Legal and Ethical Issues for Sex Addicts, Part 1, Criminal Liability

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This article is derived from a teaching presentation created by Stuart Leviton, COO of Seeking Integrity and Sex and Relationship Healing. 

Sadly, the behavior of sex and porn addicts, as it escalates over time, sometimes crosses both ethical and legal boundaries. Such behaviors can and often do lead to consequences beyond the usual problems that addicts (of all types) typically face. In this week’s post, we will examine what is generally the most severe category of these consequences: the violation of criminal laws.

Criminal Laws Governing Sexual Conduct

Criminal laws about sex (and the psychiatric definition of sexual offending) are fundamentally about consent. Specific laws vary by jurisdiction, but, in general, non-consensual sexual behaviors are criminalized (and also pathologized).

In this context, consent means positive cooperation in act or attitude pursuant to an exercise of free will. The persons involved must act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge of the nature of the act or transaction involved. Consent must be intelligent, knowing, and voluntary. Consent does not ever include coerced submission.

Examples of non-consensual and other forms of criminalized sexual conduct include:

  • Inability to consent based on age.
  • Inability to consent based on lack of mental capacity.
  • Inability to consent based on cognitive impairment (i.e., drugs, alcohol, asleep, passed out, etc.)
  • Consent based on deception.
  • Consent based on coercion, force (or threat of force), status (teacher, police officer), etc.
  • Unwanted exposure to obscenity/obscene matter.
  • Child pornography.
  • Bigamy.
  • Incest.
  • Bestiality.
  • Prostitution.
  • Lewd conduct, such as indecent exposure, public solicitation of sexual activity, etc.
  • Voyeurism, including spying, non-consensual filming/recording/photographing of nudity or sexual conduct.
  • Revenge porn.

Criminalization may vary by jurisdiction. For instance, age of consent is not the same in every state, some jurisdictions allow bigamy, and laws vary widely regarding things like revenge porn.

In next week’s post, we will look at civil liability in the workplace related to sex and porn addiction. In the interim, if you or someone you know is struggling with sex, porn, or paired substance/sex addiction, help is available. For information and guidance, please contact us via email at this link.