In general, laws proscribe acts which are considered either sexual abuse, or behavior that societies consider to be inappropriate and against the social norms. In addition, certain categories of activity may be considered crimes even if freely consented to. Sex laws vary from place to place, and over time.
Sexual acts which are prohibited by law in a jurisdiction, are also called sex crimes.
Age of consent
While the phrase age of consent typically does not appear in legal statutes, when used with in relation to sexual activity, the age of consent is the minimum age at which a person is considered to be legally competent of consenting to sexual acts. This should not be confused with the age of majority, age of criminal responsibility, or the marriageable age.
The age of consent varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The median seems to range from 16 to 18 years, but laws stating ages ranging from 9 to 21 do exist. In many jurisdictions, age of consent is interpreted to mean mental or functional age. As a result, victims can be of any chronological age if their mental age is below the age of consent.
Some jurisdictions forbid sexual activity outside of legal marriage completely. The relevant age may also vary by the type of sexual act, the sex of the actors, or other restrictions such as abuse of a position of trust. Some jurisdictions may also make allowances for minors engaged in sexual acts with each other, rather than a hard and fast single age. Charges resulting from a breach of these laws may range from a relatively low-level misdemeanor such as "corruption of a minor", to "statutory rape" (which is considered equivalent to rape, both in severity and sentencing).
Sex crimes are forms of human sexual behavior that are crimes. Someone who commits one is said to be a sex offender. Some sex crimes are crimes of violence that involve sex. Others are violations of social taboos, such as incest, sodomy, indecent exposure or exhibitionism. There is much variation among cultures as to what is considered a crime or not, and in what ways or to what extent crimes are punished.
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