Crime and Scandal

Alfred Kinsey in 1948 Uncovers Sex In New England

In 1948, Alfred Kinsey shocked the world with his research into sex: who was doing what, with whom and how often were not topics of polite conversation. But the zoologist researcher also placed the spotlight on the laws, pointing out that there was no consistency throughout the states. Activities that weren’t even illegal in Vermont could land you in jail for 30 years in Connecticut.

alfred kinseyIn analyzing the laws regarding sexual behavior. Kinsey looked at four categories. Adultery, sex between two people, at least one of whom is married to someone else. Fornication, sex involving unmarried partners. Seduction, inducing someone to have sex with a promise of marriage. Sodomy, a catch-all of forbidden activities but most often used against homosexual activities.

Alfred Kinsey

Alfred Kinsey, born June 23, 1894, in Hoboken, N.J. He grew up poor and sickly in a devout Christian family. One of the first Eagle Scouts, he was a hardworking student interested in science. Though he wanted to study botany in college, his father made him study engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

Alfred Kinsey, 1955

After two years he transferred to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he studied biology. He then did graduate work at Harvard University’s Bussey Institute and earned an ScD degree, having written a thesis on gall wasps.

Kinsey took an academic post at Indiana University and wrote several textbooks. He also studied the mating practices of the gall wasp, which led to his interest in human sexuality. He delivered a lecture on the topic at Indiana University in 1935, causing a stir and not for the first time.

A grant from the Rockefeller Foundation allowed him to study human sexuality, and in 1948 he published the best-selling Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Five years later he published Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, also a bestseller. He died on Aug. 25, 1956 of a heart ailment.

So for all their prudish reputation, how did the New England states’ penalties stack up?

Sex in New England

StateConn.MaineMass.NHRIVermontToughest stateMost lenient state
Penalty5 years imprisonment$1000 fine and/or five years imprisonment$500 fine or 2-3 years imprisonment$500 fine and one year imprisonment or 3 years imprisonment$500 fine or one year imprisonment$1000 fine or 5 years imprisonmentConnecticut, Oklahoma and Vermont – potential for five years imprisonmentNo crime in Nevada, Louisiana, Tennessee, and New Mexico


StateConn.MaineMass.NHRIVermontToughest stateMost lenient state
Penalty$100 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment$100 fine and 60-days imprisonment. Cohabitation – $300 or 5 years imprisonment$30 fine or 3 months imprisonment Cohabitation – $300 fine or 3 years imprisonment$50 fine or 6 months imprisonment$10 fineNo crimeMaine and Oregon – potential for five years imprisonmentNo crime in Arizona, California, Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington


StateConn.MaineMass.NHRIVermontToughest stateMost lenient state
Penalty$1000 fine or 5 years imprisonmentNo crime$1000 fine and/or 2 ½ to 3 years imprisonmentNo crime5 years imprisonmentNo crimeGeorgia – up to 20 years imprisonmentDelaware, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia


StateConn.MaineMass.NHRIVermontToughest stateMost lenient state
Penalty30 years imprisonment1-10 years imprisonment20 years imprisonmentNo crime7-20 years imprisonmentNo crimeColorado and Nevada – up to life imprisonmentNo crime in New Hampshire, Vermont and District of Columbia

This story updated in 2022. 

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