Difference between Fornication and Adultery | Morality and facts

Difference between fornication and adultery

A sexual affair refers to physical relationship between two individuals. The difference between fornication and adultery can be seen from different standpoints. Major religions have forbidden all sexual experience between men and women without getting married. On the other hand, many cultures have already accepted premarital and extramarital affairs as common practices.

Study shows, by the age of 20, almost 75% of Americans involve themselves in premarital sex. Around 15% of women and 25% of men in the U.S. have had extramarital affairs.

Generally, fornication is consensual sexual affairs between two persons not married to each other, and if one of them is married, it is called adultery.

From the perspective of religious ethics and reality, this article aims to elaborate on fornication vs adultery.

Comparison chart

DefinitionConsensual sexual intercourse between people not married to each other.Consensual sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his/her spouse
Biblical definitionSexual cohabitation outside the bonds of marriageThe man involved in an unethical sexual relationship with a married woman is an adulterer, and such a woman would be called an adulteress.
Marital statusEither married or unmarriedAt least one person is married.
Types in the biblePremarital sex, Prostitution, idolatry, incest, adultery, etcSexual adultery, adultery  without sexual intercourse, and spiritual
ConsequencesDestroys the purity of the bodyHarms the body and breaks the heart

What is fornication?

The term Fornication is connected to sexual activities between man and woman. When we talk of sex in our daily lives, the word fornication we don’t use often. This term is archaic and more used in a legal and biblical context.


Fornication definition

According to the legal definition, fornication is agreeable sexual intercourse between a married/unmarried man and a single woman. 

The word fornication came from the Latin phrase fornix, which means an archway, a vault, or a brothel. In ancient Rome, prostitutes used vault chambers to wait for their customers. However, fornication had a different context in the old days. 

As a modern terminology, fornication merely means sexual activity between a woman and a man who are not married to each other.

What is fornication in the bible?

Most major religions define premarital and extramarital sex as unethical and immorality, and activity against god. When it comes to the bible, this holy book has emphasized fornication and prohibited it in many verses.

“Sex outside of marriage is fornication or sexual immorality” (1 corinthians 7:2-5)

Christianity is bold on sexual ethics. It only allows sexual activity between the husband and the wife. The bible defines fornication as any voluntary sexual activity outside of marriage.

In King James version, the idea of fornication is not only confined within sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who are not married to one another but has expounded adultery and idolatry as acts of fornication too.

Types of fornication

Terms such as living relationships, hook-ups, or casual sex, especially in the western world, are pretty commonly heard in modern days. A man living with a woman without getting married to her and even producing children is not uncommon in many societies. 

When it comes to religious perspectives, these sorts of sexual activities are considered parts of fornication, especially in the bible and Islam. The bible has strictly forbidden any sexual relationship between a man and a woman without getting married. 

Fornication is often mentioned as sexual immorality in the New testament. According to the bible, the practice of prostitution, worshiping idols, and even adultery are shown as types of fornication in many verses. 

However, the difference between fornication and adultery is not that tenuous: the core purpose we are serving in this article.

When comes to Islamic law, it only allows two types of sexual relationships:

  • Relationship between husband and wife
  • Relationship between a man and his concubine

All other intercourses between man and woman are considered Zina: acts strictly prohibited in hadith and Shariah law.

Is fornication a sin?

Experiencing lust and desires are inborn features of any human being. Ethics are standards of right and wrong. What should we do and what we shouldn’t?  

A certain number of ethical bases lead every society. Responding to all physical desires are not accepted everywhere. The concept of sin is connected to religious laws, and it varies from different moral views. 

From most religious contexts, fornication is reckoned as a sin, an act against god. The bible says evil desires shouldn’t drive any human being. Scriptures have thoroughly forbidden fornication and cautioned its followers to restrict any activity that destroys the purity of the body and mind.

“Fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

In the New Testament, st. Paul writes about nine types of people who will not inherit the god’s kingdom.

  • Fornicators
  • Idolaters
  • Adulterers
  • Effeminates
  • Abusers of themselves with mankind
  • Thieves
  • Covetous
  • Drunkards
  • Revilers
  • Extortioners

In Islam, fornication is mentioned as Zina for both men and women. Any kind of Zina is strictly Haram (prohibited) in Islam.

The consequence of fornication in the bible

“God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4)

The bible has strictly forbidden fornication and has warned repeatedly of its dangerous consequences. It says

  • Fornication deprives a person of god’s blessing.
  • No other sin affects the body as fornication does
  • Is ruins the holiness of body and mind
  • Fornication is an evil act, and a person who fornicates becomes evil himself.

Is fornication illegal?

Till 2001, there were almost seven states in the U.S where cohabitation was not legal. The number declined to three in 2016, and currently, in 2020, there are two states (Idaho, Mississippi) that still don’t allow fornication as a legal act. 

Countries like the U.K, China, Canada, India have legality for unmarried cohabitation.  However, states that follow Islamic law (Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc.) or strongly influenced by Islam don’t allow fornication. 

Despite having no legal permission, many countries worldwide are witnessing a booming rate of unmarried cohabitation, especially among young adults.

