Everything Fun Is Illegal in Virginia

Dirty books, foreplay, gambling, lewdness and more


Only one or two centuries late, Virginia lawmakers have decided it is none of their business if unmarried couples share a roof. So the legislators are now working diligently to repeal the state's law against "lewd and lascivious cohabitation." Huzzahs all 'round for that.

But do not unclutch thy bodice yet. Virginia law is riddled with antiquated provisions meant to govern the "morals and decency" of the fair people of the commonwealth. And while the law against shacking up apparently never gets enforced, others do.

Just for starters: While it might soon be legal to live in sin, that doesn't mean you can, by gad sir, fornicate. Fornication remains forbidden under the Code of Virginia, Section 18.2-344. So keep your hands and whatnot to yourself. Especially the whatnots.

And don't even think of doing other stuff. Virginia's "crimes against Nature" statute—Section 18.2-361—still prohibits oral sex. Even between married straight couples. Moreover, state lawmakers seem particularly opposed to that practice—because in Virginia, it's a felony. Efforts to repeal that provision or even to reduce oral sex to a misdemeanor have failed repeatedly.

Also: Don't try to open a "bawdy place," which the code defines as any place "used for lewdness, assignation or prostitution." (Assignation?)

If you happen to be, say, a cab driver, you had better be careful whom you're driving where. Virginia law prohibits you to drive anybody to any place (bawdy or otherwise) if you think that person might be going for "illicit sexual intercourse."

But the law doesn't end there. If you happen to be a person who happens to know things—such as, oh, the location of bawdy houses or other loci for the commission of illicit woo-hoo—and you happen to impart such information to a fellow who is just passing through, then you are breaking the law. Virginia forbids divulging "any information or direction to any person with intent to enable such person to commit an act of prostitution."

Also, you're not allowed to let anybody have sex in your car. Says so in black and white, right there in §18.2-349.

Then there's adultery. Adultery is a violation of God's commandments. But whether your affair should be the state's affair as well is another question altogether. Virginia lawmakers think it should be—adultery here is a Class 4 misdemeanor. Nine years ago the town attorney in Luray was convicted of adultery and had to perform 20 hours of community service to expiate his sins.

Obscenity is technically illegal in Virginia, too. That means no dirty movies, dramas, plays or photographs. Or at least it might mean that, depending on what the meaning of "dirty" is. The law prohibits material whose "dominant" theme appeals to a "shameful or morbid" interest in sex and does so in a manner "substantially" exceeding "customary limits of candor." The modifiers leave a lot of wiggle room—though maybe that depends on what kind of wiggling we're talking about.

Advertising or promoting obscene works or performances is against the law, too. As are dirty books: In Virginia, "any citizen … may institute" judicial review of any book. If a court thinks the book is obscene, then "the court may issue a temporary restraining order against the sale or distribution" of the book. So anyone who wants to ban "Fifty Shades of Grey" has legal recourse to try.

All of this might leave you tempted to let fly a few guttural Anglo-Saxonisms. Don't—at least not on the street. Section 18.2-388 makes profane cursing in public a Class 4 misdemeanor.

But nobody enforces these laws, right? Wanna bet? Don't do that, either: Great chunks of prose in the Code of Virginia are given over to regulating how and when people can wager. Gambling—in a manner not approved of by the state, such as by purchasing state lottery tickets—qualifies as a Class 3 misdemeanor. "Abetting" gambling also is illegal. You're allowed to play games of chance in the privacy of your own home. Bingo, duck races, raffles and the like are allowed under exhaustively spelled-out conditions.

Some may think these Victorian proscriptions serve some purpose, such as supporting the institution of marriage. If so, then they don't seem to be working: Virginia has one of the higher divorce rates in the nation. That matches a trend nationwide. Conservative Southern states tend to have higher divorce rates than those godless liberal enclaves in the Northeast.

Anyway. It has taken Virginia 136 years to reconsider the lascivious-cohabitation law. At this rate, lawmakers should be able to drag the commonwealth into the 21st century sometime around the 27th.