As we have seen, certain sexual variations can be problematic for the individuals concerned. In some countries, however, the problems are quite serious. For example, fetishists, transsexuals and transvestites may be so oppressed that they cannot even organize as minorities, and the sexual behavior of “swingers”, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals may be punishable by law. In that sense, these variations are already prohibited behaviors in some places. There is, of course, also a historical dimension to all of this: Progressive social and legal reforms or newly installed repressive governments can change the circumstances very drastically in either direction. This has happened in the past, is happening today, and is likely to happen in the future.
Nevertheless, it seems useful to offer a separate discussion of sexual behaviors that have been prohibited in most cultures much of the time. For example, adult sexual contact with children has almost always been widely condemned, although certain exceptions should be noted. The case of prostitution is less clear-cut: Today, it is prohibited in many countries, but in others it has been legalized and, as every historian knows, it was an officially accepted and regulated feature of many great cultures of the past, including the Christian Middle Ages. Needless to say, however, child prostituton is illegal everywhere.
Finally, it seems necessary to address, at least in some basic way, the issue of sexual violence. Again, some of its forms have always been – and still are – tolerated or even encouraged in certain situations. Indeed, in some countries one of the worst forms of sexual violence against children - the mutilation of female sex organs - is committed quite legally and with a good conscience.
The following sections provide some general information about these and a few related subjects. Because of the complexity of the issues themselves and the great variety of social and legal responses to them, it is not possible to be very specific in this course. One might think that, at least in the areas just mentioned, there is a world-wide consensus about legality or illegality, but this is not the case. Seen from a global perspective, there are simply too many widely diverging laws trying to regulate human sexual behavior.