How common is public sex?

Many people ask “Is public sex legal in California?”, or “Do people actually have sex in public?”. Planes, trains, cemeteries, and confessionals are just some of the places where people have been caught having sexual encounters in recent news. There will always be those people who enjoy living life on the proverbial “edge.” According to various online studies, up to 25% of respondents reported having had sex in a public place.

Yet, while these folks have dared their senses into some imaginative and sometimes dangerous public places, it may lead to trouble with the law. While it may seem harmless in the heat of the moment, there are real dangers and potentially expensive, long-lasting, and in some cases, life-changing consequences if and when a person is busted in the act.

Public Sex Laws in California

Is public sex legal in California?

In California, Penal Code 647(a) makes it a crime “to engage in or to solicit anyone to engage in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view”. This act is most often charged using undercover cops as “bait” in public locations (such as bathrooms and parks). Undercover cops typically target and “bait” gay men into exposing themselves, masturbating, or proposing some other sexual act. In some circumstances, an officer can entrap a victim, which would make any charges against the victim null and void. It could be difficult to prove entrapment- and either way, you don’t want to ever be in a situation where you’re thinking ‘Is this entrapment?” If that thought is crossing your mind in a situation, you’re most likely breaking the law or about to break the law.

Public sex is, by law, defined as sexual acts or forms of exhibition that take place in public or other “semi-public” places. Under California Penal Code 647(a), it can occur in a public place, a place open to the public, or a place exposed to public view. California courts have found “public” to include, among other places, an automobile, motorcycle, a common hallway in an apartment building, the area behind the service counter in a men’s clothing store, a car parked on a public street, a private movie booth at an adult bookstore, and a massage parlor. For example, the backseat of a car may not seem especially public, but if a passerby can see you or you are otherwise visible to the public, you can be arrested and charged with a crime. The truly creative have been caught in places as diverse as public libraries, tram cars, amusement park ride, and even in a church confessional in Rome!

What is considered to be “public” sex?

While it might be argued that some of these places may not have been truly “public,” California law applies the public standard in such a way that any place other than your home, hotel room, or your personal office can be construed as a public place. So, before you get it on in your backyard or that big picture window facing the canyon, you might want to pull the drapes or find a safer alternative.

As far as the definition of a sexual act is concerned, these too are covered by a broad spectrum of laws and statutes that can be interpreted in different ways. These can range from charges of indecent exposure to lewd acts in public. In most cases, these are misdemeanors but can be escalated to felony charges for multiple offenses. For felony convictions, most offenders will face prison time and be required to register as a sexual offender.

There are also statutes that prohibit lewd acts that could be considered as public sex or indecent exposure. A new form of exposure popping up on the internet is of people going into Target and Walmart stores and exposing their breasts or behinds. It could seem like all fun and games, but the cameras are watching. What if a child walked by, or another person? They would most likely go to the front desk and report it, resulting in the security overlooking the cameras to file a police report. The people committing these acts would be arrested for indecent exposure, even if no one was around or saw. You may think walking out with just a thong on or walking out with no bra is just fine, but depending on the local rules, you could be arrested. Almost all states do not allow people to walk around without a bra or underwear on, as this would be indecent exposure and have you arrested.


Q: Is it considered “public sex” in one’s backyard?


A: In some circumstances, yes. Let’s assume you have a small gate around your backyard, some foliage, and some spots where one neighbor wouldn’t be able to see anything. If the gate is low enough where people could easily look through and see what’s going on, you could be charged with public sex. But let’s assume you have foliage covering all over the backyard, and it’d be very hard to see in your backyard. That would not be considered public sex, as you’d be in your home while being covered by the rest of your property.


Q: Would going to the bathroom in public be considered illegal?


A: Yes, this is a form of exhibitionism and is illegal in all states. To add to this point, if a person is caught within half a mile of a school zone could be charged with a sex crime and be forced to be listed as a sex offender.


Q: “It’s so hard to look into my car! You’d need to come right up to the window!”


A: It doesn’t matter. If anyone could see what you are doing or even make out what you’re doing, you could be charged with one of the two crimes. Sex and exhibitionism is meant to be kept in fully private areas- ones that you own, away from the general public. As stated before, this could include a home, hotel room, and in some cases a personal office.

Contact Pride Legal

If you or a loved one has been accused of engaging in public sex, we invite you to contact us at Pride Legal for legal counseling or any further questions. To protect your rights, hire someone who understands them.