Sex Taboos

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Even in societies where frequent sexual activity between spouses is regarded as desirable, sexual relations are prohibited under some circumstances. Sex taboos are present in 60% of the 70 cultures for which evidence is available with specific categories of people, or at certain ages, stages, or crises in life (Broude, 1975).

In some societies, sexual activity is prohibited during certain times of the day. The Cuna of Panama approve of sexual relations only at night in accordance with the laws of God (Broude, 1994). The Semang of Malaysia believe that sex during the day will cause thunderstorms and deadly lightning, leading to the drowning not only of the offending couple but also of other innocent people (Murdock, 1936). And the West African Bambara believe that a couple who engage in sex during the day will have an albino child (Paques, 1954).

Sometimes, sex is prohibited in certain places. The Mende of West Africa forbid sexual intercourse in the bush (Little, 1951), while the Semang condemn sex within camp boundaries for fear that the supernatural will become angry (Murdock, 1936). Among the Bambara, engaging in sexual relations out of doors will lead to the failure of the crops (Paques, 1954).

Sex taboos can also apply to certain activities. Often, sex prohibitions are associated with war or economic pursuits. The Ganda of Uganda forbid sexual intercourse the night before battle if the fighting is likely to be protracted (Roscoe, 1911). The Lepcha prohibit sex for 3 months after a bear trap has been set. If the taboo is broken, no animals will be caught (Gorer, 1938). The Cuna of Panama outlaw sexual intercourse during a turtle hunt (Broude, 1994), the Yapese of Oceania prohibit sex during a fishing excursion (Hunt et al., 1949), and among the Ganda of Uganda, sex is forbidden while the wood for making canoes is being processed (Broude, 1994). Ganda women may not engage in sexual intercourse while they are mourning the dead (Broude, 1994), and Kwoma men are prohibited from engaging in sexual activity after a cult ceremony has been held (Whiting, 1941). The Jivaro of Ecuador refrain from engaging in sex after someone has died, after planting narcotics, when preparing a feast, or after an enemy has been killed (Broude, 1994).

Sex taboos can also apply to certain categories of people. The Marshallese prohibit sex with a person taking or dispensing herbal medicine or else the sick person will become worse and perhaps die (Broude, 1994). The Yapese comdemn sex for all religious figures (Hunt, Schneider, & Stevens, 1949).

Sexual relations may also be forbidden at certain times of life. Some societies prohibit sex until a person reaches puberty or has undergone an initiation rite. Sexual relations are often prohibited while a woman is menstruating or pregnant or after she has given birth. Sex taboos during menstruation are reported in 20% of a sample of 44 societies. In the 117 societies for which a post-partum sex taboo is reported, the prohibition lasts for under a year in 80% and for over a year in the remaining 20% (Broude, 1975).

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