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Can a underage person (under 18 years old) learn about sexual intercourse and activity legally?

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    Not an expert in US law, but Amazon US will sell me all kinds of books when I put in "sex education" and none of them is marked as "18+". Why would you think it's illegal? Or do you mean a random creepy guy stalks a kid that's not theirs? That is probably a totally different topic.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Feb 19 at 17:09
  • Doesn't sex ed still exist in the US? Would you include biology class? Do you imagine that the government regulates how parents are allowed to answer "where did I come from" questions from their children? Which aspects of this question are you interested in? Or is a simple "no, of course it's not illegal" all you're looking for?
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 21 at 11:12

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Not illegal at all.

The easiest way is probably to walk into a bookstore or public library, if you want to assume there is no internet where they googled it in seconds.

It does become illegal when it's considered porn. Actual porn does have age restrictions and you won't find real porn on public display.

But even the weirdest person wouldn't think of banning a biology or educational book, you cannot possibly make sexuality any less interesting than a six grade biology schoolbook. And you probably see more naked skin in a shampoo commercial in the late afternoon.

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    But even the weirdest person wouldn't think of banning a biology or educational book... Come to America. We have something very weird you need to see.
    – bdb484
    Commented Feb 19 at 18:14
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    @bdb484 In my experience, parents' objections aren't about that children are receiving sex ed. Most parents recognize that sex ed is necessary. The problem is that they (the parents) have no control over how sex ed is done, and (in the case of the books) that they contain pornographic material (i.e., graphic sex scenes instead of the "here's how sex works" that you'd normally expect). Commented Feb 19 at 18:37
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    I'm sure you're accurately describing many people. But there are certainly also quite a lot of people who are opposed to any sex education, and are actively working to ban the kinds of books being discussed.
    – bdb484
    Commented Feb 19 at 20:40
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Without more, this is not illegal in Canada. Parents, schools, and publicly available resources all permissibly communicate this information to minors.

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Its part of the primary school curriculum, so its clearly not illegal. It is, in fact, compulsory.

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Note that the first question in the title is very different from the second question in the body text. This answer focuses on the title question, "It is illegal to explain sexual intercourse to a underage person?"

The answer to the question in the body text: "Can a underage person (under 18 years old) learn about sexual intercourse and activity legally?" is unequivocally and clearly "yes." Indeed, almost everybody does learn this as part of the school curriculum, although there are many other legal means by which a minor in the U.S. can obtain this information.

There are several possible legal issues that could arise in these situations with respect to the first question. Each is analyzed separately.

Also, the facts in the question a thin, not even addressing who is providing the information in what context and in what manner, which can be problematic in a highly fact and context dependent legal system like that of the U.S.

It is almost always possible to imagine some set of facts consistent with a question having thin facts like this one, in which usually innocent conduct is illegal. This question doesn't address some of the more obvious examples of this (e.g., providing the information through a cell phone ear bud during some sort of official test in order to cheat on that test, or using hard core porn videos to illustrate the explanation, or providing "hands on" instructions by engaging in sexual intercourse with the minor).

Obscenity

Some state and local governments ban the distribution of obscene material to children (not to be confused with distributing child pornography).

The term "obscene" is defined restrictively in American law due to First Amendment considerations.

In Miller v. California, [413 U.S. 15 (1973)] the U.S. Supreme Court established the standard for an obscenity conviction under the Constitution. A work will be found to be obscene if "taken as a whole, (it) lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."

(U.S. Department of Justice)

The exact definition of "obscene" is community specific, so a national or international online merchant is going to have to consider the risk of providing information based upon the lowest common denominate conservative jurisdiction in the United States.

Still, explaining how sexual intercourse works is something with "scientific value" and would not be considered obscene. Still, this may be less clear with a younger child and in certain contexts, as discussed below.

Parent Rights Issues

A parallel concern is the implied constitutional right of parents to raise their children as they see fit. An amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court from the year 2020, summarizes that body of law (from the position of an advocate arguing for a strong parental right) at the U.S. Supreme Court level:

“the child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925). Thereafter, in Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645 (1972), this Court affirmed the fundamental rights of parents “in the companionship, care, custody, and management” of their children. Id. at 651. That same year, in Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), the Court declared that “[t]his primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition.” Id. at 232.

