For the most part, consensual sexual activity is none of the government's business. Sexual assault, rape, and other such sex crimes all involve non-consensual sex and are thus considered serious violations. However, there are some situations when consensual sex crosses the line and either endangers another's well-being or disrupts the public.
This article provides a brief overview of Tennessee laws prohibiting certain consensual and non-consensual sexual acts. Keep in mind that "consent" is a legal term defined by state criminal law. For example, it is impossible for anyone under the age of 18 to consent to sexual activity in Tennessee.
History of Sexual Activities Laws
There are voluntary sexual activities that are regulated under state consensual sexual activity laws in all jurisdictions. Most of the time, these guidelines reflect the social and political norms of the particular state at the time the laws were created and thus are subject to change over time.
While any kind of non-consensual sex is a crime, most states at one time enforced anti-sodomy laws. These laws have since been struck down in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas and ruled as unconstitutional since they singled out same-sex couples. Before this, however, Tennessee removed its statute outlawing sodomy in Campbell v. Sundquist in 1996.
Consensual Sexual Activity Laws in Tennessee
The main provisions of Tennessee's prohibited consensual sexual activity laws are highlighted in the following chart. You can also find more information and resources on this topic in FindLaw's section on Sex Crimes.
Sodomy Laws Applicable to
There is no anti-sodomy statute on the books in Tennessee.
Penalty for Sodomy
There is no penalty since there are no anti-sodomy laws.
HIV Exposure and Compelled Testing for Offenders
Under T.S.A. § 39-13-521, when a person is initially arrested for allegedly violating T.S.A. § 39-13-502 et seq., that person shall undergo HIV or other STI testing within 48 hours.
Other Crimes Relating to Consensual Sex Acts
- Prostitution: Under T.S.A. § 39-13-513 et seq., prostitution is a class B misdemeanor while patronizing prostitution is a class A misdemeanor. Depending on the facts of the case, it may also be a class E felony (if the victim is not of the age of consent or if the defendant has multiple convictions).
- Public indecency: Under T.S.A. § 39-13-511, public indecency is a class A misdemeanor. If the event occurred in the presence of a child, the offense could be a class E felony.
Other Crimes Relating to Non-consensual Sex Acts
- Statutory rape: Statutory rape can be a class C felony (with three to fifteen years in prison and a fine up to $10,000), class D felony (with two to twelve years in prison and a fine up to $5,000), or class E felony (with one to six years in prison and a fine up to $3,000), depending on the facts of the case.
- Rape: Aggravated rape is a class A felony with 15 to 60 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $50,000. Rape and aggravated sexual battery are punishable by eight to 30 years in prison and a fine up to $25,000 as a class B felony. For more information, visit FindLaw's article on Tennessee Rape and Sexual Assault Laws.
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Tennessee Prohibited Consensual Sexual Activity Laws: Related Resources
Need More Help? Contact an Attorney
Criminal prosecution for a sex crime can have serious consequences for a defendant. If you have been arrested for a sex crime, you may consider contacting an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you still have the right to counsel and the public defender's office in your county will be able to assist you.