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Sex in public

Whether you want to get frisky al fresco or embrace your inner Peeping Tom, know the laws first.

The law unzipped

The Sexual Offences Act (2003) defines what's acceptable when it comes to unusual sexual practices and what might invite an angry mob at your court hearing. Whether you're into whipping out your tackle for all to see, invading someone's privacy, or getting it on in trains, planes, woods or car parks, here's what you need to know.

Sex In Public: The Law unzipped -


Step away from that trench coat. If you fancy whipping out Mr or Mrs Happy, you could land yourself in prison. Under The Sexual Offences Act (2003), it is an offence to intentionally expose your genitals in public with the intent that you'll be seen and cause alarm or distress. Even if you're hoping for a round of applause, you risk arrest. The law applies to males and females, but has been phrased carefully to avoid prosecuting naturists and streakers (who still risk breaking public nuisance laws).

And it's not just setting your nether regions loose that can upset the authorities. Baring your boobs or bottom in public can be classed as outraging public decency and is a prosecutable offence. If you are in a public place, where you could be seen by at least two people, flashing your bits is technically illegal and therefore not the brightest idea. That said, someone has to see you, get upset, and report you before Mr Policeman gets involved.

Punishment: Up to two years in prison, and/or a fine


It is illegal to seek sexual gratification by observing/ recording/ broadcasting another person doing a private act (such as undressing, having sex or anything you would not ordinarily do in public). This is designed to protect you from being watched without your knowledge or consent via anything from hidden webcam to a hole in the wall. The law exists to protect you, and prosecute pervs caught with their pants down.

Punishment: Up to two years in prison, and/or a fine

Sex in public places

Whether you fancy getting jiggy in the woods, local park, or even your back garden, you're in legally murky waters. The Sexual Offences Act (2003) doesn't legislate specifically against sex in public places, but that doesn't make it legal.

Public order offences exist to guard against outraging taste and decency. There are distinctions in law about where you can get it on. Sex in private dwellings (such as your house) is fine, even if it's in your front room with the windows open. But public settings (like shagging in the supermarket aisle), funnily enough, aren't legal. "In public" means the conduct must happen in a place where there is a high possibility of at least two members of public possibly seeing it (thus the supermarket-shagging ban).

 But sex in isolated places is technically OK, so long as you have a reasonable expectation of privacy - and, of course, you don't get spotted.

Another part of the Act to watch out for is trespassing with intent to commit a sexual offence. The Sexual Offences Act deems it illegal to trespass onto somebody else's property to get it on, any time day or night. This includes outdoor places as well as buildings.

Police will usually only act on a complaint from a third-party or witness. So, if you're not rumbled, your al fresco fumble should be fine. But be careful.

Updated: 14/12/2012

Updated by Holly Thompson

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