carnal knowledge

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 Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman, where there is at least some slight penetration of the woman’s vagina by the man’s penis. “Carnal knowledge” is an element of many sexual crimes.

Most states use the terms “sexual intercourse” (NY and California) or “sexual battery” (FL) in their criminal codes. The term “carnal knowledge” is rarely used. However, when it is, it is generally used to indicate illegal sexual intercourse. The state of Georgia’s criminal code, for example, establishes that one is guilty of rape when they forcibly have carnal knowledge of a woman against her will. (Ga. Code Ann. §16-6-1(a)).

Synonyms for carnal knowledge include:  “carnal copulation”, “carnal intercourse”, and “carnal abuse”

Carnal knowledge and carnal abuse differ in that penetration is an essential element of carnal knowledge. Carnal abuse, however, may be inflicted without penetration.

Related terms:

child molestation

criminal law


family law


statutory rape

[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]