Media & Culture

A Century Of Sex Laws

October 9, 2015 by Justin Lehmiller


When it comes to sex, a lot of what we think of as being “normal” today was illegal and carried serious punishments in the not-too-distant past. For instance, federal law in the United States (specifically, the Comstock Law) used to prohibit the distribution of pornography, contraceptive devices (including pamphlets and information about birth control), and sex toys through the mail. This law was in effect for decades, and it had enormous implications for people’s sex lives, not to mention their health. However, this is just one of many examples of how sex laws have been out of synch with people’s sexual needs and desires.

For a closer look at the interaction between sex and the law in recent years, check out the segment below from NPR’s Fresh Air in which host Terry Gross interviews Eric Berkowitz, author of the new book The Boundaries of Desire: A Century of Good Sex, Bad Laws, and Changing Identities. Berkowitz offers an eye-opening look at a wide range of sex laws, including those that used to permit spousal rape, as well as those that banned homosexual behavior. It’s a fascinating discussion, and if you’re interested in learning more about this topic, his book is well worth a read.

Want to learn more about Sex and Psychology? Click here for previous articles or follow the blog on Facebook (, Twitter (@JustinLehmiller), or Reddit ( to receive updates.

Image Source: 123RF/Tomas Marek

Post Featured Image
Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

Read full bio >