstone or comedic effect, I should have said.

    And glad (?) to learn that my ancestors from West Lancs. were shining beacons of propriety - that, or lost causes I suppose!
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    This arose from a different thread, and it has sufficiently intrigued me to want to hear more views.

    I think Natkretep's belief was that fornication could only describe adulterous sex, and if both parties were single it would be extramarital, but not adulterous. My belief is that fornication can occur with any two people who're not married to each other, irrespective of each person's marital status.
    Here is the OED on fornication and adultery.

    Fornication. Voluntary sexual intercourse between a man (in restricted use, an unmarried man) and an unmarried woman. In Scripture extended to adultery.
    Adultery. Violation of the marriage bed; the voluntary sexual intercourse of a married person with one of the opposite sex, whether unmarried, or married to another (the former case being technically designated single, the latter double adultery)
    My question is whether people maintain the difference between the two words, and specifically whether fornication should involve an unmarried woman (and possibly an unmarried man)?
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Well, I know of at least two groups of people who use the word, if not commonly, at least from time to time and in a specific, religious context. The strict definition of fornicate in terms of Christian moral theology and teaching is to have sex with someone who is not one's legal spouse. Thus, through the lenses of this definition:
    - anyone who has sexual relations with someone of his or her own sex is fornicating (these circles not admitting the possibility of homosexual marriage);
    - an unmarried person who has sex with a married person is a fornicating with an adulterer. The married partner is committing adultery with a fornicator;
    - an unmarried man and an unmarried woman who have sexual relations with each other are fornicating;
    - two people who are married, but not to each other, and have sexual relations are adulterers.

    I don't think I've left anyone out.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Now that I've read so many varying perceptions I don't know what I used to think.
    I'm quite sure that whether one or other participant was married didn't matter.
    I think I agree with Gwan, fornication is sex other than between husband and wife.
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    If Albert is married to Betty and Betty has sex with Charlie:
    Albert is neither a fornicator nor an adulterer.
    Betty commits adultery with Charlie.
    Charlie is a fornicator or an adulterer, depending on his marital status. If Charlie is short for "Charlotte" she is a fornicator.
     

    Gwan

    Senior Member
    New Zealand, English
    Sorry, my sentence was not at all clear. I meant that Albert had sex with Charlie. But I think your response was the same, it's adultery whether it's hetero- or homosexual sex.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    It looks as if my understanding of fornication and adultery accords with Nunty's 'strict' definitions.

    So it looks as if there is a 'strict' definition of fornication and an apparently 'looser' definition. Formula for possible miscommunication, I think! :eek:
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It's an interesting reflection of how women were regarded in the 18th century that Johnson's dictionary defines fornication as

    i . Concubinage or commerce with an unmarried woman.

    Blefs me ! what a fry of fornication is at the door. -
    The Porter in Shakespeare's Henry VIII (the crowd at the door consists of both men and women).

    In the 18th century only men could fornicate it seems, in the non-theological sense of the term.

     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    That was very helpful and interesting, Nunty.

    That means that a married person cannot be said to fornicate, then, that adultery excludes fornication.
    The word "fornication" has such a strong judgemental feeling about it. It sounds like a word direct from the early Christian Church, trying to impose its values.
    So perhaps being married or not was significant.
    Today it surely carries more the idea of excessive sexual relations. Probably not with your spouse.
     
    Last edited:

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I suppose we cannot question an "official", or historical definition of the term.
    But these days I'm sure a married man who f***s left right and centre everything that moves other than his wife could be described as indulging in fornication, as well as adultery.
    Although actually calling him a fornicator seems a little old-fashioned.
    We were speaking of the technical terminology of moral theology, to use Nunty's expression.

    I expect we are all agreed that the vernacular usage is different.
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    Well, I know of at least two groups of people who use the word, if not commonly, at least from time to time and in a specific, religious context. The strict definition of fornicate in terms of Christian moral theology and teaching is to have sex with someone who is not one's legal spouse. Thus, through the lenses of this definition:
    - anyone who has sexual relations with someone of his or her own sex is fornicating (these circles not admitting the possibility of homosexual marriage);
    - an unmarried person who has sex with a married person is a fornicating with an adulterer. The married partner is committing adultery with a fornicator;
    - an unmarried man and an unmarried woman who have sexual relations with each other are fornicating;
    - two people who are married, but not to each other, and have sexual relations are adulterers.

