For the Amish, sex is reserved for marriage, meant for purposes of procreation. But Amish still deal with the same issues surrounding sexuality that the rest of the world does.
Sexual abuse, sex education, contraception, homosexuality, sex before marriage, and related issues are all things that Amish must face as well. How do they deal with matters of sexuality in a conservative, traditional religious culture? Read on for answers to questions on the Amish and sexuality.
Questions on Amish sexuality
- Do Amish use birth control?
- Are there gay Amish?
- What are “Amish sex rules”?
- Is sex education taught in Amish schools?
- Do Amish have sex before marriage?
- Does inbreeding happen in Amish communities?
- Does sexual abuse occur in Amish communities?
- Are there Amish polygamists?
Can Amish use birth control?
Amish officially oppose artificial methods of birth control, basing their beliefs on Biblical principles and the injunction to “be fruitful and multiply” found in Genesis 9:7, among other places.
However, this does not mean that all Amish abstain from using birth control, including natural methods of family planning as well as barrier methods. Some studies have shown a declining average family size, suggesting that in some communities, there may be a gradual increase in acceptance of contraception. More on the Amish & birth control.
Are there gay Amish?
Amish feel strongly that homosexual relations are sinful. Gay individuals within the community may seek counseling or otherwise keep their preferences secret. Open homosexuality is not condoned or seen among the Amish. The same goes for individuals of transgender or other LGBTQ identities.
Gender roles are distinct and traditionally “male” and “female” in Amish culture, with the traditional nuclear family the main building block of Amish society. Gay individuals may struggle in Amish society. Those with same-sex attraction may in turn end up leaving the community. Read more on the Amish and homosexuality.
What are “Amish sex rules”?
The term “Amish sex rules” simply refers to conservative traditional beliefs and behaviors regarding sexuality. As a conservative Christian group, the Amish do not condone premarital sex, or casual sex. Sexual intercourse outside of marriage is considered a sin. Homosexual relations are also out of bounds (more on that below).
Amish take their cues from the Bible when it comes to sexuality. The Amish are human, so these rules or standards are broken from time to time. Adultery is expected to be confessed to the church, as are other sexual sins. For example, Amish couples who have had sex before marriage, are expected to confess their behavior before being married in the church.
Is sex education taught in Amish schools?
No, Amish schools do not provide formal sex education. In Amish Society, John A. Hostetler writes that “adults purposely ignore any mention of the subject, especially in the presence of children. Very little sex instruction is given to the ordinary Amish child.”
Amish children and youth learn about the birds and the bees informally. Hostetler adds that “the child acquires gradually, piece by piece, an elementary knowledge of the process of biological reproduction. The Amish child most certainly does ask questions about the sexual behaviors of animals on the farm. To satisfy his curiosity, the child more often than not talks such matters over with associates his age” (see Amish Society, p. 160).
Do Amish have sex before marriage?
Yes. As in any community, premarital sex may occur in Amish relationships, sometimes resulting in pregnancy and accelerated or out-of-season weddings. If sexual relations occur out of wedlock, Amish couples may be obliged to make a confession before being baptized or taking marital vows. Premarital sexual relations are considered a sin, and like other sins of a sexual nature it is taken seriously in the community.
Does inbreeding happen in Amish communities?
Some claim that the Amish are inbred. Is this the case? Since the Amish population pool is limited, and few outsiders join the community, it’s not surprising that married couples might be distantly or even more closely related (second cousins, for instance), in some cases.
Amish are aware of the potential hazards of endogamy. In some smaller settlements finding marriage partners for youth can be an issue. With this in mind, Amish youth of courting age may be encouraged to visit other communities. Read more.
Does sexual abuse occur in Amish communities?
There have certainly been cases of sexual abuse in Amish communities. Some have been reported in the media. The nature of this crime occurring in a distinct religious culture like the Amish means it will naturally get more attention. Additionally, ex-Amish people have reported on their own abuse in their former Amish communities, drawing attention to the issue. At the same time, there are occurrences of sexual abuse that go unreported by Amish.
In some cases the matter may be “handled by the church”, meaning church discipline is imposed on an offender, but authorities are not alerted and no one is criminally charged. Some Amish have attempted to improve this approach to reporting. As the Amish are naturally reluctant to involve police, outside bodies have encouraged education and reporting in Amish settlements, with some success in changing attitudes and actions when abuse occurs.
It should also be noted that Amish communities differ. There are over 600 distinct Amish communities and more than 350,000 Amish people. Some reporting suggests that sexual abuse is “rampant” among the Amish. In some dysfunctional communities and families, this may well be the case.
However it does not mean that sexual abuse is widely condoned across Amish society. Encouraging reporting of criminal behavior in order to preserve the safety of victims, while at the same time respecting Amish culture is one way that outsiders have helped to address this issue.
Are there Amish polygamists?
No, polygamy has never been practiced by the Amish. Amish are sometimes confused with other religious groups which have this practice in their history. But the Amish are not, and have never been, polygamists. Interestingly, there is at least one example of polygamy in Anabaptist history, occurring before the Amish emerged from within the Anabaptist movement.
- Cates, James A. Serpent in the Garden: Amish Sexuality in a Changing World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020.
- Hurst, Charles E, and David L. McConnell. An Amish Paradox: Diversity & Change in the World’s Largest Amish Community. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.
- Cates, James A. Serving the Amish: A Cultural Guide for Professionals. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.
- Hostetler, John A. Amish Society. 4th ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.
- Stevick, Richard A. Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.
To Cite this Page: Wesner, Erik J. “Sex.” Amish America. Erik Wesner, 9 Apr. 2015. Web. [Date Accessed]. <https://amishamerica.com/sex/>.
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