Except for some conservative countries (just a few, it’s true), where someone can end up arrested, taken to the Police station and officially charged for cheating his other half, the world enjoys a more “merciful” sexual liberty, as long as it doesn’t affect the rights, the integrity and the peace of mind of the others. After centuries of restrictions and censorship, finally a point in history was reached, where the only supreme courts to ask for explanations on how someone uses his penis or vagina, are the husband/wife and possibly... the operating mother-in-law.
But things haven’t always been rosy.
Sex and its action places have always created problems to society. Not because people would feel the need to establish jointly which is the best sex position, but in terms of authorities’ involvement in private life.
Since ancient times, there have been laws to control population’s behavior. Every civilization has developed norms for “good behavior” in private, accompanied by appropriate sanctions for the disobedient ones (rules automatically create obligations).
From a certain point of view, these measures are justified. Unlike the economy market or the morning erection, social order doesn’t happen by itself. It has to be and it usually is created according to a plan based on the attitudes, beliefs and dominant interests at a given time.
In ancient Babylon, for example, respecting the property rights the parents had on their children or husbands on their wives was an almost sacred matter. Thus, all normative efforts were directed to it. Legal codes developed by the kings in those times (2100 - 1700 BC) state that adultery was severely “rewarded”, with death.
A huge price for a few moments of pleasure, isn’t it? Well, the Assyrians, the Jews, the Greeks or the Romans (to some extent) also considered illicit love as a real crime, a serious infringement that had to be punished as such: using coercive measures that involved deprivation of liberty, torture or, as already mentioned, accelerating the arrival of the Grim Reaper.
Infidels literally risked their heads if they abandoned themselves to the temptations of the flesh. A gloomy and hard to accept outlook today.
In other cases, the laws (like those of the Anglo-Saxon king Ethelbert), proved a bigger tolerance and understanding for carnal mistakes (they didn’t stipulate death, only fines for men who’d “appropriate” the widows, slept with maids or had love affairs with women from lower social classes, not to mention those who’d pair with other men’s wives.
On the other hand, the code of Alfred the Great (the Anglo-Saxon king of the Wessex kingdom, during 871 - 899), allowed every male to kill the lover of his wife, daughter, sister or mother, if he caught him in the act.
Another interesting example is the code of King Knut (1016 - 1035), which prohibited married people to have love affairs with their own slaves and stipulated that adulterers should be publicly shamed and also left without properties.
Other punishments consisted of cutting the ears or the nose. Christians also had great imagination in dealing with infidels, incestuous, zoophile or homosexuals who, if not tortured, were killed and vice versa. Moreover, priests’ daughters caught in erotic acts were burned alive (together with their partners) and the loving couples during menstruation were “destroyed in the middle of their people”.
However, people continued to listen to their instincts, the Church continued to compellably “purify” its parishioners and the sun continued to rise peacefully upon the world.
Around 1.100, from the infinite bounty of the Clergy emerged some new sanctions against marital fickleness, promiscuity and prostitution. Among other things, they stipulated that prostitutes, infidels or “fornicator” priests should find their “salvation” in a series of public cages, specially designed and positioned in central squares. And this was not all! The convicted people were transported around town, dressed in “shameful” clothes, flogged, shaved heads, and finally exiled. With godly love, of course.
Over time, the Church harsh policy has become more temperate and physical punishments were replaced with fines, “morality” being defeated by the temptation to make a huge profit thanks to the outlaws. A convenient business for everyone.
Modernity has brought about major mentality changes and the population got rid of the intrusion of the “ecclesiastical forums” in their personal matters. At the same time, there was a higher level of acceptance of sexual minorities, diversity related to intimate motivations and desires and of “extravagant” experiments behind the closed doors of the bedrooms.
As for the intensely blamed adultery, although continuing to be illegal in many religious or laic states, not all of them turn theory into practice. Nowadays, the “opportunity” to end up pulseless, homeless, carless or organ less (especially sexual ones) on grounds of sexual cheating, is mainly interesting for those with vengeful partners and suspicious tendencies.
Only if they fail to properly disguise themselves.