Sodomy, Sodomists, and Sodomizing (pt. 2)

For the 1981 data, the use and thus the meaning of the term ‘sodomy’ is highly diffuse. It can indicate anal intercourse, both hetero- and homosexual, both forced and consensual. However, in a significant number of instances, the word is used to indicate violent, illegal or immoral sexual behaviour without going into detail. It can be said with some justification that ‘sodomy’ can refer to any sort of sexual behaviour that might be deemed illegal or immoral. Furthermore, the term is used both as a legal and a colloquial term, with conflicting and overlapping meanings.  The following table shows the significant collocates of ‘sodomy’ which will be used in my argument.

Collocate Frequency LL rank by LL
brutalities 2 13.05 1st
bestiality 2 13.05 2nd
fornication 8 12.05 3rd
decriminalize 2 12.05 4th
decriminalized 3 11.82 6th
adultery 9 11.41 10th
burglary 6 11.38 11th
robbery 17 11.27 12th
mayhem 2 11.24 13th
kidnapping 3 10.93 18th
charged 31 10.52 20th
statutes 2 10.46 21st
rape 22 10.43 22nd
counts 8 10.43 22nd
heterosexual 4 9.21 39th
laws 5 8.28 56th
committed 3 8.15 60th
homosexual 10 6.96 76th


While I found that ‘rape’ indicated forced vaginal intercourse and the verb-forms of ‘to sodomize’ often meant forced anal intercourse, the same cannot be said for the noun ‘sodomy’. In fact, some of the uses seem to be diametrically opposed to this finding. See for example the instances for the most significant collocate of ‘sodomy’, namely ‘brutalities’:

  • He [Judge Garteinstein] said that Mr. Ross “would be immediately subject to homosexual rape and sodomy and to brutalities from fellow prisoners such as make the imagination recoil in horror.” [1]
  • He [Judge Garteinstein] said in a four-page opinion that Mr. Ross “would be immediately subject to homosexual rape and sodomy and to brutalities from fellow prisoners such as make the imagination recoil in horror.”[2]

It has to be conceded that this instance repeats a quote by the same person, making an idiolectal issue possible. However, there are more instances where ‘sodomy’ is used for different kinds of sexual behaviour:

  • Arrested later in an undercover operation, Lyon is charged with agreeing to commit oral sodomy on an undercover male police officer for money and offering the officer the sexual services of a 27-year-old woman who police charged with prostitution.[3]
  • Detectives, posing as customers seeking to make a pornographic movie, paid the McIntyres $300 to film them having intercourse. The couple was charged with sodomy and prostitution.[4]
  • Homosexual rape and object rape (in which inanimate objects are used in a rape), which used to be classified as forceable sodomy with a maximum 10-year prison sentence, will both carry the same penalty as rape — a maximum of life in prison.[5]
  • Under the present law, a man and wife who participate, both willingly, in unorthodox sexual behavior are guilty of sodomy and can go to prison for 10 years.[6]

‘Sodomy’, in these instances, appears to denote oral sex between men, filmed sexual intercourse, rape using objects, and non-procreational heterosexual intercourse. The term seems to serve as a placeholder for a variety of sexual behaviours that can be either violent or consensual, but are deemed immoral or are illegal.

Further evidence of the spectrum of meaning for ‘sodomy’ are the instances where it co-occurs with ‘rape’, and, to a lesser extent, words like ‘burglary’, ‘robbery’, ‘mayhem’, and ‘kidnapping’.

  • The accused – Max Lindeman, 23 years old, and Harold Wells, 22 – were accused in a 17-count indictment with rape, sodomy, aggravated sexual abuse, assault, robbery and burglary in the Oct. 10 attack at an East Harlem convent.[7]
  • Three other young men have been charged with committing other slayings with Mr. Bonin, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, robbery, sodomy and mayhem.[8]
  • George J. Dailey, a 36-year-old city maintenance worker, was booked for investigation of kidnapping, sodomy and child molestation, the authorities said.[9]

Apart from this, there are instances where ‘sodomy’ is used in a context of legal language and appears to be strictly defined as ‘anal intercourse’, being one of several illegal sexual behaviours such as ‘bestiality’, ‘fornication’ and ‘adultery’. The historical framework for these occurrences is the attempt to reform the D.C. legal code to exclude said behaviour from the list of illegal behaviours. The reform was passed initially, but then subsequently overturned by Congress. This also explains the co-occurrences of ‘sodomy’ with ‘decriminalizes’ and ‘decriminalized’.

  • [Moral Majority’s Vice President Ronald Godwin said:] “Make no mistake, a vote against the resolutions is a vote for sodomy, bestiality, fornication, adultery and seduction of a student by a teacher.”[10]
  • As it stands now, the bill decriminalizes only homosexual acts and sodomy between consenting adults.[11]
  • The measure also contained sections that decriminalized homosexual acts, sodomy, fornication and adultery between consenting adults.[12]

In terms of legal context, laws forbidding homosexual behaviour or anal intercourse were often referred to as ‘sodomy laws’:

  • Nemetz, a West German who works in Springfield, had applied to become a naturalized citizen in 1976, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service rejected his petition, arguing that it believed that as a homosexual Nemetz had violated Virginia’s sodomy laws.[13]
  • Sodomy laws in Virginia, they said, have caused many apartment owners to deny one-bedroom apartments to members of the same sex.[14]

Also, the often implicit, but sometimes even explicit mentioning that ‘sodomy’ can also be performed by ‘heterosexual’ people as well as ‘homosexual’ people reinforces the notion that ‘sodomy’ here strictly means ‘anal intercourse’.

