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Five of the Most Absurd Sex Laws in History

April 26, 2016 by Justin Lehmiller


History is full of examples of governmental and religious authorities going to great lengths to regulate people’s sex lives. Of course, these efforts continue in the modern world–however, sex today isn’t regulated to quite the same extent as it was in the past, at least in the Western world.

By today’s standards, many of the older laws—and their corresponding punishments—seem, well, downright absurd. Below are five such examples drawn from the book, Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire by Eric Berkowitz. If you are interested in learning more about the history of sex laws, check out the complete book–it’s a fascinating read!

5. “In ancient Greece and Rome, the husbands of adulterous women had several options for revenge. Most of the punishments allowed a husband to shame his rival by inserting foreign objects, such as spiky fish and radishes, into his anus.”

4. In the 1800s, the English passed the Contagious Diseases Act, the result of which was that “women could be forced to undergo cruel inspections and treatments if they were suspected of being prostitutes. If the women refused, they were subject to imprisonment.”

3. A French law from the year 1270 banning homosexuality read: “He who has been proven to be a sodomite must lose his testicles. And if he does it a second time, he much lose his member. And if he does it a third time, he must be burned. A woman who does this must lose her member each time, and on the third must be burned.” (Side note: What is this female “member” the law is referring to? And how is it possible to lose it more than once?)

2. “Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the Jew was considered an agent of Satan, a sexual deviant…Sex with Jews was almost always tightly restricted and sometimes punishable with death.”

1. A Hittite law from the Bronze Age read: “If a man seizes a woman in the mountains (and rapes her), it is the man’s offense, but if he seizes her in her house, it is the woman’s offense: the woman shall die. If the woman’s husband discovers them in the act, he may kill them without committing a crime.”

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Image Source: Marek

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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.

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