More recently, this Court declared in Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997), that the Constitution, and specifically the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, protects the fundamental right of parents to direct the care, upbringing, and education of their children. Id. at 720. And in Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000), this Court again unequivocally affirmed the fundamental right of parents to direct the care, custody, and control of their children. In Troxel, this Court stated that “so long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children (i.e., is fit), there will normally be no reason for the State to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of the parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent’s child.” 530 U.S. at 68-69 (emphasis added). Therefore, a failure to consider the fitness of the parent represents “an unconstitutional infringement on [that parent’s] fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control” of her children. 530 U.S. at 72. In fact, so inviolable and sacred is this right that this Court declared a presumption that “a fit parent will act in the best interest of his or her child.” Id. at 69.

Fear of treading on this right is one reason that school districts often ask for parental permission for students to participate in sex education classes. But, infringing on this right requires state action, so as an individual not affiliated with the government, you can't infringe this right.

Corruption Of A Minor

There are also criminal offenses for "corruption of a minor" in many states. But again, teaching a minor factual information about sexual intercourse wouldn't be within the scope of such a crime. The Pennsylvania statute described below by a criminal defense attorney in that state is fairly typical:

According to the Pennsylvania Legal Code, Title 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6301, it is illegal for a person who is 18 years of age or older to commit any act that corrupts or tends to corrupt the morals of a minor (a person under the age of 18). It is also illegal to encourage, aid, abet, or entice someone under the age of 18 to commit a crime or violate their parole or court order.

Although the Commonwealth is not required to prove that an act did actually corrupt the morals of a minor, it still must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the act tended to or tends to corrupt the morals of any minor. In describing what this means, the PA Superior Court in Slocum stated:

“we held that actions that tended to corrupt the morals of a minor were those that “would offend the common sense of the community and the sense of decency, propriety and morality which most people entertain.”

Examples Of Corruption Of Minors Can Include Any Of The Following:

  • Furnishing alcohol to a minor;

  • Engaging in sexual relations with a minor;

  • Encouraging or aiding a minor to commit a crime;

  • Committing a crime or facilitating a crime with a minor;

  • Aiding a minor to commit truancy;

  • Aiding a minor to violate their parole or probation.

  • Encouraging a minor to disobey his or her parent(s)

Age Might Matter

Of course, the range of the term "minor" is broad. Teaching a minor about sexual intercourse post-puberty or on the brink of puberty (i.e. a teen or tween) is usually going to have a clear scientific/health information purpose.

Discussing sexual intercourse in detail with a young pre-pubescent child, while not illegal, per se, will raise eyebrows about the true motives of the person providing the information in this discussion, if the person is not a parent, guardian, health care provider, guidance counselor, a school teacher who teaches an appropriate subject, sibling, or peer of the child.

The concern is that, rather than merely passing on information, the motive of the person providing the information might be to prepare the child for unlawful sexual activity, rather than as a general instructional event, and doing so might lead to an investigation of whether the person is doing that.

Cultural Issues

While not directly legally relevant, it is also considered rude to do so in most U.S. subcultures as a stranger or much older child or adult, a bit like discussing the reality of Santa Claus to a child who believes that Santa Claus is real, or telling a child that their deceased parent is not in Heaven. There are strong cultural norms against doing so, even though it is not illegal.

Given that "corruption of a minor" depends, in part, upon society community values, this could be a factor, although not necessarily a decisive one.

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  • -1. Too much blabla not on focus. Why start with the notion of obscenity? Absent any premise of porno material, why presume obscenity in the knowledge about the mechanics of biological reproduction? How is "raising eyebrows" relevant if the question is mere legality?
    – Greendrake
    Commented Feb 20 at 1:17
  • @Greendrake what counts as obscene changed. Da Vinci's anatomical sketches were considered obscene when they were made.
    – Trish
    Commented Feb 20 at 1:36
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    @Greendrake Obscenity is the most likely issue to be litigated, and it wouldn't be unheard of for a prosecutor to consider pushing that boundary because people opposed to sex education routinely consider it to be "pornography" as illustrated by a comment by InHocSigno to another answer to this question. "Raising eyebrows" is pertinent because it is plausible that an investigation would arise in this sensitive context motivated by legal concerns. Knowing what crosses the lines and what could be a problem helps in knowing what doesn't.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 20 at 1:37
  • The kind of (mostly unconstitutional law) that people worry about: "In an 85-12 vote, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill that would amend its 1931 obscenity code to authorize felony charges and $25,000 fines for librarians, museum curators and teachers who intentionally display “obscene matter” to minors. What is “obscene matter”? Why, anything an average person believes “depicts or describes sexually explicit conduct, nudity, sex or certain bodily functions.” Sound vague? That’s the point!" wonkette.com/p/west-virginia-house-gonna-put-those
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 20 at 21:14

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