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“”Why is it immoral to be paid for an act that is perfectly legal if done for free?
|—Gloria Allred |
“”"Wes, we're talking about the oldest profession."
"Darlene is a farmer?"
|—WKRP in Cincinnati|
Prostitution is the selling or trading of sexual favors and a prostitute is the person who engages in sexual activity for money (or, sometimes, to barter for other goods or services).
The term "sex worker" was first coined by activist Carol Leigh at a conference in 1978. More recently it has been used by those who work in the industry to avoid the stigma traditionally associated with terms like "prostitute". Sex workers are harmed by the pervasive stigma against them and are trying to gain more rights and respect. They believe more education and a better understanding of sex work will help to alleviate the criminal/victim dichotomy.
History and prevalence
Prostitution is often referred to as "the oldest profession" though that's debatable especially on how you define "profession" (an exchange has to be made first, for instance). The phrase has been widely referred to prostitution only relatively recently, as other professions such as tailoring, farming, military, teachers, nurses, and doctors were called the same. Prostitution is not a uniquely human phenomenon, as some social animals also engage in a form of prostitution. It's likely that humans have long had a system of "me trade meat for smoosh", far longer than civilization has existed.
Prostitution is more or less ubiquitous in human society. It has existed in some form in virtually every culture in existence, from the "Sacred Prostitution" of Aztec Priestesses to the Red Light District of the Netherlands, from the seedy underbelly of Thailand to the courtesans of the European aristocracy, it's everywhere. At the same time, attitudes towards prostitution, the regulations involved, and the socio-economic status of those involved have varied wildly as well.
However, that's not to say everyone has been involved in prostitution. In any given year, only 1% of men (in the Western world) will use the services of a prostitute, and only 14% of men overall ever have. But that's still a wide swath of the population. Furthermore, research into those men who have paid for sex have found that "[t]here is no evidence of a peculiar quality that differentiates customers in general from men who have not paid for sex." As for providing those services, about 6% of the population has engaged in prostitution at some point in their life, which again means that we aren't talking about some fringe portion of the population.
The bad side
“”I was taught from the tender age of seven that my worth was between my legs. How I knew this was that I was raped repeatedly by a family member at the age of seven. It was only reinforced by my mother, who was a prostitute, that my value was between my legs. As long as I had a vagina, I should never be broke. I believed this. So when I was poached at the age of 15 by yet another family member, I had already been groomed. I lied to myself and stayed in the life until my own daughter was sexually assaulted.
Historically, religion and prostitution have often been intertwined, with church-run brothels being common in many areas up until only a few hundred years ago. Presently, however, it is considered a sin by a number of religions - particularly the three desert dogmas - Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Because of this, the practice has been relegated to an often illegal - and therefore dangerous - underground profession.
Considering the fact that, regardless of the boons of legalized prostitution, much prostitution worldwide is still operated in connection with the local criminal underworld (with all the drugs and violence that inherently brings), and with young men and women being duped or forced into the profession, the current state of prostitution in many places is a human rights atrocity. And just like with the war on drugs, legalization is the only approach that actually champions harm reduction approaches to the benefit of the fellow human beings involved, since they are often worse off without it.
- There are a number of prostitutes who are not in the occupation by choice, either because of forced prostitution, societal pressure, or poverty. Surveys conducted by clinical psychologist Melissa Farley and author Louise I. Gerdes indicate that up to 88% of prostitutes wish to leave the profession, but lack the means to do so. However, other studies have indicated that prostitutes generally enjoy their line of work, and have entered the industry voluntarily. Though some appreciate the opportunity (see positives), trans women of color are more likely to experience homelessness and financial insecurity, which may push them into the industry more out of desperation than choice.
- Criminalization has led to the rise of pimps and organized crime in the sex work industry. In the early 20th century, madams and other brothel operators became dependent on organized crime connections for legal protection. The mob's influence wasn't all bad; the Mafia had a code of chivalry and set standards that kept the pimps in line. The postwar turn away from prostitution by the mob in the wake of Tom Dewey's prosecutions (Lucky Luciano et al.) opened an extremely nasty "wild west" era in prostitution dominated by pimps which reverberates to this day.
- Sexually transmitted diseases are a common hazard for sex workers, as is the risk of rape. According to UNAIDS, "[o]n average, sex workers are 13 times more likely to become infected with HIV than adults in the general population", although "there is significant variation between regions and countries." Decriminalizing or legalizing prostitution has not only been linked with a lower prevalence of HIV and other STDs amongst sex workers, but also reduced instances of rape and sexual violence.
- The so-called "Swedish Model" (also known as the "Nordic Model") - in which selling sex is legal, but buying it (and connecting sex workers with customers) is illegal - makes sex work even more dangerous. While supporters have claimed that "prostitution and trafficking have declined dramatically" in Sweden as a result of the law, a 2014 study found "no reliable data demonstrating any overall decline in people selling sex", and argues that the law "has resulted in increased dangers in some forms of sex work." In Ireland (which adopted the law in 2017), reports of violence against sex workers have nearly doubled, while in France (which adopted the law in 2016), 10 sex workers were murdered in the latter half of 2019 alone. According to UNAIDS, there is "very little evidence to suggest that any criminal laws related to [sex work] stop demand for sex or reduce the number of sex workers. Rather, all of them create an environment of fear and marginalisation for sex workers [...] These laws can undermine sex workers’ ability to work together to identify potentially violent clients [...] The approach of criminalising the client has been shown to backfire on sex workers."
- Sex workers are often harassed by the police as well as members of the general public, a result of the overwhelming bigotry and stigma directed towards sex workers, combined with the withdrawal of police protection of the sex workers that results from the illegality of the profession.
