Where do sexual taboos come from

I probably used the word in too broad a sense. I was applying it to virtually all taboos that can’t be logically justified, not just those from a puritanical tradition in the U.S. My previous post should help clarify this.

By their nature social rules tend to control and resist change, but your statement implies that they are deliberately so, which is not necessarily the case. Of course I’m talking about traditional values, not written laws.

Since we’re taking about where values come from, we have to imagine people who have no prior indoctrination and ask what they might institute based on pure self-interest. My best guess is that males wouldn’t find such taboos attractive.

If you think the taboos we have now (or sometime when you were growing up) are just about ideal, I won’t try to argue with you. You might still agree that Muslim taboos or 19th century taboos were too strong. If so, where did they come from?

A purpose best for everybody or just for the group that promoted them? While most cultures contain many valuable elements, I certainly don’t think they’re universally beneficial. If they were, there would be so many cultural conflicts.

ITR champion

I don’t agree, but my point in this thread isn’t to debate what is appropriate sexual morality, so I’ll let it go at that. My OP was intended mainly for those who agree with me that sexual moral principles are often inappropriate, and given that, would have an interest in how they came to be. I suspect you think they came from God, which would obviously disagree with my hypothesis, but I won’t try to resolve that here.

They come from my sister, who evidently thinks she’s to good to shower with me. :mad:

“They” [the rules] don’t do anything with any kind of deliberation. People do. Those rules are deliberately maintained by the people who practice them until and if such time as they see fit to replace them with different rules.

That’s a tough row to hoe my friend. We’re talking about human beings and it’s pretty impossible to have an entire society where each individual is a tabula rasa. Even language itself is steeped with deep cultural meanings. I suppose our blank male slates might not find such taboos to be attractive. That is until sexual behavior leads to some sort of conflict within the group. That’s when they’ll need mechanisms (rules, taboos, and institutions) in place to prevent conflict in the future.

I didn’t think this thread was really about the taboos I like or dislike just about their origins.

Just a purpose. Maybe it’s best for everyone, maybe just the group that promotes it, or maybe it just isn’t good for any of them. No matter which may be the case the rules serve some sort of function.


I have nothing to add & there’s a good discussion happening, so I just came in for this…

“Auto da fe? What’s an auto da fe?”

It’s what you oughtn’t to do but you do anyway!

Contrary to what most of y’all have said most taboos are not to control women, they are used to control men.

The best thing for a man would be to have sex with a woman and then run off and have sex with another woman, This is good for the individual man but bad for society.

Most taboos are used to control men so that the only sexual outlet they have is within a marriage. No masturbation, no homosexual sex, no affairs.

Marriage is actually a bad deal for a man. It is a contract where a man gives up money and hard work which is in limted supply for sex which women have in unlimited quantites.

Marriage is good for society in general not for individual men.

Interesting how y’all went with the feminist doctrine that women are oppressed in all things.

What I see is that cultural rules (traditions, assumptions) are passed down from generation to generation mindlessly without regard to whether they are true or beneficial. I don’t think of this as deliberate – I think of it as mindless. Rules like: you can’t eat pork (Jewish), you can’t eat beef (Hindu), you can’t eat meat on Friday (Catholic), enslaving black people is OK, women aren’t qualified to vote, gays are perverts, kings are selected by God. It’s true, and perhaps this is your point, that at some point people may recognize one of the many assumptions of their culture is harmful and eventually overturn it after a bitter battle with the traditionalists. But what I see is that many cultural principles persist for hundreds or thousands of years after they have outlived whatever their original purpose was, yet people will defend them fervently.

At some point in prehistory humans hadn’t yet developed language, which pretty much eliminates the kind of culture we’re talking about, so there was a beginning when there was actually a cultural tabula rasa. Now we’re probably concerned with more recent cultural developments, but even so, if they are changes from what went before, they aren’t based on the prior culture. So they must be based on something else, and that would seem to be culturally independent self-interest.

It seems plausible that male leaders would sometimes make up sexual restrictions for the sake of order, but by and large I doubt they were the ones to instill and pass along values (warped or not). This would traditionally have been women’s stuff. “Proper people don’t do this.” “You don’t want to be like that tramp Delilah.” “Don’t touch yourself there, that’s disgusting.” “That guy’s a creep.” “Don’t be like those disgusting Christians” (likely to be heard in Somalia). My guess is that mothers have been instilling stuff like this in their kids since the dawn of time, and it’s subtle. It’s not usually a straightforward assertion like “Girls who wear tight robes are immoral” which might be questioned as true or false. Instead it’s more like “look at that slut in her tight outfit.” It’s taken for granted that everyone knows she’s a slut. Children buy this stuff and never question it. Specific laws made by male leaders are more easily questioned since they’re out there for examination. Values we have been raised with just seem like the natural order of things, so we rarely think to question them.

