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This article examines how human sexuality and sexual behavior interacts with, and is regulated by, human laws.

In general the law proscribes acts which are considered either sexual abuse, or inappropriate behavior against the social norms, within a given culture. In addition certain categories of activity, may be considered crimes even if freely consented to. Thus sex and the law varies from place to place.

Sexual acts which are prohibited by law in a jurisdiction, are also called sex crimes.

Age of consent[]

Main article: Age of consent

Many cultures, and all developed cultures, have established an age of consent, an age at which even if consent is given, sexual activity by an older person with a person under that age will be punished severely. The aim of an age of consent law is to protect impressionable young people, as they develop and mature.

Sex crimes[]

Sex crimes are forms of human sexual behavior that are crimes. Someone who commits one is said to be a sex offender. Some sex crimes are crimes of violence that involve sex. Others are violations of social taboos, such as incest, indecent exposure or exhibitionism. There is much variation among cultures as to what is considered a crime or not, and in what ways or to what extent crimes are punished.

Western cultures are often far more tolerant of acts, such as oral sex or cross-dressing, that have traditionally been held to be crimes in some other cultures, but combine this with lesser tolerance for the remaining crimes. By contrast, many cultures with a strong religious tradition consider a far broader range of activities to be serious crimes.

As a general rule, the law in many countries often intervenes in sexual activity involving young or adolescent children below the legal age of consent, nonconsensual deliberate displays or illicit watching of sexual activity, sex with close relatives ("incest"), harm to animals, acts involving dead people, and also when there is harassment, nuisance, fear, injury, or assault of a sexual nature, or serious risk of abuse of certain professional relationships. Separately, it also usually regulates or controls the censorship of pornographic or obscene material.

Common sex crimes[]

The activities listed below often carry a condition of illegality if acted upon, though they may usually be legally role-played between consenting partners:

A variety of laws protect children by making various acts with children a sex crime. These can include Age of Consent laws, laws preventing the exposure of children to pornography, laws making it a crime for a child to be involved in (or exposed to) certain sexual behaviors, and laws against child grooming and the production and ownership of child pornography (including simulated images).

Non-consensual sadomasochistic acts may legally constitute assault, and therefore belong in this list. In addition, some jurisdictions criminalize some or all sadomasochistic acts, regardless of legal consent and impose liability for any injuries caused. (See Consent (BDSM) )

Acts which may be regarded as crimes in some areas[]

Many consensual sexual actions or activities which are widely permitted (or not criminalized) in one place, may none the less be viewed as crimes (often of a serious nature) in other places.

The clearest example of this is homosexuality which varies from being legally protected and capable of marriage (See: Gay marriage) in some countries, through to obtaining the death penalty in others. Other examples include:

  • Adultery
  • Anal sex or other same sex sexual acts
  • Oral sex
  • Sex between young people of certain ages - this is a common problem when couples who are legally entitled to have sex in one location decide to visit or live in, another.
  • Various Paraphilias/Fetishes (Sexual) such as transvestitism
  • Pornography
  • Nudity
  • Prostitution and/or pimping
  • Ownership of vibrators and other sex toys
  • Stealing underwear - Although stealing is always a crime, men's stealing of women's underwear or vice-versa is sometimes regarded as more serious than stealing same-sex underwear.

See also[]

External links[]

Examples of laws in various localities:

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