Many people assume the Bible has just one message about sex: Don't do it.

But a careful reading of the Holy Scriptures reveals a much more nuanced, complex approach to physical intimacy.

Adultery, incest, prostitution, virginity, rape, ways to please a spouse, advice about frequency of sex, homosexuality, polygamy, masturbation, menstruation and nocturnal emissions--they're all there.

Some figures, like King David, break the rules and still are portrayed positively. And one whole book, Song of Solomon, celebrates erotic love between a man and a woman.

"When I studied the Bible, I was surprised to discover a much more positive view of sexuality than I had ever known," says Debra Haffner, a former sexologist who is now studying to be a Unitarian Universalist minister in New York City. "It wasn't what I was taught in Sunday school growing up."

The book, revered as scripture by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, celebrates sexual love as a source of intimacy and pleasure that needs to be exercised carefully, lest it be a source of pain and distress, says Haffner, past president of SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States).

Indeed, more and more people are turning to the Bible and their own religious traditions for help with sexual relationships.

Last year, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote "Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy," which draws its lessons from the Bible.

"Unlike other religious traditions, Judaism has never had a prudish or conservative sexual ethic," Boteach writes in the book's introduction.

For example, Boteach says that the ancient rabbis "made female orgasm an obligation incumbent on every Jewish husband. No man was allowed to use a woman merely for his own gratification."

In a similar vein, a recent book about sex aimed at Mormons has been flying off the shelves.

"Between Husband & Wife--Gospel Perspectives on Marital Intimacy," by Stephen E. Lamb and Douglas E. Brinley, has sold more than 70,000 copies, even outselling "Standing for Something," the recent book by LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, in LDS-owned Deseret Book stores.

Though the book is liberally sprinkled with churchy advice from LDS presidents and apostles, Lamb, a Salt Lake City obstetrician, and Brinley, a Brigham Young University church history professor, also offer candid advice about such issues as the importance of foreplay and female orgasm, as well as problems such as painful sex, endometriosis and premature ejaculation, sex during pregnancy and postpartum, impotence, and differing expectations regarding how often to have intercourse.

One obvious omission is any straightforward discussion of oral sex, which is only alluded to in a section on using restraint and "unnatural behavior."

But the overall message is clear--even revolutionary--for some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: God intends married couples to enjoy sexual intimacy.

That idea began in the Bible. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were blissfully naked and chaste but commanded by God "to multiply and replenish the Earth."

After they were expelled from the Garden for disobeying God by "eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil," the Bible says that "Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived, and bare Cain."

There are several biblical terms for sex, according to "A Dictionary of Sex in the Bible," an online publication by Ronald L. Ecker.

Old Testament writers use the verb bo ("to enter" or "to go into" ) or the euphemisms "to lie with" (yashav) and "to know" (yada). "To know" in this sense is subsequently found also in Greek, as ginosko, Ecker writes.

It is not clear how many times Adam and Eve had sex after that, but the account in Genesis says "Adam begat sons and daughters" for 800 more years.

Clearly, procreation was a concern for the early Hebrews, says the Rev. Charles Henderson, a Presbyterian minister in New York who has written extensively about sexuality and religion.

"The Bible was written at a time when the people of Israel and Judea were not very numerous. They were surrounded by larger, more powerful countries, so naturally they had a profound concern for the size of the population," Henderson says. "Much of what one might call a biblical perspective on sexuality has to do with an overarching concern for procreation."

Further, the science of that day and time was primitive.

"Male semen was thought to be all that was necessary to produce life," Henderson says

. "The woman was merely a holding place for the male 'seed.'"

Women also were viewed as property. Thus, while a woman was required to be faithful to her husband, in the Old Testament a married man could have sex outside of marriage and not be an adulterer.