Psychological and sociological research and the decriminalization or legalization of prostitution

Arch Sex Behav. 1991 Apr;20(2):205-18. doi: 10.1007/BF01541945.


In maintaining criminal prohibitions on prostitution and prostitution-related activity, the United States has ignored the two alternative approaches successfully invoked in many other countries: legalization and decriminalization of prostitution. This article questions the justifications usually advanced in favor of criminal sanctions and against the two alternatives. Studies of prostitutes and their clients, as well as larger societal studies, undercut the arguments against decriminalization and legalization, and reveal that none of the traditional goals of imposing criminal sanctions (punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation) are furthered by the current prohibition of prostitution. These studies also reveal the advantages offered by a system of decriminalized or legalized prostitution. Further policy arguments for the removal of such sanctions are discussed and legal arguments are offered to attempt to limit the reach of current criminal prostitution laws while the present system remains in effect.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Public Policy
  • Sex Offenses / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Sex Work / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Sex Work / psychology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control