Deals with the regulation by law of sexual activity. Sex laws vary from place to place, and have varied over time, and unlawful sexual acts in a jurisdiction are also called sex crimes.
Some laws regulating sexual activity are intended to protect one or all participants, while others are intended to proscribe a morally, socially or religiously repugnant activity.
For example, a law may proscribe unprotected sex if one person knows that he or she has a sexual disease or to protect a minor; or it may proscribe non-consensual sex, or because of a relationship between the participants, etc. In general, laws may proscribe acts which are considered either sexual abuse or behavior that societies consider to be inappropriate and against the social norms.
Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual contact between two or more adults or two or more minors, and, depending on laws with regard to age of consent, sexual contact between an adult and a minor.
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.
The activities listed below carry a condition of illegality in some jurisdictions if acted upon, though they may be legally role-played between consenting partners of legal age:
- Rape, lust murder and other forms of sexual assault and sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse
Frotteurism, sexual arousal through rubbing one’s self against a nonconsenting stranger in public
- Exhibitionism and voyeurism, if deliberate and non-consensual, called “indecent exposure” and “peeping tom” respectively in this context. Incest between close relatives
- Telephone scatologia, making obscene telephone calls for the purpose of sexual arousal
- Sexual harassment
- Sexual acts by people in a position of trust (such as teachers, doctors and police officers), towards people under 18 which they are involved with professionally.
- Public order crimes are crimes that interrupt the flow of daily life and business according to local community standards. Public order crimes include paraphilia (deviancies). Various paraphilias and sexual fetishes such as transvestitism
Prostitution and/or pimping
Ownership of vibrators and other sex toys
Stealing underwear, sometimes regarded as more serious when done in a sexual context.
- Sex with animals
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))
Age of consent
While the phrase “age of consent” typically does not appear in legal statutes when used 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).
Incest is illegal in many jurisdictions. The exact legal definition of “incest,” including the nature of the relationship between persons, and the types sexual activity, varies by country, and by even individual states or provinces within a country. These laws can also extend to marriage between subject individuals.
Female genital mutilation
Custom and tradition are the most frequently cited reasons for female genital mutilation (FGM), with the practices often being performed to exert control over the sexual behavior of girls and women or as a perceived aesthetic improvement to the appearance of their genitalia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is one of many health organizations that have campaigned against the procedures on behalf of human rights, stating that “FGM has no health benefits” and that it is “a violation of the human rights of girls and women” and “reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes”.
Most countries prohibit female genital mutilation including prohibiting the procedure to be performed on its citizens and residents while outside their jurisdictions and the New York State Penal Law lists female genital mutilation as a sexual offense.
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