Laws on Sex Throughout U.S. History – maude Skip to content

Laws on sex.

laws on sex.

Getting in bed with the government.

Late last month, the New York State Health Department released guidelines for social distancing, quarantining, and staying safe in the time of corona. While this seems fairly standard for a government to do in the heat of a global pandemic, they then released their guide and recommendations on sexual activity. The city's residents were caught off guard—and frankly impressed. 

As it turns out, we’ve been in bed with the government since the Civil War with laws around the usage of condoms existing for more than a century. And while it seems they’ve made dictating when and where we can get it on together their job, I’m sure the founding fathers would not have mandated me-time, for instance. 

Here’s a look at some laws throughout history that go between the sheets. 

on condoms
In 1873, the Comstock Laws criminalized usage of the U.S. Postal Service to send anything "obscene or immoral" including (but not limited to) condoms. In the early 20th century, condoms could be found behind bars in secret chests and only at some select doctors who often illegally distributed them. It was only when Venereal Disease ravaged national troops that condoms were more widely handed out. Even then, government mandates promoted family planning as the main purpose of this contraceptive for decades. 

on locations of sexual acts 
Certain states limit the location of where it is illegal to get it on even in 2020: while riding in an ambulance (Utah), in your car, no matter where it’s parked (Virginia), in a walk-in meat-freezer (Wyoming), and in a graveyard (North Carolina).

on sex education
Topping the best of the worst is House Bill 999 in Mississippi, which regulates sex-ed must be taught on with an abstinence-first curriculum. The bill also bans demonstration of proper condom use--particularly concerning in the state with one of the highest rates of HIV and pregnancy within teens. This same law charges unnatural intercourse (that of homosexual or bestial nature) with 10 years in prison.

on vibrators
Alabama banned artificial stimulation for the purposes of self-pleasure in 2009. Noting “any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for anything of pecuniary value”. As vibrators were pulled off shelves, the owner of a local sex shop had this to say: “My motto has been they are going to have to pry this vibrator from my cold, dead hand. I refuse to give up.” 

on masturbation
Texas senator Jessica Farrar satirically proposed an anti-masturbation bill in 2017 that would fine men $100 each time an emission was not clearly seeking an egg (sound familiar?). Farrar notes the bill was written in defense against the abortion laws and tight restrictions across the state in respect to women’s right to choose. 

on corona
NYC Health Sex & Coronavirus (COVID-19) reasons that because Coronavirus a highly contagious disease, distance from others is key. The document states, “you are your safest sex partner: Masturbation will not spread COVID-19, especially if you wash your hands (and any devices) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after sex.” Get in some me-time, people, or so corona-icon Anthony Cuomo suggests. After New York’s declaration of increased you-time, a number of states have followed suit like Oregon’s government who is promoting selective kissing and sexting.  

Coronavirus is ushering in a new era for sex entirely: sex work has gone digital, sales of intimacy essentials have skyrocketed, and condoms (a century and a half after the Comstock laws fell into place) are deemed essential. In this case, we are on board with what the government is saying—now is not the time for new love; stick to your household sex partner, whether that’s yourself or your S.O. What comes next? We’re not sure, but at last check, you still can’t have sex in a meat freezer