What Is a Crime Against Nature?

By Teo Spengler - Updated April 25, 2018
Prison Cells

Warning: This article contains sexually explicit language.

"Crimes against nature" is a phrase that sounds like a racy movie or bestselling novel. And, in fact, this criminal charge does have sexual connotations. For decades, "proper" sexual conduct was traditional sex between a man and a woman, usually a married couple. Crimes against nature have, over the years, included almost all sexual behavior other than that.

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Crimes against nature include any of a number of sexual behaviors that, at one time or another, have been considered to be so unnatural as to be made illegal, including oral and anal sex, bestiality, sex with minors, prostitution and incest.

The History of Crimes Against Nature

For many years, the primary focus of the crimes against nature statutes was all types of sodomy, including bestiality. In the United States, Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature statute is among the oldest crimes-against-nature laws, dating back to the 19th century. It is an archaic statute that criminalizes sexual conduct that is "nonprocreative," typically homosexual sexual conduct.

Types of Crimes Against Nature

Laws regarding crimes against nature have defined as criminal almost every type of sexual behavior other than traditional man/woman sex. The term has included male/male or female/female sexual conduct, fellatio and cunnilingus, sodomy between any two persons, inserting any object into a person's genital opening, sexual behavior with an animal, sexual acts with a minor, sexual acts in exchange for money, incest including voluntary sexual conduct between two relatives, public indecency, sex between people of different races, sexual conduct with someone who has limited mental capability and sex with a corpse.

Note that consent is historically not a defense to a charge of a crime against nature. On the other hand, it is not necessary for prosecutors to prove lack of consent. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a law that criminalizes any type of sexual behavior between consenting adults is unconstitutional, which limits the impact of any crime-against-nature law.

Punishments for Crimes Against Nature

In Louisiana's statute, someone convicted of crimes against nature can be fined up to $75,000 and imprisoned at hard labor for not less than 25 years. The maximum penalty applies only to crimes against nature with a person under the age of 14 years old. Lesser penalties and terms at hard labor apply to other offenses.

But it should be noted that most people consider the Louisiana statute to be unconstitutional in that it targets acts between consenting adults, some homosexual, some heterosexual. In fact, in 2016, this provision was included in the Unconstitutional Statutes Biennial Report to the Louisiana Legislature in 2016.

Today, crime-against-nature is often simply an add-on to charged sexual offenses that can bump up the penalties. For example, it could be added on to a charge of indecent behavior with a minor. Inexplicably, some crimes against nature are among the few sex offenses in which a conviction doesn't require registration as a sex offender. In some states, however, some types of crimes-against-nature offenders do have to register. For example, those convicted in Louisiana of Crime Against Nature by Solicitation must register as sex offenders.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.

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