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Massachusetts law about sex

A compilation of laws, cases, and web sources on the law of sex in Massachusetts. For information on rape, child abuse, pornography, or sex offenders, please see Related links below.

Table of Contents

Adultery

It is not against the law for a married person to have sex with someone other than their spouse. 

The primary adultery law was repealed by St.2018, c.155, § 2

But the following law still exists:

MGL. c.208, § 40 Cohabitation after divorce
Persons divorced from each other cohabiting as husband and wife or living together in the same house shall be held to be guilty of adultery.

Bestiality

It is against the law to have sexual contact with an animal.

MGL c.272, § 34 Crime against nature
Whoever commits the abominable and detestable crime against nature, either with mankind or with a beast, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 20 years.

MGL c.272, § 77C Sexual contact with animal
Law and punishment regarding sexual contact with animals. This law includes the definition of animal, the definition of sexual contact in this context, and exceptions to the rule as it pertains to veterinary care and accepted animal husbandry practices.

Comm. v. J.A., a juvenile, 478 Mass. 385 (2017)
A juvenile cannot be indicted as a youthful offender based on charges of cruelty to animals and bestiality, "given that the language in G. L. c. 199, § 54, the youthful offender statute, allowing a juvenile to be tried as a youthful offender for an offense involving the infliction of "serious bodily harm," does not apply to animal as well as human victims."

Bigamy

It is against the law to be married to more than 1 person.

MGL c.272, § 15. Polygamy
Law and punishment regarding being married to more than one person at the same time.

MGL c.207. § 4. Polygamy prohibited; exception

MGL c.207. § 6. Marriage during existence of former marriage; validity

Child under 14

It is against the law to have sex with, or to touch in a sexual way, a child under 14. 

MGL c.265, § 13B. Indecent assault and battery on child under 14; penalties.

Whoever commits an indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14 shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 10 years, or by imprisonment in the house of correction for not! more than 2½ years. A prosecution commenced under this section shall neither be continued without a finding nor placed on file.

In a prosecution under this section, a child under the age of 14 years shall be deemed incapable of consenting to any conduct of the defendant for which such defendant is being prosecuted.

MGL c.265, § 13B-1/2 Commission of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14 during commission of certain offenses or by mandated reporters; penalties

Whoever commits an indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14 and:

(a) the indecent assault and battery was committed during the commission or attempted commission of the following offenses:-- (1) armed burglary as set forth in section 14 of chapter 266; (2) unarmed burglary as set forth in section 15 of said chapter 266; (3) breaking and entering as set forth in section 16 of said chapter 266; (4) entering without breaking as set forth in section 17 of said chapter 266; (5) breaking and entering into a dwelling house as set forth in section 18 of said chapter 266; (6) kidnapping as set forth in section 26 of chapter 265; (7) armed robbery as set forth in section 17 of said chapter 265; (8) unarmed robbery as set forth in section 19 of said chapter 265; (9) assault and battery with a dangerous weapon or assault with a dangerous weapon, as set forth in sections 15A and 15B of said chapter 265; (10) home invasion as set forth in section 18C of said chapter 265; or (11) posing or exhibiting child in state of nudity or sexual conduct as set forth in section 29A of chapter 272; or

(b) at the time of commission of said indecent assault and battery, the defendant was a mandated reporter as is defined in section 21 of chapter 119, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life or for any term of years, but not less than 10 years. The sentence imposed on such person shall not be reduced to less than 10 years, or suspended, nor shall any person convicted under this section be eligible for probation, parole, work release, or furlough or receive any deduction from his sentence for good conduct until he shall have served 10 years of such sentence. Prosecutions commenced under this section shall neither be continued without a finding nor placed on file.

In a prosecution under this section, a child under the age of 14 years shall be deemed incapable of consenting to any conduct of the defendant for which such defendant is being prosecuted.

MGL c.265, § 13B-3/4 Commission of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14 by certain previously convicted offenders; penalties

Whoever commits an indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14 and has been previously convicted of or adjudicated delinquent or as a youthful offender for: indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 as set forth in section 13B; aggravated indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 as set forth in section 13B1/2; indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older as set forth in section 13H; assault of a child with intent to commit rape as set forth in section 24B; rape of a child with force as set forth in section 22A; aggravated rape of a child with force as set forth in section 22B; rape and abuse of a child as set forth in section 23; aggravated rape and abuse of a child as set forth in section 23A; rape as set forth in section 22 or; a like violation of the laws of another state, the United States or a military, territorial or Indian tribal authority, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life or for any term of years, but not less than 15 years. The sentence imposed on such person shall not be reduced to less than 15 years, or suspended, nor shall any person convicted under this section be eligible for probation, parole, work release or furlough or receive any deduction from his sentence for good conduct until he shall have served 15 years of such sentence. Prosecutions commenced under this section shall neither be continued without a finding nor placed on file.