    I don't think I've left anyone out.
    two people who are married, but not to each other, and have sexual relations are adulterers, and fornicators, according to your definition above, because they are both having sex with someone not their legal spouse.
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    No, I don't think I gave that definition; someone else did. By the definition I gave, fornicators are not married to anyone.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    No, I don't think I gave that definition; someone else did. By the definition I gave, fornicators are not married to anyone.
    I think it's there in the quote, Nunty.

    But you made it quite clear, in post 13, that adultery excluded fornication, and this was what I understood from your amplification of your original definition, so I don't think you were in the least ambiguous.

    I hope the discussion can move on.
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Yes, I started with the general statement, but then I gave the definitions of various cases, including:
    two people who are married, but not to each other, and have sexual relations are adulterers.
    I am not a moral theologian, and I refuse any and all responsibility for the holes in their logic. Don't shoot the messenger, please.
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    Don't worry about it, Nunty, all definitions are made by Man, and by men. Correct ones, incorrect ones, and even ones that leave the loop-holes.
    Theologically speaking, which was the first religion that defined fornication? Did they also condemn it?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Thomas, I don't have much to add here, but I'd like to help you move the discussion along. For me, "fornication" merely refers to any sexual intercourse not sanctioned by law. Generally this refers to sex between unmarried partners. I've certainly never picked up any suggestion of malice or ulterior motive behind the word.

    Of course, "adultery" refers to married people having sex with partners other than their spouses.
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    But you made it quite clear, in post 13, that adultery excluded fornication, and this was what I understood from your amplification of your original definition, so I don't think you were in the least ambiguous.

    Actually, strictly speaking, all Nunty did in post 13 was to confirm your own assertion.

    TT, if you know the vernacular use of fornication, where are you trying to take this thread? To the origins of the word? To some episode in Christian history? Or another period in time?
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Thomas, I don't have much to add here, but I'd like to help you move the discussion along. For me, "fornication" merely refers to any sexual intercourse not sanctioned by law. Generally this refers to sex between unmarried partners. I've certainly never picked up any suggestion of malice or ulterior motive behind the word.

    Of course, "adultery" refers to married people having sex with partners other than their spouses.
    Many thanks, Owlman.

    I got the malicious idea from the WR dictionary, "that underused resource".

    Here's meaning 1. for fornication:

    adultery, criminal conversation, fornication
    extramarital sex that willfully and maliciously interferes with marriage relations;

    Criminal conversation is interesting, and accords with your idea of fornication meaning sexual intercourse not sanctioned by law. Can you mean that sex with a minor is fornication, where sex between consenting adults of opposite sex (homosexuality is illegal in some countries) is not? Or perhaps you meant a particular sort of law, of the kind suggested by the word criminal in the expression criminal conversation -- raises lovely images of fornicatory discussions of how best to raid a bank.
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    ...........with your idea of fornication meaning sexual intercourse not sanctioned by law. Can you mean that sex with a minor is fornication, where sex between consenting adults of opposite sex (homosexuality is illegal in some countries) is not? Or perhaps you meant a particular sort of law
    Could just mean religious laws............
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Many thanks, Owlman.

    I got the malicious idea from the WR dictionary, "that underused resource".

    Here's meaning 1. for fornication:

    adultery, criminal conversation, fornication
    extramarital sex that willfully and maliciously interferes with marriage relations;

    Criminal conversation is interesting, and accords with your idea of fornication meaning sexual intercourse not sanctioned by law. Can you mean that sex with a minor is fornication, where sex between consenting adults of opposite sex (homosexuality is illegal in some countries) is not? Or perhaps you meant a particular sort of law, of the kind suggested by the word criminal in the expression criminal conversation -- raises lovely images of fornicatory discussions of how best to raid a bank.
    Thanks for the update, Thomas. I'd sure never thought of "fornication" as covering the idea of "maliciously interfering with marriage". I don't read much law, though. :)

    I've always regarded "fornication" as an old-fashioned term. I'd assumed that it was used by communities who frowned on sex between two people who aren't married. Here in the U.S. we usually refer to consensual sex between an adult and a minor as "statutory rape".
     

    uniman

    New Member
    Mandarin
    According to wikipedia, "In modern usage, the term is often used interchangeably with the more secular term premarital sex".

