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In this article, a top French official is in trouble for sodomizing a maid. Yet, the article says that he forced her to perform oral sex. I always understood sodomy as involving anal as that seemed to be what was going on in Sodom in the Bible. Then I looked at this definition on Onelook.com and found that it includes bestiality.

Did other taboo sex acts just get lumped in with sodomy over the years, or did it include all those from the beginning?

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1  
"Sodomize" also sometimes implies the use of force or coercion, which might be the reason for the word choice here. See education.yahoo.com/reference/dictionary/entry/sodomize –  KitFox May 15 '11 at 2:08
3  
Legal definitions in the U.S. varied widely until they were struck down by in 2003 by the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas. –  NateMPLS May 15 '11 at 3:03
    
For an interesting (and useful) list of what you can do to whom and where - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy_laws_in_the_United_States –  mgb Sep 9 '11 at 3:43
    
If only there were laws about putting one's nose all up in peoples' business. –  horatio Nov 8 '11 at 18:28

5 Answers 5

You probably already know that sodomy is derived from "sin of Sodom" from the Christian Bible story in which God rained fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah for certain reasons.

My understanding is that some interpretations of these reasons are that God's angel messengers were (nearly) raped by the residents, so this meant that God objected to homosexuality. Therefore the "sin of Sodom" was homosexuality, which naturally was further interpreted as anal sex between two men. However, other interpretations might suggest any kind of "unnatural" sex act, including bestiality, oral sex, anal sex between any two people, and pretty much anything that's not missionary-style intravaginal intercourse.

Since what actually constitutes the "sin of Sodom" is open to debate, I imagine the definition of the word sodomy is also pretty fluid.

The dictionary definitions that I have found generally specify sodomy as anal sex, some include oral sex, and some include bestiality. This article has a quick reference as far as legal definitions of sodomy in the US.

I don't know a good history of sodomy, so I hope someone posts one, but I think that it is likely that oral sex and bestiality have been part of the definition since the beginning.

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This makes good sense. I wonder about the town of Sodom way back in Bible times. Did the name of the town have any related meaning back then, or did it develop its negative meaning entirely after the fact? My only issue with your response is your citation of the Slate article. At the end the author makes this bogus claim, "The word "sodomy" itself is something of a misnomer, since the Bible contains no mention of homosexual conduct among the residents of Sodom." You would have to be almost completely Bible ignorant to believe this. But, I know many people are. Anyway, thanks for your answer. –  Captain Claptrap May 15 '11 at 12:59
    
Yes, I noticed that too. I linked to the article merely because it offered some resources for legal definitions, as opposed to dictionary definitions. –  KitFox May 15 '11 at 15:18
    
There was a lot of warring and hostility between Sodom (and some of the other kingdoms in the Jordan River Valley) and the kingdoms that might be thought of as allied with Abraham. It would make sense to me that Sodom was thought of the way we might think of Las Vegas--as Sin City. –  KitFox May 16 '11 at 14:58
    
You could delete the word Christian from your first sentence, as this passage is found in all versions of the Bible. –  TRiG Oct 27 at 21:59

Sodomy most definitely does mean "anal sex" and usually connotes the male-to-male variety.

Origin from Etymonline:

sodomy c.1300, from O.Fr. sodomie, from L.L. peccatum Sodomiticum "anal sex," lit. "sin of Sodom," from L. Sodoma (see Sodom).

NOAD gives a little more info:

ORIGIN Middle English : from medieval Latin sodomia, from late Latin peccatum Sodomiticum ‘sin of Sodom’ (after Gen. 19:5, which implies that the men of Sodom practiced homosexual rape) (see Sodom).

But NOAD also includes this extra tidbit about oral sex:

sodomy |ˈsädəmē| noun sexual intercourse involving anal or oral copulation.

Probably the distinction is blurred; people of a certain era weren't all that clear on what the "sin of Sodom" might mean, and preachers were no doubt loath to explain in detail. So the word probably acquired the extra meaning of "anything that good, church-going folk might construe to be an abomination of the sexual kind." Oral sex would have been included under that rubric.

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the original meaning of sodomy was:

Originally: any form of sexual intercourse considered to be unnatural. Now chiefly: anal intercourse

This word was first used in the 13th century:

1297 R. Gloucester's Chron. (Rolls) 9038 Mid þe vile sunne of sodomye yproued hii were echon.

Even in the early 1900s, it still seems to be used to mean sexual acts besides anal intercourse:

1905 H. B. Lazell Clark & Marshall's Treat. Law of Crimes (ed. 2) ix. v. §461. 706 Sodomy or buggery, which is sexual connection by a man or woman with a brute animal, or connection per anum by a man with any other man, or with a woman, is a felony at common law.

However, by the late 1900s it was used as we use it now--to primarily refer to the acts of anal intercourse:

1980 D. C. Knutsen Homosexality & Law 33 Missouri has reduced consensual sodomy by adults in private from a felony to misdeneanour status.

So the phrase sodomy started out with a very broad definition, which then became more specific as time went on. As Kith mentioned, the only "good" type of sexual intercourse would have been heterosexual inter-vaginal missionary intercourse.

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"...the only 'good' type of sexual intercourse would have been heterosexual inter-vaginal missionary intercourse." Also, it had to be for the purposes of procreation. –  KitFox Nov 8 '11 at 17:12

From Wikipedia

The precise sexual acts meant by the term sodomy are rarely spelled out in the law, but are typically understood by courts to include any sexual act deemed unnatural... These acts typically include oral sex, anal sex and bestiality

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I think originally it might have been meant to describe any sexual act between two people or man and/or woman and animal that could not result in procreation of humans.

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