  • It is illegal in the District for anyone, heterosexual or homosexual, to commit sodomy.[15]
  • Sodomy by either homosexual or heterosexual adults is illegal in the District.[16]

However, there are also instances where ‘sodomy’ co-occurs with other legal language terms, but here again its meaning can be best summarised as a placeholder for unspecified deviant, immoral, illegal or violent sexual behaviour (committing / charged / statutes / counts)

  • Reid W. Diggs Jr., a former Northern Virginia minister who battled sex scandal charges guilty to committing sodomy with a 14-year-old female parishioner.[17]
  • Stewart pleaded guilty last month to committing sodomy on a minor, enticing a minor, and taking indecent liberties with a minor.[18]
  • Albert J. Sell Jr., a nine-year veteran assigned to the 2nd District, was formally charged with corrupt influence, sodomy and obstructing justice involving an incident that allegedly occured [sic] last Sept. 30.[19]
  • Harold Wells, 22, and Max Lindeman, 23, each are charged with eight counts of sodomy and two counts of rape, robbery, burglary and assault, and one count of aggravated sexual abuse.[20]
  • The defendant, 28-year-old Richard Gantz, was convicted May 8 of 11 counts – including sodomy, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment -connected with his Aug. 11, 1979, escape from a state prison in Fishkill.[21]

The word ‘sodomy’ is also explicitly associated with homosexual men. However, as I have shown, this particular meaning is only one in a string of possible uses of the word.

  • For instance, the new law would delete all reference to sodomy as a criminal offense, a change that Washington’s homosexual community has sought for more than a decade.[22]
  • Under the present law, adult homosexuals who engage in sexual activity, no matter how privately, are guilty of sodomy and subject to 10 years’ imprisonment.[23]

So, in summary, the 1981 data on the term ‘sodomy’ allows the deduction of the following meanings (in no specific order): anal intercourse, other forms of non-procreational sexual activity, unspecified acts of sexual violence, homosexual behaviour. It is fair to say that the uses of ‘sodomy’ show a diffuse and un-defined spectrum of meanings, despite the existence of a legal term such as ‘sodomy laws’.

[1] New York Times 9 Apr. 1981: B/5. Print.

[2] Shipp, E. R. “Refusting to Jail a White is Called Racist by Koch.” New York Times 10 Apr. 1981: B/3. Print.

[3] Boodman, Sandra G. Washington Post 15 Nov. 1981: 1/A1. Print.

[4] Boodman, Sandra G. “Director of Gifted Children Program Cleared in Prostitution Case.” Washington Post 11 Dec. 1981: 1/A49. Print.

[5] Sager, Mike, and Margaret Shapiro. Washington Post 1 July 1981: Metro/B1. Print.

[6] Raspberry, William. “Sex Bill Fiasco.” Washington Post 8 Oct. 1981: 1/Op-Ed/A31. Print.

[7] New York Times 26 Nov. 1981: B/3. Print.

[8] New York Times 12 Jan. 1981: A/14. Print.

[9] “Girl, 12, Missing Five Months, Tells of Capitvity in Coast Pit.” New York Times 6 Aug. 1981: A/18. Print.

[10] Isikoff, Michael. Washington Post 1 Oct. 1981: Metro/B1. Print.

[11] “Jerry Falwell Comes to Town.” Washington Post 13 Sep. 1981: Outlook/Editorial/C6. Print.

[12] Isikoff, Michael, and Eric Pianin. Washington Post 2 Oct. 1981: 1/A1. Print.

[13] White, Ronald D. “Court Overrules Barring of Citizenship to Homosexual.” Washington Post 28 Apr. 1981: Metro/C1. Print.

[14] Russell, Brenda A. Washington Post 22 June 1981: Metro/B1. Print.

[15] Sherwood, Tom. Washington Post 6 Feb. 1981: Metro/B1. Print.

[16] Sherwood, Tom, and Joann Stevens. Washington Post 5 Feb. 1981: 1/A1. Print.

[17] “Former Minister Pleads Guilty in Morals Case.” Washington Post 18 Mar. 1981: Metro/C3. Print.

[18] “D.C. Man is Sentenced to Up to 10 Years for Soliciting Young Girls.” Washington Post 17 Jan. 1981: Metro/C3. Print.

[19] “D.C. Officer Charged with Corrupt Influence.” Washington Post 4 June 1981: 1/A8. Print.

[20] Washington Post 28 Nov. 1981: 1/Around the Nation/Addenda/A4. Print.

[21] “Rapist-Robber Given 25 Years in Jailbreak.” New York Times 6 Jan. 1981: B/4. Print.

[22] Richburg, Keith B. Washington Post 15 July 1981: Metro/B1. Print.

[23] Raspberry, William. “Sex Bill Fiasco.” Washington Post 8 Oct. 1981: 1/Op-Ed/A31. Print.