    Hence, fornication = premarital sex.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    According to wikipedia, "In modern usage, the term is often used interchangeably with the more secular term premarital sex".

    Hence, fornication = premarital sex.
    I wouldn't draw your conclusion too firmly, Uniman. I think that it could easily be used for sex between two divorced people, for instance.

    Your wikipedia definition is quite a useful workaday guide, but don't forget that a lot of wikipedia is written by strikingly ignorant people, and therefore needs to be treated with care.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    According to wikipedia, "In modern usage, the term is often used interchangeably with the more secular term premarital sex".

    Hence, fornication = premarital sex.
    Webster's New World Dictionary and the Encarta Dictionary of World English, North American ed., both have definitions which agree with this.

    Encarta also says

    in the Bible, sexual intercourse between a man and woman who are not married, or any form of sexual behavior considered to be immoral.
    I would expect, then, that when speaking of moral matters some speakers influenced by the Biblical usage will not limit the term to sex between a man and woman who are not married.
     
    Last edited:

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    But if a widower/divorcee went at it every night with a string of girlfriends, none of whom he intended to marry, he would also be fornicating, wouldn't he?
    I can't get rid of the sense "excess" in the word fornication. One quick experience wouldn't really qualify as fornication, would it?
     
    Last edited:

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    But if a widow/divorcee went at it every night with a string of girlfriends, none of whom he intended to marry, he would also be fornicating, wouldn't he?
    I can't get rid of the sense "excess" in the word fornication. One quick experience wouldn't really qualify as fornication, would it?
    A widow and a divorcée are both women, so I would say that by the definition I gave above somewhere she would be fornicating.

    A widower and a divorcé are both men. In the case you describe, they would also be fornicating.

    In the vernacular, it would seem that excess or promiscuity has something to do with fornication. This is not the case in the limited context I discussed. (It's not the only word that means one thing to specialists and another to layfolk.)
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    A widow and a divorcée are both women, so I would say that by the definition I gave above somewhere she would be fornicating.
    A widower and a divorcé are both men. QUOTE]

    In English a divorced man is called a divorcee, and so is a divorced woman (no accent on the E).
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    Hi Mplsray,

    They both include among their definitions sex outside marriage, that is a more comprehensive term than sex before marriage (which excludes sex after marriage, with people other than your husband or wife, among other things), so I may have misunderstood you, for I can't agree.
    I did a search for "premarital sex," and found that it is indeed used for "sex outside of marriage," not limited to what you suggest--it is an idiom, in other words. For that reason, I thought the two dictionary entries agreed with the post to which I was replying.

    See, for example, this Wikipedia article.

    Also this article (in pdf form and in html), written by a Catholic priest, where "premarital sex" is identified as a euphemism for "fornication."

    Addition: The Wikipedia article points out that "Premarital sex ... is generally used in reference to individuals who are presumed not yet of marriageable age, or between adults who will presumably marry eventually, but who are engaging in sexual activity prior to marriage." and I agree with this assessment. But the use of "generally" leaves open the possibility that it can be used in the sense "sexual intercourse between adults who are not married."
     
    Last edited:

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm not certain that excess necessarily comes into it. I remember rather a long time ago having dinner with a couple who turned up late at the restaurant and gave as their explanation that they'd spent the afternoon fornicating. They certainly didn't seem to think they had overindulged in any way, though I think they'd also had a few drinks, and that their explanation was put forward to shock more than to inform. Most of the other dinner guests needed no informing. The shock, such as it was, would have been provided, I suppose, by the view, held by some, that fornication was wrong, and, if not wrong, at least private, and so certainly not someting to brag about.
     

    Majorbloodnock

    Senior Member
    British English
    Personally, I take a fairly wide view of the word. My interpretation is that fornication covers any act of copulation which occurs outside marriage. To me, this includes acts of adultery, sex between unmarried people and homosexual sex, whether just one instance or a week-long orgy.

    That said, it implies to me that the person using the word is concentrating heavily on the sexual act and largely disregarding the emotional aspect. It is that lack of feeling I find sordid, rather than the act itself, and to me it generally reflects badly on the person using the word; the exception to that is when it is used in a purely unemotional context such as a law court or, as happened here, a neutral discussion about language.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top