Date of Completion

Spring 5-8-2011

Thesis Advisor(s)

Kristin Kelly

Honors Major

Political Science


Family, Life Course, and Society | Legal Studies | Legal Theory | Political Science


Marriage and prostitution laws solidify and propagate norms about sexual expression. Marriage law functions positively to dictate the kind of expression that is acceptable, normal, and natural while prostitution law frames the illegal, deviant, and unnatural. The legal benefits offered to those who marry function as an endorsement of a particular type of sexual expression: monogamous, faithful, loving, long term, and procreative. Equally, the criminalization of prostitution solidifies norms about the wrong, illegal unnatural kind of sexual expression; one focused on pleasure and money, not monogamy, fidelity, love, or procreation. These valuations of sexual expression solidified by the law impact the sexual expression and sexual values of society in general. Even those individuals who are neither married nor involved in sex work possess values about sexual expression that are concurrent with these laws because, ideologically, the laws work to solidify and propagate norms that compose a framework of truth within which we all operate. My thesis examines the relationship between law and society through a mutually constitutive framework, focusing on the relationship between marriage and prostitution law and female sexual expression. I analyze the law and use interviews that I conducted with ten college-aged women to highlight the relationship between the image of sexual expression constructed in written law and that which exists socially, suggesting that the law has a unique place in the solidification and propagation of norms in our society.