Males have been using violence to control female sexuality long before we walked upright. Male chimps will sometimes violently beat up female chimps who don’t do as they please or who are known to fuck other males. The reason why lots of chimp sex occurs in private is not due to prudishness, but due to the fact that one or more partner might be at risk of damage from another partner.

The reason why males are more violent and controlling of female sexuality overtly in most non-human primates that have such things is that they do not have paternity certainty, while the females do. Male chimps and baboons (and others) will sometimes form ‘consortships’ with females where they will take them off on a ‘honeymoon’ type thing and try to have exclusive sexual contact with this. Male chimps enforce this with violence on occasion (I’ve seen pictures of the females–it ain’t pretty), while male baboons have a harder time controlling the females.

Not to say that women don’t control sexuality to a degree, but based upon what I’ve seen and studied, I say that older, powerful males were the most influential ones in creating sexual taboos. There are those inborn such an incest (which males are more likely to break and females more likely to enforce), but a lot of it just comes out of the culture that develops. The reason why certain taboos develop depends on the cultural conditions.

Older, powerful males don’t just control female sexuality, but young male sexuality. There is a reason why circumcision in a lot of cultures happens not at birth but at puberty–its a great way to knock your competition out of the way. Young males may be forced into armies, or placed in schools, or sent on ‘manhood’ quests and other things designed to keep them away from women.

As for older women unable to stop their husbands from philandering:

One, we lived in small tribes were it wasn’t too easy to philander around. Not that people didn’t, but the likely hood that men were having lots of children they couldn’t support was very unlikely.

Two, human babies require A LOT of attention and supervision. Not to mention that, due to our long lactation and interbirth period, males gain a ton from committing infanticide and hooking up with a female who can produce more children. Just like with capuchin monkeys, human males have a vested interest to stick around with a female who has produced children with them for long enough until the child becomes self-sufficient. Not only does he have more paternity certainty, but he also can protect that child from other males. Human females also have concealed ovulation which makes it more difficult for a man to philander around and be genetically successful.

Three, women may use less physical violence, but women do have ways to stop males who are acting annoying through social pressures.

Four, why do you assume that an older male is more likely to have sexual partners compared to an equally aged female? Such constructions only develop in certain type of societies and were not true for most of our evolutionary history.

I see a lot of you assuming that males desire sex more. There is no evidence to back that up.

Females can gain a lot from promiscuity. It is advantageous for a woman to have sex with multiple men–not only to produce offspring, but also for the other benefits gained. It’s just in their best interest to not get caught doing so.

Repression of sexuality does not lead to more enlightened societies and less cheating. If that were true, we wouldn’t see all these republicans caught in sexual scandals and the most conservative states having the highest porn subscriptions. The fact of that matter is, that life-long bonds with one partner are very, very rare and have been. We are a species that tends towards monogamy–but its serial monogamy. It was the capitalistic system that required people to move very far from their families that resulted in less than ideal child raising situations. A strong bond between two biological parents who raise one child consistently is not necessary or as good as a whole small tribe of interrelated individuals who all take an interest to a child and teach him/her.

For evidence that human males are very interested in controlling female sexuality, just look at who commits honor killings. Look at who reacts more publicly to females in revealing clothing. Look at all-male or mostly male message boards where any female who expresses interest in sexuality is labeled a slut/whore. I could go on.

I don’t think prostitution was illegal in Rome, and there was certainly porn on the walls of places men went. Christianity drove it underground. Paul was not a hypocrite - he really did hate sex. I wonder how Christianity would have evolved if someone slightly more normal took his role.

I can’t understand why there weren’t a legion of feminists, then. First, boys take after other men as role models. Second, women aren’t immune from social pressure. Look at the Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women who buy into the oppressive customs. Third, if it became clear that a man was stepping out, would a mother attack the father from her position of weakness, or justify it as something men do. Just look at the wives of politicians standing by their man - until Mrs. Sanford, that is.
The real moral code doesn’t look like something women had a lot of control over.

You think there really is a taboo against it in private? For almost all men, admitting you never masturbated would be more shameful than admitting you did. The religious sex outside of marriage haters have to claim it is sinful to be consistent. It is an actual taboo in public.

Oh, yeah, absolutely. It’s pretty much faded away these days, but up until, say, the ‘50s? Huge fuckin’ deal. And have you ever seen any of the devices that were marketed in the 19th century to prevent masturbation? They’re the sort of thing that Torquemada would look at and say, “That’s all kinds of fucked up.”

