10 Strange Sex Laws in the United States

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vadimguzhva/iStock via Getty Images / vadimguzhva/iStock via Getty Images

Do a quick search online for strange sex laws in the United States, and you’ll find a treasure trove of oddities, many of which seem too weird to be true. That’s because most of them are urban myths with little or no basis in reality, and no corresponding written laws. But the U.S. still has its fair share of verifiably peculiar penalties when it comes to amorous activities.

1. It’s illegal to “seduce and debauch” an unmarried woman in Michigan.

An archaic law in Michigan, which has been on the books since 1931, states that, “Any man who shall seduce and debauch any unmarried woman shall be guilty of a felony.” If found guilty, the man can be punished with up to five years in the state prison or a fine of not more than $2500. Being such an imprecise law, it's rarely used. But lawyers have used it as a loophole to protect their clients from stronger charges.

2. In Utah, marrying your cousin gets complicated.

Whether or not you can marry your cousin in the United States varies from state to state. Marriages between first cousins are illegal in 25 states and legal in 20. In the remaining states, it gets more complicated. In Utah, for example, first cousins may legally marry only if they are at least 55 years old and can prove to a state judge that one of them cannot procreate. Alternatively, first cousins can wait until they're both at least 65, in which case they can marry without permission.

3. It’s technically illegal to flirt in Haddon Township, New Jersey.

The General Legislation of Haddon Township, New Jersey, seems to suggest that flirting is illegal. Under the section “Peace and Good Order,” a person may be punished for approaching “any person of the opposite sex unknown to such person and by word, sign or gesture attempts to speak to or to become acquainted with such person against his will.” While this law seeks to punish objectionable actions such as sexual harassment and catcalling, it can technically be seen as prohibiting harmless flirting. So tread carefully if you’re going to flirt in Haddon Township.

4. In Texas, the possession of more than six dildos is prohibited.

A Texas statute known as the Obscene Device Law declares it a crime to possess “six or more obscene devices or identical or similar obscene articles.” These infernal devices include dildos. So, in Texas, you can legally own more guns—and display them in public—than you can sex toys, as some dildo-wielding campaigners have pointed out.

5. You can’t get married in Nebraska if either partner has a sexually transmitted disease.

“No person who is afflicted with a venereal disease shall marry in this state.” So says the law in Nebraska. Cases involving this intrusive statute are rarely enforced, and the law might one day be wiped from the books completely. In January 2020, state senator Matt Hansen introduced a bill to eliminate the provision altogether, which would allow people to marry without reprisal even if infected with an STD.

6. In North Carolina, it’s illegal to live with a partner if the couple is unmarried.

North Carolina is one of five states to have an illegal cohabitation law. The state’s laws of fornication and adultery state: “If any man and woman, not being married to each other, shall lewdly and lasciviously associate, bed and cohabit together, they shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.”

7. Many U.S. states still have laws against adultery and fornication.

Many countries, such as the United Kingdom, no longer consider adultery a criminal offense—although it can still be used as grounds for divorce. The same can’t be said for many states in the U.S., where 18 states make sexual acts illegal if at least one of the people involved is already married. In Idaho, for example, an adulterer could face a fine of up to $1000 or three years in jail. Six states—Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Utah—still have fornication laws, which basically decree all forms of non-marital sex illegal, but these laws are rarely enforced.

8. In South Carolina, a false promise of marriage can land you in jail.

Promising someone you’ll marry them with no intention of following through is a low move. But getting sent to prison for doing so seems a bit harsh. That’s how it is in South Carolina, where “seduction under promise of marriage” is a misdemeanor punishable with a fine or imprisonment for up to a year.

9. Don’t teach anyone about polygamy in Mississippi.

If you want to explain to someone what polygamy is all about, it’s best not to do it in Mississippi. It’s illegal in the state to “teach another the doctrines, principles, or tenets, or any of them, of polygamy.” Doing so could result in a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.

10. Don’t flaunt your boobie pillows in Kern County, California (at least, not near the highway).

The lawmakers of Kern County, California, have a real issue with the “public sale of articles depicting female breasts.” In particular, they abhor the sale of stuffed objects known as “boobie pillows.” According to the law, the sale of boobie pillows along public highways “is a species of indecency and vulgarity which cannot be ignored or controlled by passersby.” Vendors can’t sell or even display boobie pillows within 1000 feet of a highway. Doing so could earn them a $500 fine or a 90-day stint in the county jail.