Out of Time: The Moral Temporality of Sex, Crime and Taboo

Sharon Hayes*, Belinda Carpenter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


This paper discusses the relationship between law and morality. Morality does not necessarily coincide with the law, but it contributes to it. An act may be legal but nevertheless considered to be immoral in a particular society. For example, the use of pornography may be considered by many to be immoral. Nevertheless, the sale and distribution of non-violent, non-child related, sexually explicit material is legal (or regulated) in many jurisdictions. Many laws are informed by, and even created by, morality. This paper examines the historical influence of morality on the law and on society in general. It aims to develop a theoretical framework for examining legal moralism and the social construction of morality and crime as well as the relationship between sex, desire and taboo. Here, we refer to the moral temporality of sex and taboo, which examines the way in which moral judgments about sex and what is considered taboo change over time, and the kinds of justifications that are employed in support of changing moralities. It unpacks the way in which abstract and highly tenuous concepts such as "desire", "art" and "entertainment" may be "out of time" with morality, and how morality shapes laws over time, fabricating justifications from within socially constructed communities of practice. This theoretical framework maps the way in which these concepts have become temporally dominated by heteronormative structures such as the family, marriage, reproduction, and longevity. It is argued that the logic of these structures is inexorably tied to the heterosexual life-path, charting individual lives and relationships through explicit phases of childhood, adolescence and adulthood that, in the twenty-first century, delimit the boundaries of taboo surrounding sex more than any other time in history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-152
Number of pages12
JournalCritical Criminology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


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