This paper analyzes cross-national and longitudinal variations in criminal laws regulating sexual activities. We blend historical and sociological institutionalisms to argue that criminal sex laws embody exogenous models, supplied by colonial and imperial powers and evolving world society. To test our ideas, we apply logit-panel and pooled-time-series models to original data from more than 150 countries on four aspects of sex laws, 1965 to 2005: (1) maximum prison terms for rape, (2) ages of sexual consent, (3) the existence of sodomy prohibitions, and (4) gender neutrality in adultery regulations. Our analyses confirm the importance of exogenous factors and show that endogenous factors—including the dominance of Islam and the status of women in society—play lesser roles in explaining formal content differences. In supplementary analyses, we explore counterpoint variations, that is, sexlaw reforms that flout global standards, illustrated here by sodomy-law expansions during the period. We find exogenous imprints even in these cases.


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pp. 941-969
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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