|Sex and the law|
(May vary according to jurisdiction)
Adultery · Buggery
|Sexuality · Criminal justice · Law|
- This article examines how human sexuality and sexual behavior interacts with, and is regulated by, human laws.
In general, laws proscribe acts which are considered either sexual abuse, or behavior that societies consider to be inappropriate and against the social norms. In addition, certain categories of activity may be considered crimes even if freely consented to. Sex laws vary from place to place, and over time.
Sexual acts which are prohibited by law in a jurisdiction, are also called sex crimes.
Age of consent
While the phrase age of consent typically does not appear in legal statutes, when used with in relation to sexual activity, the age of consent is the minimum age at which a person is considered to be legally competent of consenting to sexual acts. This should not be confused with the age of majority, age of criminal responsibility, or the marriageable age.
The age of consent varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The median seems to range from 16 to 18 years, but laws stating ages ranging from 9 to 21 do exist. In many jurisdictions, age of consent is interpreted to mean mental or functional age. As a result, victims can be of any chronological age if their mental age is below the age of consent.
Some jurisdictions forbid sexual activity outside of legal marriage completely. The relevant age may also vary by the type of sexual act, the sex of the actors, or other restrictions such as abuse of a position of trust. Some jurisdictions may also make allowances for minors engaged in sexual acts with each other, rather than a hard and fast single age. Charges resulting from a breach of these laws may range from a relatively low-level misdemeanor such as "corruption of a minor", to "statutory rape" (which is considered equivalent to rape, both in severity and sentencing).
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, sodomy, 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, that have traditionally been held to be crimes in some 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, non-consensual deliberate displays or illicit watching of sexual activity, sex with close relatives ("incest"), harm to animals, acts involving the deceased (necrophilia), 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, the law usually regulates or controls the censorship of pornographic or obscene material as well. A rape charge can only be issued when a person(s) of any age does not provide consent for sexual activity. Hypothetically speaking, if a child consents, it is considered molestation.
Common sex crimes
A variety of laws aim to protect children by making various acts with children a sex crime. For example, the "Corruption of Minors" by introducing age-inappropriate material, esp. of a sexual nature, is often a misdemeanor but can lead to a felony charge. 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 (sometimes including simulated images). In some countries such as the UK, the age for child pornography is higher than the age of consent, hence child pornography laws also cover images involving consenting adults.
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))
Examples of laws in various localities:
- University of California, Santa Barbara's SexInfo Sex and the Law
- Sex Crime Blog
- UK laws regarding prostitution updated for 2006