Sex, Love and the Law

Living in the UK, we are lucky enough to experience a culture that is fairly liberal in its views of love and sex. Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2014, while divorce in its earliest legal forms has been kicking around since 1857. However, a look outside our cultural bubble reveals that there are many aspects around the legality of sex and love that we might take for granted.

Sex and Prostitution



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Like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia does not condone premarital sex. Furthermore, women are not permitted to interact with men they are not related to, outside of marriage, and this is enforced through the intervention of religious police and public areas being segregated by gender.

In contrast, the United Kingdom’s main laws surrounding sex involve prostitution. While prostitution itself is not illegal, public sex, owning a brothel and kerb crawling (driving slowly around areas known for finding sex workers) are all criminal offences. Meanwhile, in 2010 Iceland became the first country to ban strip clubs for non-religious reasons, with the prime minister stating that ‘Nordic countries are leading the way on women’s equality, recognizing women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale’. The scope of these laws reveal how the legal system can be used to both limit and liberate women.

Masturbation and Sex Toys

While many people disapprove of masturbation on religious grounds, some countries have attempted to outlaw the practice completely. For example, in Indonesia the maximum prison sentence for being found masturbating is 32 months and in Saudi Arabia, in 2004, a teacher was sentenced to three years in prison and 300 lashes for stating that masturbation was allowed under Islam.

A satirical bill, known as the Man’s Right to Know Act was proposed in 2017 in Texas, suggesting that men should be fined up to $100 for ‘unregulated masturbatory emissions outside of a woman’s vagina’. This bill was designed to highlight how women are targeted by anti-abortion laws. Parts of America also take issue with sex toys, and the Alabama 1998 Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act criminalizes the sale of sex-related items.  

Other countries that have banned adult toys include:

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Love and Marriage

Whether you spent Valentine’s Day with a loved one, friends or eating ice cream alone, at least you were allowed to celebrate it. Indonesia, Pakistan and Saudi Araba have all banned the celebration of Valentine’s Day, arguing that it is not a Muslim tradition and distracts from love that should be directed towards God. Outward expressions of love and romance are frowned upon in Dubai, too, with travellers acquiring lengthy prison sentences for kissing in public, which is considered ‘an offense to public decency’. Similarly, section 294 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises causing annoyance to others through ‘obscene acts’. The law lacks clarification on what constitutes an ‘obscene act’ and so police officers will often harass couples for simply kissing or holding hands.

The world has come a long way with regards to divorce, with the Philippines being the last UN-member to acquire a legal provision for separated couples. The same progress cannot be said for marriage, however. While the last few years have seen many joyous celebrations as various places around the world legalised same-sex marriage, the following countries still class homosexuality as a criminal offence, revealing that the world still has progress to make in its laws surrounding love, sex and marriage:

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