Sodomy, Sodomists, and Sodomizing (pt. 3)

Moving on from 1981 to 1982 while looking at ‘sodomy’, interesting changes within the data can be observed. While in 1981, there were 150 hits for the AntConc query ‘sodomy/sodomies’, in 1982, there are 62. After the 1981 reform failure in Washington D.C., the instances where ‘sodomy’ was used as meaning ‘anal (consensual) intercourse’ almost disappear but for these two examples:

  • Under the Robb proposal, people convicted of consentual sodomy would be classified as violent offenders while some types of burglary would be considered nonviolent.[1]
  • Even liberals were disturbed, noting that the Virginia Code classifies unlikely crimes, such as consentual sodomy, as “violent” offenses.[2]

Most other significant collocates reinforce the notion that sodomy means violent and/ or immoral sexual behaviour which is often not specified and, in a majority of cases, linked to other criminal behaviour.

Collocate Frequency LL rank by LL
forcible 4 14.00 2nd
kidnaping [sic] 2 12.00 4th
burglary 5 11.89 5th
robbery 11 11.76 6th
oral 3 11.73 7th
assault 10 11.23 11th
rape 16 11.22 12th


It seems that other topics have [verdrängt] ‘sodomy’ from the newspapers. There are a number of possible domestic and foreign political issues that were probably deemed more important and given vastly more space in the news discourse, such as the Equal Rights Amendment, the Reagonomics Economic Crisis, the Falkland War, the death of USSR leader Leonid Brezhnev, or the debate between proponents and opponents of nuclear disarmament.

In the 1983 data, there is one example that shows the legal definition of ‘sodomy’ for New York:

  • Although the Onofre decision is technically not before the Supreme Court, both sides in this case, N.Y. v. Uplinger (No. 82-1724), told the Justices it would be pointless to consider the loitering issue without deciding whether there is a constitutional right to engage in consensual sodomy, defined in the New York law as oral or anal sex between unmarried people.[3]

Despite that, the 1983 data on ‘sodomy’ again shows a diffuse use of the word. Again, we see examples that point to ‘sodomy’ meaning a range of unspecified illegal sexual behaviour which are often linked with violence. Some relevant collocates for this meaning of ‘sodomy’ are:

Collocate Frequency LL rank by LL
copulation 2 12.72 2nd
unlawful 3 12.13 4th
counts 17 11.87 7th
rape 31 11.74 8th
sexual 8 7.34 53rd


There are, however, some interesting case which again show the diffuse diversity of possible meanings of ‘sodomy’. One of these is ‘commit’.

  • Warren was convicted after a four-week trial in 1973 on charges of armed kidnaping, rape, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and assault with intent to commit sodomy in a series of incidents in which women who had been waiting at bus stops or trying to hail a cab said they were lured into a green Chevrolet Vega and raped.[4]
  • A 38-year-old former Metro transit police detective was sentenced to three years’ probation yesterday for committing sodomy and taking indecent liberties with a 15-year-old Prince William County youth. [5]

In these examples, it is clear that ‘to commit’ is used in an active sense, denoting the acting party as performing, in these cases, crimes. However, in these examples, ‘to commit’ is used to describe the action of the victim.

  • Police and school system security officials said the employe [sic] was raped, beaten and forced to commit oral sodomy inside the boys’ locker room after classes had ended for the day.[6]
  • According to assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Rankin, the first rape occurred May 15 after Powell assaulted a woman in an alley at gunpoint and forced her to commit oral sodomy.[7]

Instead of using constructions such as ‘forced to oral sodomy’, the actions the victim was forced to do are denoted by the same word often associated with the perpetrator, namely ‘commit’.