In any prosecution commenced pursuant to this section, introduction into evidence of a prior adjudication or conviction or a prior finding of sufficient facts by either certified attested copies of original court papers, or certified attested copies of the defendant's biographical and informational data from records of the department of probation, any jail or house of correction or the department of correction shall be prima facie evidence that the defendant before the court had been convicted previously by a court of the Commonwealth or any other jurisdiction. Such documentation shall be self-authenticating and admissible, after the Commonwealth has established the defendant's guilt on the primary offense, as evidence in any court of the Commonwealth to prove the defendant's commission of any prior conviction described therein. The Commonwealth shall not be required to introduce any additional corroborating evidence or live witness testimony to establish the validity of such prior conviction.

Child under 16

It is against the law to have sex with anyone under 16 years old. You can't have sex with someone under 16, even if you are also under 16.

MGL. c.265, § 23. [Commonly known as the Statutory Rape Law]. Rape and abuse of child.

Whoever unlawfully has sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse, and abuses a child under 16 years of age, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life or for any term of years or, except as otherwise provided, for any term in a jail or house of correction. A prosecution commenced under this section shall neither be continued without a finding nor placed on file.

MGL c.265, § 23A Rape and abuse of child aggravated by age difference between defendant and victim or by when committed by mandated reporters; penalties

Whoever unlawfully has sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse, and abuses a child under 16 years of age and: 

(a) there exists more than a 5 year age difference between the defendant and the victim and the victim is under 12 years of age;

(b) there exists more than a 10 year age difference between the defendant and the victim where the victim is between the age of 12 and 16 years of age; or

(c) at the time of such intercourse, was a mandated reporter as defined in section 21 of chapter 119, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life or for any term of years, but not less than 10 years. The sentence imposed on such person shall not be reduced to less than 10 years, or suspended, nor shall any person convicted under this section be eligible for probation, parole, work release, or furlough or receive any deduction from his sentence for good conduct until he shall have served 10 years of such sentence. Prosecutions commenced under this section shall neither be continued without a finding nor placed on file.

MGL c.265, § 23B Rape and abuse of child by certain previously convicted offenders; penalties

Whoever unlawfully has sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse, and abuses a child under 16 years of age and has been previously convicted of or adjudicated delinquent or as a youthful offender for: indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 under section 13B; aggravated indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 under section 13B1/2; indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older under section 13H; assault of a child with intent to commit rape under section 24B; rape of a child with force under section 22A; aggravated rape of a child with force under section 22B; rape and abuse of a child under section 23; aggravated rape and abuse of a child under section 23A; rape under section 22; or a like violation of the laws of another state, the United States or a military, territorial or Indian tribal authority, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life or for any term of years, but not less than 15 years. The sentence imposed on such person shall not be reduced to less than 15 years, or suspended, nor shall any person convicted under this section be eligible for probation, parole, work release, or furlough or receive any deduction from his sentence for good conduct until he shall have served 15 years of such sentence. Prosecutions commenced under this section shall neither be continued without a finding nor placed on file.

In any prosecution commenced pursuant to this section, introduction into evidence of a prior adjudication or conviction or a prior finding of sufficient facts by either certified attested copies of original court papers, or certified attested copies of the defendant's biographical and informational data from records of the department of probation, any jail or house of correction or the department of correction, shall be prima facie evidence that the defendant before the court has been convicted previously by a court of the commonwealth or any other jurisdiction. Such documentation shall be self-authenticating and admissible, after the commonwealth has established the defendant's guilt on the primary offense, as evidence in any court of the commonwealth to prove the defendant's commission of any prior conviction described therein. The commonwealth shall not be required to introduce any additional corroborating evidence or live witness testimony to establish the validity of such prior conviction.

MGL c.265, § 26C Definition of ''entice''; enticement of child under age 16; punishment

Section 26C. (a) As used in this section, the term ''entice'' shall mean to lure, induce, persuade, tempt, incite, solicit, coax or invite.

(b) Any one who entices a child under the age of 16, or someone he believes to be a child under the age of 16, to enter, exit or remain within any vehicle, dwelling, building, or other outdoor space with the intent that he or another person will violate section 13B, 13B1/2, 13B3/4, 13F, 13H, 22, 22A, 22B, 22C, 23, 23A, 23B, 24 or 24B of chapter 265, section 4A, 16, 28, 29, 29A, 29B, 29C, 35A, 53 or 53A of chapter 272, or any offense that has as an element the use or attempted use of force, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 5 years, or in the house of correction for not more than 21/2 years, or by both imprisonment and a fine of not more than $5,000.

