Some relationships involve sex. Some acts are motivated by desire. When are they good? When are they morally questionable? When should they be illegal? When are they plain wrong?
Answers to these questions can be among the most strongly felt positions held by people – and societies. But when it comes to sex, legal systems vary dramatically in terms of what’s allowed or prohibited. Over time, the variations are huge.
Today almost everywhere, adultery may be considered wrong, but it’s not illegal. Nor are sexual relationships between people with different skin color or of the same gender. But in past times many so accused faced punishments up to execution.
Because feelings about sex can be so charged, it’s possible a society may come to see that it has overpunished those who violate certain norms. Historically, many laws have persecuted people for behavior or interests that are anomalous but also benign. This may be the case even today.
On the other hand, sometimes societies sweep wrongdoing under the rug rather than face unpleasant realities.
Neither situation is good. Keeping an open discussion and dispassionately considering the evidence are the best ways to strike a balance.
Today in the West, sexual feelings adults have for minors – and acts that sometimes follow – are the occasion for outrage and harsh punishments and permanent suspension of civil rights. What are the actual facts that can help us create laws that are effective and just?