In some instances, the meaning of ‘sodomy’ may also be ‘consensual anal intercourse’, including but not limited to homosexuals:

  • The loitering law was a companion to a New York law prohibiting the act of sodomy itself between consenting adults.[8]
  • They say they plan to work for the repeal of laws prohibiting sodomy and forbidding the sale of alcohol to homosexuals.[9]

In one case, however, consensual homosexual behaviour is described in a very negative way by associating this behaviour with ‘aggravated’:

  • “This was one of the most aggravated cases of consentual sodomy I’ve seen,” [Military Judge Capt.] Freed said.[10]

In this case of Comdr. Gerald Michael Vanderwier, a Navy officer who apparently had homosexual intercourse with a fellow Navy serviceman, ‘sodomy’ meaning consensual homosexual relations, is not only listed with a plethora of other illegal behaviours, but also the deed itself is depicted as highly deplorable. In some instances, the ‘sodomy’ is being supplemented by the military-legal term ‘fraternization with an enlisted man’:

  • Vanderwier, who was relieved as skipper of the USS Edward McDonnell in June, is charged with sodomy and conduct unbecoming an officer, specifically, fraternization with an enlisted man. [11]
  • Gerald M. Vanderwier, 42, who was relieved of command of the fast frigate McDonnell, faces charges of sodomy, fraternization with an enlisted man and conduct unbecoming an officer.[12]

In another case concerning a member of the military being charged with ‘sodomy’, these findings are replicated:

  • [2nd Joann] Newak had been found guilty by an Air Force judge of marijuana, sodomy, amphetamine and conduct-unbecoming-an-officer charges.[13]

This example adds another layer of complexity to the spectrum of meanings associated with ‘sodomy’, as it apparently can also mean (consensual) lesbian sexual relations.

The 1984 data again shows an emphasis on ‘sodomy’ being part of lists of immoral or illegal sexual, mostly violent, behaviour. Relevant collocates are:

Collocate Frequency LL rank by LL
druggings 2 13.91 1st
unlawful 2 12.91 2nd
aggravated 3 12.69 4th
copulation 2 12.59 5th
fondling 2 12.10 8th
abduction 10 12.10 9th
indecent 3 12.04 10th
rape 51 11.72 11th


An exceptional instance of one of these words being used in connection with actual homosexuality can be found here:

  • Arlington police have arrested 13 men on charges including sodomy, indecent exposure and assault and battery in a crackdown on homosexual activity in two Arlington parks prompted by complaints from residents and park users.[14]

Contrary to this, see these other uses of ‘indecent’:

  • One of the most serious incidents at the hospital involved medical orderly Richard L. Bouchard, 29, who was convicted April 7 in a general court-martial of three counts of sodomy, three counts of indecent assault and four counts of making false statements after he sexually assaulted a blind female patient in January.[15]
  • The indictment, handed down by a D.C. Superior Court grand jury, charges Barber with kidnaping, rape, carnal knowledge, sodomy and taking indecent liberties with a minor child.[16]

However, in legal contexts, ‘sodomy’ keeps on being used in situations where it means ‘consenting anal intercourse’, regardless of whether it is performed by hetero- or homosexual persons:

  • Sex between unmarried couples and some specific acts, such as sodomy between married couples, are illegal in Virginia.[17]
  • In an appellate ruling upholding Virginia’s prohibition of sodomy between consenting adults (later reinforced by the Supreme Court), Judge Bryan quoted from the Bible in his written opinion and drew a sharp dissent from another member of the panel, U.S. District Judge Robert Merhige of Richmond.[18]


Obviously, the meaning of ‘sodomy’ in legal contexts depends on the state’s definition of ‘sodomy’. The Virginian definition obviously differs from the New-Yorkian definition, probably aggravating the diffuseness of the term.

The 1985 data on ‘sodomy’ shows a similar picture, with some interesting deviations. Many strong collocates are, again, [Platzhalter] for deviant or illegal sexual behaviour associated with other crimes of sexual nature:

Collocate Frequency LL rank by LL
molestations 2 13.39 1st
abduction 11 13.04 3rd
forcible 5 12.90 4th
bribery 4 12.22 5th
lewd 2 11.80 8th
kidnapping 6 11.73 10th
rape 31 11.07 20th
assault 12 10.37 30th


The term ‘copulation’ also co-occurs with ‘sodomy’ as well, but shows two different meanings in two different context. The first 2 examples show the word being used in the collocation ‘forcible oral copulation’, undoubtedly taken from a police report.

  • Besides 14 counts of murder and five of attempted murder, the prosecutors filed 19 counts of burglary, six of robbery, seven of rape, five of forcible oral copulation, seven of sodomy, three of committing lewd acts on children and two of kidnapping.[19]
  • Besides 14 murder and five attempted murder counts, prosecutors filed 19 counts of burglary, six of robbery, seven of rape, five of forcible oral copulation, seven of sodomy, three of committing lewd acts on children and two of kidnaping.[20]

The 3rd example for this case show the collocation ‘unnatural carnal copulation’ as a synonym for ‘sodomy’ as meaning ‘consensual homosexual (anal) intercourse’.