MGL c.272,§ 35A . Unnatural and lascivious acts with child under 16

Whoever commits any unnatural and lascivious act with a child under the age of 16 shall be punished by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars nor more than 1,000 dollars or by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 5 years or in jail or the house of correction for not more than 2 1/2 years, and whoever over the age of 18 commits a second or subsequent such offence shall be sentenced to imprisonment in the state prison for a term of not less than 5 years.

Commonwealth v. Bernardo B., 453 Mass. 158 (2009)
Where a boy under 16 was charged for statutory rape for sexual activity with girls under 16, and only the boy was charged, the boy was entitled to discovery of statistical information relevant to his claim of selective prosecution.

Commonwealth v. Miller, 385 Mass. 521 (1982)
The offense of statutory rape, G. L. c. 265, § 23, may be committed with or without any knowledge on the defendant's part of the age of the victim.

Commonwealth v. Elder, 389 Mass. 743 (1983)
"Consent is not a defense to a charge of statutory rape."

Commonwealth v. Knap, 412 Mass. 712 (1992)
"The only elements the Commonwealth must prove are (1) sexual or unnatural sexual intercourse with (2) a child under sixteen years of age"

Commonwealth v. Wilbur W., 479 Mass. 397 (2018)
Discusses the prosecution of statutory rape where both the victim and defendant are under 16.

E.C.O. v. Compton, 464 Mass. 558 (2013)
"A person sixteen years of age or older is legally capable of 'consenting' to sexual intercourse. See G.L. c. 265, § 23; G.L. c. 277, § 39."

New Sex Ed: What Young People Need to Know About Sex Laws, Karen Goldberg.
This blog post does a nice job explaining the law in Massachusetts regarding young people and sex.

Child under 18

[This is a law that is rarely used.]

MGL c.272, § 4. Inducing person under 18 to have sexual intercourse.

Whoever induces any person under 18 years of age of chaste life to have unlawful sexual intercourse shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 3 years or in a jail or house of correction for not more than 2 1/2 years or by a fine of not more than $1,000 or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Consent

"Consent" to sex is not defined in Massachusetts laws.

Several crimes require lack of consent, though, including rape and indecent assault and battery. 

Fornication

It is not against the law for unmarried consenting adults to have sex.

The old law was repealed by St.2018, c.155, § 2

Incest

It is against the law to have sex with a relative who is:

  • your mother
  • your father
  • your grandmother
  • your grandfather
  • your daughter 
  • your son
  • your granddaughter
  • your grandson
  • your sister
  • your brother
  • your niece
  • your nephew
  • your aunt
  • your uncle

MGL c.272, § 17. Incestuous marriage or sexual activities
Law and punishment related to sex between individuals that are related or so closely related that they are not allowed to get married to one another.

Commonwealth v. Rahim, 441 Mass. 273 (2004)
"We conclude that 'consanguinity' is a necessary element of the crime of incest, and that the incest statute makes criminal only relationships between persons related by blood or adoption, not other relationships prohibited by the marriage statute, G.L. c. 207, §§ 1 and 2."

Liability for injury during consensual sex

Just like in sports, injuries may occur during consensual sex, but you can sue a partner if they engage in wanton or reckless conduct. 

Private, consensual sadomasochistic behavior is not a defense to assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. The state has a right to protect its citizens against physical harm. 

Assault and battery during sex

Comm. v. Carey, 463 Mass. 378 (2012)
Consent is not a defense to assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, even if it happens during consensual sexual activity. The defense had argued that the SJC case of Commonwealth v. Appleby, 380 Mass. 296 (1980), which held that consent was not a defense to assault and battery in a sadomasochistic encounter, was no longer valid in light of the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, 539 US 558 (2003), which held that “liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex.”

The court disagreed, quoting Appleby: “The fact that violence may be related to sexual activity (or may even be sexual activity to the person inflicting pain on another …) does not prevent the State from protecting its citizens against physical harm.”

See also:

No assault and battery

Doe v. Moe, 63 Mass. App. Ct. 516 (2005).
The Appeals Court defines the standard of care required in sexual encounters. In this case, one party was injured during consensual sexual intercourse, and sued the other. The court ruled, “While it is inappropriate and unworkable to hold consenting adults to a standard of reasonable care in the conduct of private consensual sexual behavior, we conclude that it is appropriate that they be held to a standard that requires them not to engage in wanton or reckless conduct toward each other during such consensual sexual conduct.”

Necrophilia

Massachusetts does not have a law that says you can't have sex with a dead body. 

