Like breathing and eating, sexual behavior is an element of the human condition that is necessary for keeping the species alive. But unlike other creatures roaming the planet, in human beings, sexual activity is more than just a means of procreation; sexual activity helps define who we are to ourselves and to others, it provides needed relief from stress, it gives us enjoyment, and it offers a form of intimacy that helps bond us together. It is unfortunate that many religious institutions have taken this most basic human activity and turned it into a moral issue in an effort to control their followers, create stigmas regarding certain behaviors, and relegate it to an act of necessity and not enjoyment. In so doing, the religious restrictions regarding sexual behavior have created an atmosphere of ambiguity and shame where none need exist.

This is not to say that sexual behavior should not have some restrictions that become codified into social laws. But it is important to remember that sexual norms are a constantly shifting paradigm, varying from one culture to the next and from one era to another. While certain prohibitions regarding sexual behavior are necessary for the well being of society, these taboos should reflect a sense of social safety needs, rather than religious values. Criminal sexual behaviors such as rape, child molestation and non-consensual sexual acts are abhorrent forms of expressing ones sexual desires because they deny the rights of the individual or take advantage of one who is not in a position to make an informed choice regarding the contact. These acts are, and should remain illegal, carrying serious consequences to those who violate the legal codes and inflict their sexual desires on unwilling victims.

Any other regulation of sexual behavior should not rise to the level of illegality simply because one or another religious group feels that it should be. To do so inflicts the moral values of one upon another and denies people the freedom of choice to experience sexuality as they see fit. For most people, sexual behavior does not remain static throughout their lives, since as their own goals for finding sexual partners changes, so too do their views on appropriate sexual behavior. As such, society has no right to dictate what constitutes acceptable sexual activity beyond those acts mentioned above.

In that vein, it seems ridiculous to have laws prohibiting acts like prostitution, adultery, consensual sodomy, oral copulation, homosexuality, and even displays of nudity when in the privacy of your own property or the property of like-minded individuals. Indeed, most sexually related laws stem from a puritanical religious morality rather than from any actual threat to society at large. Furthermore, such laws, many of which are wholly unenforceable, only serve to congest the legal codes and processes, waste precious public funds for spurious enforcement, and detract the public from issues that more appropriately belong in the public realm.

It’s not surprising that our most popular forms of entertainment- movies, music, television, and literature- are filled with sexual innuendo. After all, sexual behavior has many positive benefits, such as the ones listed at the beginning of this essay. What is surprising is the double speak with which society addresses the disparity between what we show and what we allow. It seems as if society is saying on one hand that sexuality and sexual behavior is okay to display in fictional or commercial terms, but not in actual, practical, real life situations. This dichotomy leads to confusion among the young who are experiencing their own sexuality for the first time as well as creating an environment for harmful sexual behaviors among the adult population.

A better solution would be to repeal all sexual laws except for those directly addressing rape, molestation of children, and other non-consensual sexual acts that actually infringe on a persons physical security. Society may have the right to create restrictions regarding appropriate locations for sexual activity and perhaps the authority to mandate age restrictions for consensual sexual activity, but not much else. I can hear the moralists begin to stammer now, with protestations about the impropriety of certain acts that, if legalized (or at least de-stigmatized), would likely lead to wide-spread orgies in the street, dehumanization of women in general, and random acts of sexual mayhem. But such statements are, of course, ridiculous. Simply making an act legal does not ensure that all public decency would be thrown out the window. The moral guidelines for sex should be passed down within our homes and churches, not in our legal codes, thus allowing people to choose what is acceptable to them without restricting the actions of others. And, comprehensive, factual education should be implemented regarding the physical and mental consequences of engaging in sexual activity before one is emotionally able to accept the results of sexual practices

So what are the benefits to society if sexual laws are repealed? For starters, the decriminalization of prostitution would allow for its practitioners to join the public workforce in a constructive manner, leading to an increase of taxable employment and a decrease in enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration costs. These funds could be funneled back into the public coffers to help pay for social programs and governmental obligations. The relief upon law enforcement would allow them to better spend their time protecting society from violent criminals instead of harassing sex workers. It would also protect those in the sex industry from the unscrupulous practice of sexual slavery by removing them from the dominion of pimps. Eliminating the stigma attached to the world’s oldest profession and requiring sex workers to engage in mandatory physical check-ups could improve public health issues. This might also reduce the instances of forced sexual activity by providing people a legal option for obtaining casual sex.

The elimination of adultery laws, admittedly rarely enforced already, would allow single people to enjoy and experiment with sex without having to commit to a serious relationship before they were ready, leading to a decrease in failed relationships borne from social pressure to “get hitched before getting it on.” The removal of taboos on certain sexual practices would free people to enjoy their sexual preferences without being ostracized. Relaxing the bans on public nudity, in appropriate locations, would negate the feelings of shame that many wrongly associate with evil but instead is the natural state of the human body. And proper education could limit the instances of teen pregnancy, which in itself contributes to a multitude of societal upheaval.

We should leave it to parents and pastors to impart sexual morality to their children and let society provide the educational material necessary to make good sexual choices. Leave it to individuals to discover what sexual behavior best suits their needs at a given point in their lives. Reduce the social stigmas attached to sexual activity and you increase the odds of couples engaging in healthy sexual behavior that is conducive to the creation of stronger intimacy and personal ties. And attach certain social and legal obligations to any sexual behavior that results in the creation of new life, ensuring that with sexual activity comes the responsibility to properly take care of that new life.

Much like the laws against drugs, laws against sexual behavior only assure that more people will attempt to push the envelope of healthy behavior and act in ways that are more harmful to themselves and to society in general. Only through their elimination coupled with comprehensive education can we guarantee that people are able to experience individual freedom without draining the public resources or encroaching on the most personal behaviors of us all.