  • A couple days later, he says, an official from the Naval Investigative Service came by to tell him he would be charged with homosexuality, which is grounds for discharge from the military, and with sodomy, or “unnatural carnal copulation,” which in the military is a criminal offense that can be punished by a dishonorable discharge, loss of all benefits and jail.[21]

For ‘consensual’, the data is also inconclusive for this year:

  • “Consensual sodomy statutes are the keystone of the oppression of gay people,” Mr. Stoddard [of the New York Civil Liberties Union] said.[22]
  • Judge Arnold Kassabian bound over Buss for trial on two counts of indecent liberties and two counts of consensual sodomy with a minor, according to Buss’ lawyer, Peter Greenspun.[23]

It is clear that for the last example, the headline and the text body are contradictory: while the headline declares a case of sexual abuse of a child, the text talks about consensual (anal?) intercourse with a minor. So, again, the term ‘sodomy’ is used in wildly differing meanings.

[1] Bohlen, Celestine, and Patricia E. Bauer. Washington Post 20 Feb. 1982: Metro/B1. Print.

[2] Bohlen, Celestine. Washington Post 25 Feb. 1982. Print.

[3] “Justices to Rule on Transit Wages and Hours.” New York Times 4 Oct. 1983: A/24. Print.

[4] Bruske, Ed. “Vega Suspect Changes Story at Trial.” Washington Post 5 Mar. 1983: Metro/B2. Print.

[5] “Ex-Detective Gets Probation.” Washington Post 13 Dec. 1983: Metro/Around the Region/C3. Print.

[6] White, Ronald D. “Rape of Employe [sic] Angers Terrell School in NW.” Washington Post 3 Nov. 1983: Metro/C7. Print.

[7] Bruske, Ed. Washington Post 9 Dec. 1983: Metro/B5. Print.

[8] “Justices to Rule on Transit Wages and Hours.” New York Times 4 Oct. 1983: A/24. Print.

[9] Washington Post 24 Jan. 1983. Print.

[10] Washington Post 2 Dec. 1983. Print.

[11] Bohlen, Celestine. “Court-Martial of Navy Ship Captain Recommended.” Washington Post 27 Aug. 1983: 1/A15. Print.

[12] “Navy Slates Court-Martial.” Washington Post 29 Oct. 1983: Metro/Around the Region/B3. Print.

[13] McCarthy, Colman. “Justice for a Lieutenant.” Washington Post 9 Jan. 1983: Style/Colman McCarthy/M4. Print.

[14] Hochman, Anndee. “13 are Accused of Homosexual Acts in Parks.” Washington Post 29 Aug. 1984: Metro/C6. Print.

[15] Squires, Sally. Washington Post 22 Sep. 1984: Metro/B1. Print.

[16] “Man Indicted in Rape Near School.” Washington Post 1 Nov. 1984: Metro/B2. Print.

[17] Sherwood, Tom. “Moral Issues Put Budget on Assembly’s Back Burner.” Washington Post 16 Feb. 1984. Print.

[18] Smith, Philip. “Albert V. Bryan Sr. Dies: U.S. Appeals, District Judge.” Washington Post 15 Mar. 1984: Metro/Obituaries/C7. Print.

[19] “68 Crimes, Including 14 Murders are Charged to Man in California.” New York Times 28 Sep. 1985: 1/8. Print.

[20] “Ramirez Charged With 14 ‘Night Stalker’ Murders.” Washington Post 28 Sep. 1985: 1/Around the Nation/A10. Print.

[21] Boffey, Philip M. New York Times 10 Aug. 1985: 1/7. Print.

[22] Taylor, Sturar, Jr. “Case on Rights for Homosexuals Will Be Heard by Supreme Court.” New York Times 5 Nov. 1985: A/25. Print. This will become the Bowers v. Hardwick decision of 1986,upholding ‘sodomy laws‘ forbidding consensual anal intercourse and/ or consensual homosexual intercourse.

[23] “Child Sex Abuse Charged.” Washington Post 29 Oct. 1985: Metro/Around the Region/B7. Print.

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