Most of the people follow the 3rd precept of lay buddhism without knowing the actual meaning of it. Personally, even I don't know the actual meaning of it. Most of the people including me understand it as, "not practicing adultery outside marriage". But I know there's more than that. I simply don't know what.

Can you give a clear answer for this two questions.

  • What is the actual meaning of the 3rd precept?

  • What does it(the 3rd precept) say about "fornication"?

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3 Answers 3


There are four conditions for wrong conduct in sexual pleasures.

  1. There must be a man or woman with whom it is improper to have sexual intercourse.
  2. There must be intention to have sexual intercourse with such a person.
  3. Action must be taken to have such an intercourse.
  4. There must be enjoyment from contact of the sexual organs.

With reference to the first condition, there are twenty kinds of women with whom men should have no sexual relations. They can be divided into three groups, namely:

  • women under the guardianship of parents, family members, relatives and authorities charged with their care;
  • married or betrothed women;
  • bhikkhunis and religious women observing the Holy Life.

For all women,

  • a man forbidden by tradition or
  • under religious rules

is prohibited as a partner.

If someone is an unwilling partner, who is drugged or forced to have sexual intercourse under threat of violence or coercion, conditions (2) and (4) exclude them from having violated the precept.

Source: FIVE PRECEPTS (PACASILA) - urbandharma.org

It is also sexual misconduct when one engages a partner at an inappropriate time, such as when a woman is pregnant, or when she is nursing. It is unethical to take the mother away from the baby for sex. It is also misconduct to have sex at inappropriate places, such as at places of worship.

Source: The Third Precept: Abstain from Sexual Misconduct

Also it is sometimes considered Poya / Uposatha is in appropriate time to have sex.

In addition, outside the bedroom is considered an inappropriate place in some interpretations.

As for the question about fornication: if the partner belongs to a category you should not have sex with, then you break the precept.


Precepts are originally designed for monks. So, a monk would totally abstain from sex. However, for the laity Buddha simply said that the average person should avoid sexual misbehavior. Sexual misbehavior is simply sexual conduct which is socially unacceptable. One example is adultery. Another might be beastiality. Another might be homosexuality. It largely depends on the culture.


The 3rd precept was spoken by the Buddha at a time in social/cultural history where it was a social/cultural norm for parents to arrange the marriage of their children. The Sigalovada Sutta advocates this is a duty of parents towards their children. Therefore, the 3rd precept should be considered in this social context. In other words, the 3rd precept when literally read may be inadequate for modern Western society/culture.

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