Both English and U.S. laws derived from religious rules about sodomy. In 1683, Pennsylvania called sodomy an "unnatural sin," and New Jersey declared it among "offenses against God." By 1960, all U.S. states had laws in place against sodomy.
Since then, most states have repealed sodomy laws, though 14 states maintain laws banning it either between homosexuals or between both homosexuals and heterosexuals. For many religions, the question of whether sexual acts that do not result in procreation are allowed is still a hot issue. Here's a look at what the major faiths say about non-procreative sexual acts.
Jewish laws about non-procreative sex usually stem from the biblical story of Onan, in Genesis, when Onan sleeps with his dead brother's wife but doesn't ejaculate. Instead he "spilt the seed on the ground," so as not to give his brother offspring, and God slew Onan for spilling his seed. Some strict Jewish interpretations use this as reference for banning all sexual acts that don't lead to procreation, such as masturbation, oral sex, and anal sex.
But more liberal Jewish interpretations see Onan's crime not as spilling his seed but as refusing to father offspring for his deceased brother, and deliberately withdrawing from his sister-in-law for that purpose, thereby using another person sexually in the process. Judaism strongly encourages sex for pleasure (within the context of marriage). Therefore Onan's crime does not necessarily prohibit all non-procreative sex acts. As Rabbi Shmuley Boteach writes in "Kosher Sex," ".in oral sex the purpose is not to destroy seed. Rather it is to try something new and pleasurable, something that will cause husband and wife to increase their dependency on each other, and lessen their dependency on strangers. To repeat: Judaism opposes the willfull destruction of seed, but not sexual practices that may sometimes involve the spilling of seed, but which are pursued for purposes of pleasuring husband and wife."
Though strict Jewish law prohibits sodomy, many interpret Jewish laws about non-procreative sex to be less prohibitive, because the sexual pleasure of both man and woman are so important.
Catholicism teaches that sexual intimacy is a gift to married heterosexual couples; God intended for them to "experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit." The Church teaches that sex has two ends: "The good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life." These two meanings--which Catholic doctrine calls the "unitive" and "procreative" functions of sex--"cannot be separated."
The Catechism says homosexual acts "are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved" (more).
Christianity teaches that sexual union between husband and wife is primarily for procreation, though sexual pleasure is important as well. The bible prohibits homosexual sex and sodomy, though it is mostly silent on heterosexual sodomy. Conservative Christians teach that sodomy is wrong and that any homosexual acts are deviant. As biblical scholar Ben Witherington writes, " Not all forms of sexual sharing, even between consenting adults, can be affirmed as either good or "normal", however "natural" certain desires may seem." Many Christian denominations, however, have more liberal stances toward homosexuality, allowing gay clergy and ordaining gay marriage.
Mormons believe sex is sacred and is primarily a procreative act. Former Latter-Day Saints President Spencer W. Kimball has written: "The union of the sexes, husband and wife (and only husband and wife), was for the principal purpose of bringing children into the world. Sexual experiences were never intended by the Lord to be a mere plaything or merely to satisfy passions and lusts." He continues, "There are some people who have said that behind the bedroom doors anything goes. That is not true and the Lord would not condone it." More on Mormonism and sexuality.
Buddhists generally believe that all sexual desire is something to overcome, like other forms of attachment. Buddhists do not believe that humans have an obligation to procreate, and celibacy is seen by many Buddhist traditions as a step on the path to enlightenment. Buddhist teaching doesn't normally distinguish between what type of sex is appropriate and what is not, though some believe Buddhism prohibits oral and anal sex. The Buddha did not teach about homosexuality or homosexual behavior. Although the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhism leader, has made statements against homosexual relationships and has said that lesbian and gay sex is "sexual misconduct," many Buddhists interpret Buddhism as more accepting of homosexuality than other religions.
Hinduism does not have specific laws about sodomy, but the tradition does teach that sex is primarily for procreation. According to Hinduism Today, "Hinduism neither condones nor condemns birth control, sterilization, masturbation, homosexuality, petting, polygamy or pornography."
Traditional Islam prohibits sodomy, both between heterosexual couples and members of the same sex. As one hadith explains, "Allah (SWT) will not look at the man who commits sodomy with a man or a woman" (Sahih Al-Tirmithi). Muslims who interpret the Qur'an and hadith strictly believe Islam condemns homosexuality and considers it a deviant act.