We explain what is immoral and give you examples of immoral acts. Also, how is it different from the moral and the amoral.

A rich woman is carried in ancient China by two servants
What is considered immoral comes from different customs in each time and place.

What is something immoral?

We say that something is immoral when It is contrary to what in our society is considered appropriate, correct or typical of good customs. That is, with this term we refer to behaviors, actions and conducts that are not morally acceptable, that is, that are considered inappropriate or reprehensible.

The word “immoral” is composed of the prefix “in-” (which expresses negation) and the voice “moral”, derived from the Latin die (“custom”). So, in principle, what is moral is what is proper to the customary way of doing things, and what is immoral, therefore, is what is contrary to custom, understanding custom in this context as correct, the proper and the good.

This is also why what is moral and immoral always depends on the context. The moral precepts of one culture may be different from those of anothersince they come from different customs and traditions, from different ways of judging things.

For example, in the Islamic and Orthodox Jewish tradition, it is immoral for a woman to show her hair to a man other than her husband, which is why she must wear different types of headscarves, wigs, or clothing on the street to hide or disguise it. While that itself is not immoral in the Christian tradition.

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There is no universal law that applies regarding morality, and that is why debates often take place around these concepts. Thus, the notions of morality and immorality are continually changing, from one age to another. For example, homosexuality was considered an immoral sexual practice for much of Western Christian history, while in the classical Greco-Roman world it was regarded as habitual conduct.

Some immoral behaviors are punishable by law, with sanctions whose severity depends on the circumstances of the crime, while others simply generate social rejection. This does not mean that immoral behaviors are not carried out, but that they are done despite being frowned upon by the bulk of society.

See also: Anti-values

Examples of immoral acts

An immoral vendor tries to sell a drink to an old woman
It is immoral for a seller to use fraudulent advertising methods

Moral and immoral acts are those actions that are considered good or bad depending on the cultural and often religious context. In the modern Western world, it is most common to consider immoral that which is detrimental to the well-being of the majority, that threatens the good of future generations or against those who cannot defend themselves or who are in a vulnerable situation. Some examples of this are:

  • It is immoral to have sexual relations with a child or adolescent, since they do not have the physical and emotional maturity to give their consent.
  • It is immoral for a scientist to produce in his laboratory a disease capable of killing millions of people.
  • It is immoral for a politician to use state resources for personal enrichment.
  • It is immoral for a seller to convince a customer of his purchase using fraudulent advertising methods.
  • It is immoral to abandon an injured person to their fate.
  • It is immoral to destroy the environment for the enrichment of a few, leaving future generations an uninhabitable world.
  • It is immoral to reduce a person to slavery or deprive him of his fundamental human rights.
  • It is immoral to commit acts of cruelty and sadism towards animals.
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More in: Examples of ethics and morality

Differences between amoral, moral and immoral

We must not confuse the moral, the amoral and the immoral. These three concepts are closely related, but mean entirely different things:

  • the moral It is what works according to good customs or accepted traditions, that is, what is in accordance with what is good. Moral actions are celebrated and rewarded by the community, and define human behavior based on what is “good”, that is, what is correct in a given context. For example, moral conduct is telling the truth despite unpleasant consequences for doing so.
  • the immoral It is what is contrary to morality, that is, it goes against what is considered good or acceptable by society, and therefore it is censored and often punished by others. The immoral is considered indecent, improper, incorrect. For example, it is immoral to cause suffering to thousands of human beings in exchange for the benefit of a few.
  • the amoral it is that which cannot be judged in terms of “good” and “bad”, since it has no morality or is not susceptible to a moral perspective. Thus, the amoral may be considered “good” or “bad” depending on the case and the context, or it may even be both at the same time (or neither). For example, atomic energy is amoral, since it can be used to provide power to the poorest places on the planet, or to make atomic bombs that kill millions.

sexual immorality

In the field of sexuality, the term “immorality” has a very peculiar meaning, closely linked to religious codes and what societies consider “normal” or acceptable. Human sexuality is one of the most historically regulated aspectsand there have been many codes and regulations imposed at different times to prohibit certain sexual practices, usually because they are considered contrary to the law of God, or of nature, and therefore indecent or aberrational.

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Homosexuality is an example of conduct that is still considered immoral in many parts of the planet today, to the point that in some fundamentalist countries it is illegal and carries severe penalties. But in past times “impure” or “unseemly” sexual acts could be very diversefrom having relationships with the light on, practicing masturbation, oral sex or anal sex, among many others.

Scholars of the sexual history of humanity such as the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984) studied human sexual morality and the way in which certain sexual behaviors have been punished in the West due to the Judeo-Christian cultural legacy.

More in: Religious norms


  • “Immoral” in the Dictionary of the Language of the Royal Spanish Academy.
  • “Amoral and immoral” in Fundéu.
  • “Statement of the word Immoral” in the Online Spanish Etymological Dictionary.
  • “Immoral” in The Britannica Dictionary.