A forum member shared some interesting lore with me privately, which caused me to revise this page:"Spiritual Brides of Early Christianity."
Here's an excerpt:
The agapetae [spiritual brides] are sometimes lumped together with women known as 'subintroductae.' This may have been a "spiritual marriage" practice where the man placed his penis between the woman's labia, against her hymen, without forcing entry, as a way of uniting without surrendering to the drive to orgasm. (As an aside, in 2019 a young researcher found that de-emphasis on orgasm was linked to greater relationship satisfaction: "Development and Validation of a Tantric Sex Scale: Sexual-Mindfulness, Spiritual Purpose, and Genital/orgasm De-emphasis.")
As for the practice of a chaste man and woman living together in a spiritual marriage, it was widely adopted in early Christianity:
Nor was syneisaktism [sacred marriage] a phenomenon peculiar to one locality; it can be found in Ireland, Syria, North Africa, and many other centers of Christianity. [Elizbeth A. Clark, John Chryostom and the Subintroductae, Church History, 46 (1977), p. 173]
Of one thing we can be sure: there was hardly a church province in ancient Christianity in which spiritual marriages were unknown. [Roland H. Seboldt, Spiritual Marriage in the Early Church: A Suggested Interpretation of Cor. 7:36-38, part 2, Concordia Theological Monthly, Volume: 30 Number 3 (1959) pp. 176-189]
Eventually, the 'subintroductae' label was also given to priests' wives/housekeepers - who were closer to servants or wives, and certainly not spiritual equals in the sense that early agapetae were. ...