Legal Dictionary


Legal Definition of buggery


  1. Referring to "unnatural" sex acts, including copulation, either between two persons of the same sex or between a person and an animal (the latter act also known as "bestiality"). Most countries outlaw bestiality but homosexual activity is gradually being decriminalized.


Definition of buggery


    The term buggery originated in medieval Europe as an insult used to describe the rumoured same-sex sexual practices of the heretics from the Buggre sect. This sect originated in medieval Bulgaria, where its followers were called bogomils, but when they spread out of the country they were called buggres (from ethnonym Bulgars).


buggery (countable and uncountable; plural buggeries)

  1. (British) Anal sex between men.

    "Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery…shall be liable at the discretion of the court to be kept in penal servitude for life or for any term not less than ten years." Prior to 1861, the offence carried the penalty of execution. (UK) Offences Against the Person Act 1861. (The offence of buggery between consenting adults was repealed by the Sexual offences Act of 1993).

  2. Any sexual act "contra naturam" including bestiality and necrophilia.
  3. A broken or damaged condition.

    It's gone to buggery.

  4. An extreme condition.

    It hurts like buggery. Run like buggery.

Further reading

The British English term buggery is very close in meaning to the term sodomy, and is often used interchangeably in law and popular speech. It was also a specific criminal offence under the English common law.

In law

Under most common law legal systems, the term buggery refers to a criminal offence and has a specific legal meaning. In English law, "buggery" was first used in the Buggery Act 1533, while Section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, entitled "Sodomy and Bestiality", defined punishments for "the abominable Crime of Buggery, committed either with Mankind or with any Animal". Neither Act defined what constituted buggery. Over the years the courts have defined buggery as including either:

  1. anal intercourse by a man with a man or woman,[1] or
  2. vaginal intercourse by either a man or a woman with an animal,[2]

but not any other form of "unnatural intercourse".[3][4]

At common law consent was not a defence;[5] nor was the fact that the parties were married.[6] As with the crime of rape, buggery required that penetration must have occurred, but ejaculation is not necessary.[7]

Most common law jurisdictions have now modified the law to permit anal sex between consenting adults.[8] Hong Kong did so retroactively in 1990, barring prosecution for "crimes against nature" committed before the Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance 1990 entered into force except those that would still have constituted a crime if they had been done thereafter. In the United Kingdom, heterosexual buggery was decriminalised in 1996.

In the UK the punishment for buggery was reduced from hanging to life imprisonment in 1861.


The word bugger and buggery are still commonly used in modern English as a mild profanity, and "buggery" is also synonymous with anal sex.

The word "bugger" was derived, via the French "bougre", from "Bulgar", that is, "Bulgarian", meaning the medieval Bulgarian heretical sect of the Bogomils, which spread into Western Europe and was claimed by the established church to be devoted to the practice of sodomy.[9] "Buggery" first appears in English in 1330, though "bugger" in a sexual sense is not recorded until 1555.[10]


  1. R v Wiseman (1718) Fortes Rep 91
  2. R v Bourne (1952) 36 Cr App R 135; Sir Edward Coke also reports "... a great lady had committed buggery with a baboon and conceived by it..." at 3 Inst 59
  3. R v Jacobs (1817) Russ & Ry 331
  4. The implication being that anal sex with an animal would not constitute buggery. Such a case has not, to date, come before the courts of a common law jurisdiction in any reported decision. However, it seems highly improbable that a person would be exculpated of a crime associated with sex with animals only by reason of the fact that penetration involved the anus rather than the vagina.
  5. Because consent was not required, heavier penalties require proof of lack of consent - see R v Sandhu [1997] Crim LR 288; R v Davies [1998] 1 Cr App Rep (S) 252
  6. R v Jellyman (1838) 8 C&P 604
  7. R v Reekspear (1832) 1 Mood CC 342; R v Cozins (1834) 6 C&P 351; Offences Against The Person Act 1861 §63.
  8. For example, in the United Kingdom homosexual anal sex was legalized under the Sexual Offences Act 1967. Heterosexual anal sex was not subsequently decriminalized until the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
  9. Erin McKean, ed (2005). New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd edition. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517077-6.
  10. OED 1st edn

Further reading

  • Smith & Hogan, Criminal Law (10th ed), ISBN 0 406 94801 1


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     landed property
2.     common stock
3.     lex situs
4.     lex causae
5.     lex fori
6.     status quo
7.     buggery
8.     conclusive presumption
9.     interlocutory
10.     writ of seizure and sale