What is adultery?

Marriage is one of the basic structures in almost all societies. It’s a legal recognition process between two people to have permission to establish a sexual relationship. The term adultery has strong dealing with breaching marital laws. It’s an activity that can break faith and ruin a marriage.


Adultery definition

According to the legal definition, adultery is any consensual sexual activity between a married person and someone who is not his or her wife/husband. 

The term adultery is derived from the Latin word adulterare, which means corrupt, and the old french term adultere meaning “violations of conjugal faith.” 

When a married person involves him/herself in any kind of sexual intercourse other than his/her spouse is against the law of marriage. Either religious or social, the extra-marital affair is still an objectionable activity that most societies don’t allow.

What is adultery in the bible?

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Ten commandments)

According to the bible, the meaning of adultery is marital infidelity. The man who establishes an illicit sexual relationship with a married woman is an adulterer, and such a woman would be called an adulteress. Even if a person divorces his wife and marries another woman is an adulterer, and the man who marries a divorced woman is committing adultery. 

The bible has strictly forbidden any relationship out of marriage. Holy scriptures appraise marriage as a union established by God. If a person breaks the conjugal vow, breaks the unity with God. 

Sexual immorality in Christianity is not only confined to physical activities. The desire for any other person besides the spouse is also seen as adultery. Jesus said, if any man looks at a woman with lust, he commits adultery within his heart.

Types of adultery

There are three types of adultery spoken in the bible.

  • Sexual adultery: If a man involves himself in a sexual relationship with a woman who is not his wife is doing adultery. According to the scriptures, he is an adulterer, and the woman who did the same is an adulteress.
  • Adultery without sexual intercourse: In the book of Isaiah, Peter, and John, the bible speaks on the lust of the eyes. If a man looks at a woman with lust is also an adulterer.
  • Spiritual adultery: Idolatry, covetousness, and apostasy are categorized as spiritual adultery in the bible (Jeremiah 3:6, 8-9; Ezek. 16:32; Hos. 1:2-3; Rev. 2:22).

Is adultery a sin?

In major religions like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, the individual who entails him/herself in an extramarital affair is a sinner. In the New Testament, St. Paul clearly deemed adultery as a sin. When fornication is bold on the destruction of physical purity in the bible, adultery includes a heartbreaking sin.

The consequence of adultery in the bible

The bible prescribes heavy punishment for adultery. In the book of Leviticus, the punishment of adultery is death.  

The book of Proverbs states, a person who commits adultery lacks sense, and it’s an act of self-destruction. 

Anything that is forbidden by God is a sin. Adultery is stated as one of the major sins in Christianity. It ruins a marriage, destroys faith, and breaks the rule of God.

Is adultery illegal?

Is adultery a crime in the eyes of the law? Well, there is no any central answer to that. There are still at least five states in the U.S where adultery is illegal and considered a punishable crime. 

Many European countries had been chasing biblical sexual ethics at least until the 70s. However, Romania is the last European country that decriminalized adultery.

By striking down a 158-year old law, India decriminalized adultery in 2018. 

Countries that are governed by shariah law strictly prohibit adultery. 

Nevertheless, where many countries worldwide socially accept fornication, adultery is still struggling in numerous places.

The key differences between fornication and adultery

  1. Fornication is any consensual intercourse between a man and woman not married to each other. Adultery is when a married person involves himself in a sexual affair other than his/her spouse.
  2. Involved persons could be married or unmarried in fornication. And In adultery, one of the persons is married.
  3. When we speak of sexual cohabitation or premarital sex, it indicates fornication. All extramarital affairs are adultery.
  4. Fornication includes idolatry, prostitution, incest, and even adultery. In the bible, there are three types of adultery: sexual adultery, adultery without sexual intercourse, and spiritual adultery.
  5. Fornication destroys the purity of the body; adultery destroys a marriage and breaks the heart and faith.

Frequently asked questions(FAQs):

Can an unmarried person commit adultery?

Yes, adultery is when at least one of the involved persons is married.

What is the punishment of adultery in the Bible?

The bible prescribes the death penalty for adultery.

What is the punishment for adultery in Islam?

Adultery is mentioned as Zina in Islam. And Zina is a heavily punishable sin according to Islam. If a married man commits adultery with an unmarried woman, both of them shall be stoned to death.


Religions and philosophies have accentuated ethics and norms in order to discover good or bad, right or wrong. The concept of righteousness is vague, especially when it comes to sex. 

The difference between fornication and adultery is minor when we speak from the religious context, as both of them are considered punishable sins. Still, the fact varies based on different cultures and societies.

1 thought on “Difference between Fornication and Adultery | Morality and facts”

  1. Asalamualikum, according to our teaches of Islam whomever Muslim or none Muslim comments adultery or fornication would be under judgment committee which explained in the noble Quran teaches, where they will asked first for who announced that incident should bring (4)four witnesses from men or (8) eight of Wemen that they have seen both the man and the Weman are favoring unlawful intercourse sexual practice alone without having any lawful marriage certificate.

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