From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Fornication, or simple fornication, is a term which refers to consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other, basically a hit and run.. In contrast adultery is consensual sex where one or both of the partners are married to someone else.
The origin of the word derives from Latin. The word fornix means "an archway" or "vault" (in Rome, prostitutes could be solicited there). More directly, fornicatio means "done in the archway"; thus a euphemism for prostitution.
Etymology and usage
In the late 4th century, the Latin Vulgate, a Latin translation of the Greek texts, translated the term as fornicati, fornicatus, fornicata, and fornicatae. The 1611 King James Version used the term fornication. Other translations have used terms such as whoredom, sexual immorality (e.g., Matthew 19:9) or simply immorality.
In Latin, the term fornix means arch or vault. In Ancient Rome, prostitutes waited for their customers out of the rain under vaulted ceilings, and fornix became a euphemism for brothels, and the Latin verb fornicare referred to a man visiting a brothel. The first recorded use in English is in the Cursor Mundi, c. 1300; the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records a figurative use as well: "The forsaking of God for idols". Fornicated as an adjective is still used in botany, meaning "arched" or "bending over" (as in a leaf). John Milton plays on the double meaning of the word in The Reason of Church-Government Urged against Prelaty (1642): "[She] gives up her body to a mercenary whordome under those fornicated [ar]ches which she cals Gods house."
- For a broad overview, see Religion and sexuality.
In the New Testament, fornication is the word used to translate the Greek word porneia into English. In Ancient Greek, the word porneia meant "sexual immorality" or "sexual perversions". It was often used as a blanket term to encompass all sexual activity and even sexual thoughts that were considered unrighteous. Early Christians understood this word to encompass activities such as: prostitution, adultery, homosexuality, incest, and bestiality. Modern fundamentalist Christians tend to prefer the modern meaning of the word as premarital sex, or will even choose to broaden the term to also include actvities such as masturbation and pornography. Progressive Christians tend to limit the interpretation of the word to illegal sexual activities such as incest, prostitution, and pedophilia.
The laws on fornication have historically been tied with religion and the legal and political traditions within the particular jurisdiction. In the common law countries (England, USA, Canada, Australia, etc.), the Courts were never interested in punishing subjects for purely private moral deviations - even incest - although sodomy was an exception. What laws did exist were purely statutory. In many other countries, however, there have been attempts to secularize constitutions, and laws differ greatly from country to country. Most Western countries and some secular Muslim countries like Turkey and Azerbaijan have no laws against fornication if both parties are above the age of consent.
In a handful of countries, most identifying with Islam, fornication is a criminal offence.