Examples of Taboos in Societies Around the World

A taboo is an activity or behavior that is forbidden, prohibited or otherwise outside of what is considered acceptable in society. Taboos are grounded in morality, and can also be linked to a culture or religion. An act may be taboo in one culture and not in another. Discover examples of taboos that exist today.

society taboo drinking while pregnant society taboo drinking while pregnant
Advertisement

Examples of Common Taboo Activities and Beliefs

The fact that a behavior is taboo doesn’t mean that it doesn’t occur. People who engage in taboo activities typically attempt to do so in secret, often going to great lengths to hide it.

  • abortion - terminating a pregnancy
  • addiction - use of illegal drugs or abuse of prescription drugs or alcohol
  • adultery - sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse
  • asking a woman’s age - it is generally considered off-limits to ask a woman how old she is
  • bestiality - sexual relations between a human and an animal
  • bigotry - intolerance of others based on bias and prejudice
  • cannibalism - a human being eating the flesh of another human being
  • drinking alcohol during pregnancy - consuming alcohol while pregnant is considered taboo
  • incest - sexual relations between close relatives; different cultures have different definitions of how close a relative would be considered taboo
  • infanticide - killing an infant
  • intermarriage - marriage between people who are closely related by blood; in some cultures, this also means marriage outside of one’s class, race or ethnicity
  • masturbation - manipulation of one's own genitalia
  • matricide - killing one's mother
  • murder - intentionally taking the life of other person (other than in self defense or war)
  • necrophilia - sexual attraction to or intercourse with a corpse
  • obscenity - words, images or gestures considered obscene or vulgar can be taboo
  • patricide - killing one's father
  • pedophilia - having a sexual interest in children
  • polygamy - having more than one spouse at the same time
  • pornography - viewing shows or literature that show people engaging in sex
  • prostitution - having sex in exchange for money
  • racism - being intolerant of other people on the basis of their race
  • sexism - assuming that people of one sex are inherently inferior or superior to those of another
  • slavery - treating humans as property, holding people captive and and requiring them to to work for no pay
  • smoking - once commonplace, smoking cigarettes has become something of a taboo in America and other countries around the world
  • suicide - deliberately taking of one's own life

Examples of Religious or Cultural Taboos

Many taboos are associated with religion or culture. Some of these tend to be specific to particular countries, including both developing countries and fully developed nations.

  • birth control - In some religions, such as Catholicism, it is considered taboo to use birth control medications or devices.
  • blood transfusions - Jehovah Witnesses are forbidden to undergo blood transfusions or use certain blood products.
  • eating beef - Cows are recognized as sacred animals in India. The Hindu faith, which is the predominant religion in India, forbids consuming beef.
  • eating pork - Consuming pork is forbidden in some religions, including Judaism and Islam.
  • eating cold foods during pregnancy - Per traditional Chinese medicine, eating cold foods is off-limits for women who are pregnant.
  • holiday and birthday celebrations - Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate birthdays and most other holidays.
  • premarital sex - Most religions consider sexual relations prior to marriage to be taboo.
  • head touching - In Indonesia, a person’s head is considered sacred and so is off-limits for other people to touch or pat.
  • homosexuality - In some religions or cultures, sexual relations with people of the same sex is considered taboo.
  • interfaith marriage - Marrying outside of one’s faith this is prohibited in some religions and has conditions in others. For example, Catholics who marry non-Catholics must agree to raise their children Catholic.
  • foot pointing - In Myanmar, it is taboo to use your feet to point at another person or toward a statue of the Buddha.
  • wearing shoes indoors - In Japan and some other places, it is considered taboo to wear shoes inside a home.
  • menstruation - In some cultures, including India and Africa, menstruation is considered taboo, with a woman considered to be dirty and unclean during her period.
  • nose blowing in public - Blowing one’s nose or even sneezing in public is considered taboo in several countries, including Turkey, France China and others.
Advertisement

Bodily Functions Taboos

Certain bodily functions are considered best done only in private. Doing them in front of other people can be viewed as taboo.

  • belching - burping
  • defecation - having a bowel movement
  • flatulence - passing gas, farting
  • spitting - ejecting saliva from one’s mouth
  • urination - pissing, peeing

Many Kinds of Taboos

As you can see, there are many taboos in the world today. What is considered taboo can vary greatly from place to place. This is why it is so important to understand and be respectful of cultural and social norms. Review examples of culture to develop an understanding of some of the many ways people can different.