I read this summary of laws banning adultery in the United States.

Now, the wording of some of these laws made me wonder if any of them are remnants from a time when pre-marital sex (not just adultery) was banned. For example, maybe the pre-marital parts were removed, and the adultery parts were retained. Or maybe they are just interpreted differently now.

I certainly know that it was once illegal in certain European countries.

Has pre-marital sex ever been illegal anywhere in the United States?


2 Answers 2


The legal term for premarital sex, as a crime, is fornication. I found a paper that gives an extensive and well-referenced history and analysis of such laws:

Sweeny, JoAnne. Undead Statutes: The Rise, Fall and Continuing Uses of Adultery and Fornication Criminal Laws. Loyola University Chicago Law Journal 46 (2014), 127–173. http://www.luc.edu/media/lucedu/law/students/publications/llj/pdfs/vol46/Sweeny.pdf

Sweeny finds that many states (or even most) had such laws. As of 2014, six states still do: Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, Illinois, Mississippi and South Carolina (see map on page 156 of the above paper). However, they are likely unconstitutional under Lawrence v. Texas. Virginia and North Carolina also have laws that have already been found unconstitutional, but have not been repealed.



As recently as 6 February 2014 for sure and possibly right up until today in Virginia - http://www.nbcnews.com/news/crime-courts/virginia-bill-decriminalize-sex-outside-marriage-stalls-n23516. According to the article, there were 12 convictions in 2013, all as part of plea-bargains from more serious charges.

  • 2
    Certainly interesting.
    – Fiksdal
    Aug 24, 2016 at 9:23

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