'Necrophilia legislator' on a crusade to outlaw loophole of arcane era, The Guardian, 2015.
"Massachusetts bans crimes against chastity, morality, decency and good order but does not include sex with a dead person." "The bulk of US states, including Massachusetts, has less explicit legislation that Troyer categorizes either as “abuse of corpse laws” or “unnatural acts or crimes against nature laws."

Prostitution

It is against the law to have sex for money, or to profit from someone else having sex for money (pimping).

MGL c.272, § 2 Enticing away a person for prostitution or sexual intercourse.
Law and punishment regarding enticing someone for the purpose of prostitution or unlawful sex, or helping someone else to do so.

MGL c.272 § 4A Inducing minor into prostitution; penalties.
Law and punishment regarding inducing a minor into prostitution, or helping someone else to do so.

MGL c.272, § 4B Living off or sharing earnings of minor prostitute; penalties.
Law and punishment regarding living off of, or receiving money that was earned from minor prostitution.

MGL c.272, § 7 Support from, or sharing, earnings of prostitute. (commonly known as the pimping law)
Law and punishment regarding living off of, or receiving money that was earned from prostitution.

  • Comm. v. Brown, 481 Mass. 77 (2018).
    "G. L. c. 272, § 7, is constitutional, as we construe it to target those who, with the intent to profit from prostitution, live or derive support or maintenance from, or share in the earnings or proceeds of, the known prostitution of others....In short, pimping -- which we define as knowingly and intentionally profiting from the prostitution of another -- is what the Legislature proscribed when enacting the statute that is now G. L. c. 272, § 7."

MGL c.272, § 8 Soliciting for prostitute.
Law and punishment regarding soliciting a prostitute or getting compensated for soliciting a prostitute.

MGL c.272, § 12 Procuring person to practice, or enter a place for, prostitution; employment office procuring person.
Law and punishment related to having individuals or employment agencies entice someone practice prostitution or have someone enter a place of prostitution.

MGL c.272, § 13 Detaining, or drugging to detain, person in place for prostitution.
Law and punishment related to unlawfully detaining or drugging an individual in a place for prostitution, or helping someone else to do so.

MGL c.272, § 53A Engaging in sexual conduct for a fee; engaging in sexual conduct with child under age 18 for a fee; penalties.

Law and punishment regarding:

  • engaging, agreeing to engage in, or offering to engage in sexual conduct with another person in return for a fee.
  • paying, agreeing to pay, or offering to pay another person to engage in sexual conduct, or agreeing to engage in sexual conduct with another person for money.
  • paying, agreeing to pay or offering to pay someone with the intent to engage in sexual conduct with a child under the age of 18, or getting paid, agrees to getting paid or agreeing that someone else will be be paid in return for aiding a person who intends to engage in sexual conduct with a child under the age of 18

Sexually transmitted diseases (STD)

There is no law that says people with STDs can't have sex, but there are other laws about STDs

MGL c.111, § 119 Records pertaining to venereal diseases
Law stating that STD records are not public records.

MGL c.111, § 121 Treatment of venereal diseases or pulmonary tuberculosis in public charitable or penal institutions; expenses
Law outlining the treatment of inmates with STDs.

MGL c.112, § 12F Emergency treatment of minors
Law stating minors can consent to testing and treatment for STDs.

MGL c.265, § 22B(f). Rape of a child during commission of certain offenses or by use of force; penalties
Law that increases the penalty for rape of a child by force if the defendant knew or should have known that he had an STD that could infect the victim.

Doe v. Moe, 63 Mass. App. Ct. 516 (2005)
The general rule that there is no legal duty of reasonable care during sex may not apply to the negligent transmission of an STD. 

Sodomy

Anal sex is not against the law.

These laws are on the books, but their use was limited by the courts:

MGL c.272, § 34. Crime against nature
Law outlining crime against nature done with people or animals. The use of this law was restricted by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders v. AG, 436 Mass. 132 (2002).

"Our holdings in the Balthazar and Ferguson cases concerning acts conducted in private between consenting adults extend to § 34, as well." [private consenting acts will not be prohibited].

MGL c.272, § 35. Unnatural and lascivious acts.
Law outlining unnatural and lascivious acts with people. The use of this law was restricted by Commonwealth v. Balthazar, 366 Mass. 298 (1974).

  • Commonwealth v. Balthazar, 366 Mass. 298 (1974) The "unnatural and lascivious acts" statute has been held to include public fellatio and oral-anal contact.. "must be construed to be inapplicable to private, consensual conduct of adults."

Lawrence v. Texas, 539 US 558 (June 2003)
Texas sodomy law ruled unconstitutional by US Supreme Court

History of Sodomy Laws in Massachusetts, Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest, 2004
Traces Mass. laws from 1620-2004

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Last updated: March 22, 2021
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