Why is it good for him? And wouldn’t these women also be sleeping with multiple men, or are there 10 virgin girls for every warrior in this society? (And then what’s done with the girls once they are defiled?)

Which of these taboos are not also taboo for women? The only reason I’ve observed for them being less prominent seems to be that because women’s sexuality isn’t real, or because it’s dependent on men, they’re not needed (e.g. women don’t masturbate so it doesn’t need to be forbidden, lesbian sex has no penis involved so it doesn’t have to be outlawed, etc.).

Which societies are these? The ones where men have years added to their lives when they marry, the ones where, at least until recently, they could count on hot meals in a clean house when they arrived home from work? (Granted, you could argue that they wouldn’t need to work so much if they didn’t have a family to support – but then women of the past wouldn’t need to find a man to work and support them had they been granted full citizens’ rights and access to the working world).

I don’t know about the '50s, but in the early '60s the taboo wasn’t observed about private cases. As for the devices, I suspect not many were actually used. Parents trying to suppress their children’s sexuality is a lot different from an effective taboo.

Well that’s a great theory but where’s your evidence?

This sounds reasonable but that doesn’t mean women, or, more specifically mothers, are primarily responsible for sexual taboos.


Yeah, this is something I noticed as well but chose not to address. In western Europe during the 17th century it was the female who thought to be more sex crazy than the male. Didn’t make it true but that’s what the prevailing belief seemed to be. We seem to have reversed that belief making males out to be sex crazed fools while women don’t necessarily want it as much as we do.


How do you figure?

Interesting points.

Is your point that older women don’t have any reason to be concerned about younger women diverting their husband’s attention? I don’t find that plausible. While they may have some other defenses, that certainly doesn’t eliminate the threat.

I’m not sure I understand your point, but it seems to me that men are primarily interested in sex rather than procreation. I think that’s the strategy our genes take – go for as much sex as possible and procreation will take care of itself. There are some cultures where males get status from big families but this seems to be a cultural thing, not a biological urge.

That’s not exactly a point I made, and I don’t see how you could know it wasn’t true in the past. My impression is that studies have shown men in almost all cultures prefer younger women to older (interestingly, male chimps apparently prefer older females). Perhaps in some cultures women would scorn older men equally, but since men are more useful for their resources than their fertility, I doubt that would be common. Perhaps it would be true in cases where men were mainly useful as bodyguards. Younger women who dally with older men aren’t necessarily doing it to get pregnant, but might mainly want gifts or attention.

I wish you were right, but I don’ t think so. First, biologically it makes more sense for men to want sex more. A man who gets around can have a lot more offspring than one who stays at home, while a woman is pretty much limited to a child a year or less. In terms of actual observations, it seems that men pursue sex far more than women. I think men almost all masturbate regularly if they’re not having regular sex, where only maybe half of women do. It’s possible that this is entirely due to cultural pressures (and I’m sure it partly is), but I am pessimistic.

That’s true, but it’s mainly the unmarried ones without children that benefit. Older married mothers are less successful this way and have more to lose.

Honor killings have to do with social status and whether a wife’s family has paid a dowry, and has nothing to do with sex. Looking at women has nothing to do with control. I don’t recall seeing any message boards as you describe, but at least with the men I know, few are interested in insulting women for being interested in sex. My feeling is that women are more interested in denouncing other women for being sexual than men are, though that may have diminished thanks to feminism.

That’s why it’s bad for society, because it becomes a rat race for men to become ever bigger cads and not invest in family formation - in a de facto polygamous society, the losers become involuntary celibates. Monogamy turns this sexual free market into a cartel, with men limited to one partner each, and requires even the biggest would-be stud to stick to one family and invest in its success. A great part of the decay of black inner cities is the breakdown of this system, in which case you have a lot of single moms raising kids without male assistance, and a violent competition between men to be the biggest alpha male.

Monogamy, if you think about it, is socialist.

My impression is probably based on the Bible. I think prostitutes were eligible for stoning to death even in the OT. Perhaps cultures other than the Hebrews weren’t so concerned. It would be interesting to know. True, porn did predate photography, but I would think it’s erotic potential would be pretty weak. I suspect those carved “fertility symbols” they sometimes find were a form of porn.

I’m not claiming that women (mothers) had any overt power. They have influence because what they tell children does have an important influence on future generations. They weren’t intentionally trying to make any change. They had no concept of feminism. All they needed to do was grouse about the behavior of younger, prettier women in front of the kids, and over many generations this would have a major effect on the culture. Other women, the unmarried or childless ones, may have had entirely different concerns (probably more feminist), but they didn’t have children to mold, so their ideas had little or no influence on future generations.