By Helen Mitsios
Those images of cabana curtains stirring in the breeze, heated skin and scant clothing, the benign sun sparkling the waves…it sounds like a scene out of a romance novel.
And indeed, there’s something about a spell on the beach that often stirs the spirit in a special way. But back to romantic entanglements. Remember that famous scene from the 1953 film From Here to Eternity where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kiss and frolic on the beach while the waves crash around them? The then risqué but now-classic scene, full of overt crashing wave symbolism, was filmed at Halona Beach Cove on the Hawaiian island of Oahu (and is still a spot for film buffs to visit). The couple’s embrace is simulated sex, implied sex, or whatever variation we want to imagine. But most important to note: Burt and Deborah keep their swimsuits glued on, with nary a bathing suit strap slipping off a bronzed shoulder or a waistband slipping down taut abs.
Fast forward to 2022, and the message hasn’t changed one iota.
You can roll around on the beach, make out, canoodle, maybe even rub sunscreen on naked breasts or thonged buttocks, but JUST SAY NO when it comes to having actual sex. And it doesn’t depend on what your definition of “it” is.
If your “bathing suit” area is exposed and in action, you’ll most likely soon have an attorney on speed dial, not to mention that if a minor sees you, you can permanently add sex offender to your CV.
Let’s take a look more closely at some of the laws that prohibit sex on the beach. In Florida, for example, where beaches abound, laws vary from misdemeanor to felony. Florida law “prohibits the exposure or exhibition of ones’ sexual organs in a public place, or in a private locale that is visible to the public” in a “vulgar or indecent manner.” Not a debate you want to get into, but it does beg the question, who’s defining vulgar and indecent?
This is a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to one year in jail (!) or a $1000 fine. Now for some folks, a $1K fine might be worth the pleasure of having one’s jollies on the beach, especially if the risk of exposure is part of the thrill. But think twice—a few years ago, a couple was filmed while having sex on the beach in view of a four-year-old. The couple escaped a potential fifteen-year jail sentence only after a plea deal was struck for two and a half years of imprisonment.
In California, famously considered one of the more progressive states, laws of old are still in place. The law states that “sex in public is not a crime in California unless someone saw you or was likely to see you and was offended by the conduct.” This leaves some room for interpretation, or as some attorneys call it “a wobbler.”
If someone sees you but is not offended and/or does not make a report to the authorities, then there’s no problem. However, for people caught in the act, Penal Code 647(a) applies and 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.” Six months in jail and a fine up to $1000 is standard.
Moving on to lesser fines, the state of Georgia considers sex on the beach a misdemeanor. Again, if a frolicking couple is observed by a minor—that’s anyone under 18 remember—harsher penalties do ensue.
In the Hamptons, sex on the beach was brought under control on one of the most scenic beaches in the town of East Hampton. Undercover police strolled the beach and made arrests for “lewd behavior” (which included urinating on the beach and any sexual activity, including oral sex, even if participants were partially clothed). Nearby residents have since hired a private security firm to walk the beaches and videotape sexual activity that’s then sent on to police authorities.
In New York, like other states, the waters are murky when it comes to sex on the beach or elsewhere. If children observe the activity, the transgression escalates, yet it’s otherwise deemed a misdemeanor. Stephen Bilkis law firm states that “a lewd act is a term used to describe any activity considered to be indecent when performed in public. A lewd act typically involves exposure of private or intimate parts to the public accompanied by behavior which is meant to provide sexual arousal.” Furthermore, the firm advises, “there is a gray area regarding what constitutes indecent exposure. Being unclothed away from civilization, like swimming in a lake, would rarely if ever bring a charge of indecent exposure.”
Regarding private beaches, they’re not as private as one might think. Like any beach, your private beach instantly transforms to non-private if sexual activity can be viewed by others, and penalties will most likely be issued.
In fact, all northeastern states are consistent when it comes to sex on the beach, which is classified as lewd behavior, or worse. Connecticut criminal lawyer Allan F. Friedman informs us it “is even possible to be charged with this crime for exposing yourself in your own house if you were standing in front of a window that is facing the street.” The state of Maine considers sex on the beach a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. Somewhat unusually, Maine brings bestiality into it, covering all bases, presumably.
Rhode Island is stringent when it comes to sex on the beach and any other public place. Attorney John L. Calcagni tells us, “The first offense is a misdemeanor and has a penalty of imprisonment for up to one (1) year, or a fine up to one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both.”
In New Hampshire, CitizensCount indicates that ordinance RSA 47:17:XIII maintains public order “to restrain and punish vagrants, mendicants, street beggars, strolling musicians, and common prostitutes, and all kinds of immoral and obscene conduct, and to regulate the times and places of bathing and swimming in the canals, rivers and other waters of the city, and the clothing to be worn by bathers and swimmers.” In Massachusetts, an unclothed romp on the beach can be classified as “open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior.” Attorney Stephen J. Topazio informs, “A man or woman, married or unmarried, who is guilty of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than three years or in jail for not more than two years or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars.” Jail must be worse than prison in MA.
What’s an amorous beach-loving person to do? Perhaps pitch a cabana in the sand, though an Internet search doesn’t yield results for any four-walled tent or cabanas. A safe bet might be to take your vacation outside of the United States. Of the nude beaches in foreign countries, perhaps the most famous locations where sex is tolerated are Cap D’Adge in France and La Mirage Swingers Complex on Spain’s Gran Canaria Island. In fact, the renowned French novelist Michel Houellebecq devotes a few chapters of his novel Atomized to a place modeled after Cap D’Adge, where everything under the sun, so to speak, goes.
Other foreign possibilities might include Germany, where it’s legal to have sex in public as long as one is clothed. Exposed sex risks a fine of 150 euros, which is the cost of a good meal for two somewhere nice.
The United States continues to use the term “lewd and lascivious acts,” which originated from 15th-century English courts, and sex on the beach is a nationwide crime if the couple is viewed by another party. It seems safe to say that amorous beach encounters are better left to fantasy. For those who prefer the in-real-life option, the best bet is to hop on a plane to Europe and head to a swinger’s beach. Or a German one.
With so many shades of gray when it comes to legalities, the bottom line is, don’t risk doing it on the beach! Just take a quick dash to fully enclosed premises—note that cars do not count as enclosed—and make your way to that lovely hotel room with, yes, a view of the beach.