- There are many instances where sex workers (especially in poor areas with limited or corrupt law enforcement, or areas where prostitution is effectively or de jure illegal) become virtual slaves to their pimps; these women have often been brought into the business against their will or under false pretenses, in violation of informed consent, or are underaged to begin with - abandoned in an unregulated industry left to be operated by criminals, they tend to wind up effectively slaves in the places where prostitution is illegal, arguably as a result of said illegality.
- In countries or jurisdictions where prostitution is illegal, reporting abuse and rape is difficult (if not impossible), as police may arrest prostitutes more readily than the people who assaulted them - one of many situations where illegality causes society to shun the very sex workers who can't protect themselves.
- It has been reported that two-thirds of prostitutes suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to research conducted by Melissa Farley and others. The researchers claimed "that psychological trauma is intrinsic to the act of prostitution", even in the absence of violence. Whether this is because people go into prostitution untraumatized and become traumatized, or because traumatized people seek out prostitution, still appears to vary from case to case. However, the aforementioned research has been heavily criticized; according to Canadian Superior Court Judge Susan Himel, Farley "failed to qualify her opinion regarding the causal relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder and prostitution, namely, that it could be caused by events unrelated to prostitution", and stated that her "advocacy appear[ed] to have permeated her opinions". Farley has been described as an "anti-pornography and anti-sex work" activist, and has compared prostitution to incest, paedophilia and slavery, describing escorts and call girls as "house niggers". She has also admitted that "some of her opinions on prostitution were formed prior to her research, including, "that prostitution is a terrible harm to women, that prostitution is abusive in its very nature, and that prostitution amounts to men paying a woman for the right to rape her."" The quality of Farley's research and the validity of her conclusions have been questioned by other academics. Dr. Calum Bennachie described a paper she had written concerning the decriminalization of prostitution in New Zealand as "a mix of deliberate misinformation, fiction and out of context comments"; Bennachie subsequently wrote a letter of complaint to the American Psychological Association, describing Farley's work as "unethical". Bennachie pointed out that "[i]n her research, between 1998 and at least 2003, Dr Farley claims to be able to diagnose sex workers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the completion of a 15 minute self administered questionnaire"; the National Center for PTSD states that "structured interviews with brief, single-item, closed-ended questions for each PTSD symptom are likely to be no more valid for making a diagnosis than self-report measures." By comparison, a 2010 study conducted in Switzerland, where sex work is legal, concluded that the mental health of sex workers "depends heavily on what kind of sex work they do" and the circumstances they find themselves in.
- According to research published by the London School of Economics and Political Science, countries where prostitution is legal have higher human trafficking inflows. However, "the study reported an increase in all human trafficking, which includes forms of labor far beyond sex. It is entirely possible that the higher rates of human trafficking were in industries that had nothing to do with sex — the researchers, by their own admission, had no way to find out if that was the case." Furthermore, "[i]n their introduction, researchers state that the data "does not reflect actual trafficking flows", and that it's "difficult, perhaps impossible, to find hard evidence establishing" a relationship between legal prostitution and human trafficking — disclaimers that suggest the study's findings are essentially meaningless." Eric Neumayer, one of the study's authors, admitted that "[d]ue to the clandestine nature of both trafficking and prostitution markets, our analysis had to rely on the best available existing data on reported human trafficking inflows. That legalised prostitution increases human trafficking inflows is likely, but cannot be proven with available evidence."
- Organizations which oppose sex work are fond of making bold claims in order to raise awareness. For example, they allege that the "average age of entry into prostitution is thirteen", and that sex workers have an average life expectancy of "seven years". While underage sex workers certainly do exist, and violence against sex workers is an ongoing issue, the specific claims cited above are either founded on highly dubious or misrepresented research figures, or are simply incorrect.
Anti-prostitution legislation is often criticized for disregarding any proposals actually made by sex workers for how their jobs could be made safer - somehow, moralists argue that the same things that make other professions safe, such as regulation, police oversight, ID systems, well-lit dedicated buildings, unions and media coverage won't do the sex workers any good just in the specific unique case of this thing that's really a little dirty and shouldn't be going on anyway, right? This complaint was summed up by the viral PSA spread across YouTube entitled "Nothing About Us Without Us."
Views on prostitution
- As a general rule, social conservatives say they don't like prostitution because they say it's immoral, inherently sinful as a sort of fornication or adultery. If one believes the old adage about it being the oldest profession in the world, it's perhaps an odd position as conservatism is about holding on to such old values. Other conservatives may see it as undesirable but inevitable, and perhaps necessary; it should be kept out of the public eye for the sake of appearances and scandal, but expecting it to end is unreasonable.
- Because prostitution is rarely perceived to be about a woman having control over her body in exchange for money, and more often perceived to be about a woman becoming the property of a pimp, or worse, feminists are often torn on the issue of prostitution. On the one hand, most feminists accept that when a woman is able to be in control of choices, it is her right to use her own body as she wishes, as long as the sex is safe, consensual and fair. This view is especially true of so called "sex positive" feminists. On the other hand, prostitution is generally regarded as never safe, consensual and fair, causing many feminists to see it as exploitative. Extreme feminists have argued that in most societies and relationships, prostitution is the norm, though it might be "sex for a
zirconium carbondiamond ring". In this view, any prostitution reinforces the view of female as property to be bought and sold (meaning this view conveniently ignores male prostitutes).
- Radical feminist objections to sex work also often align with older, religiously-based objections. This has led to a number of misguided efforts to somehow end demand (akin to the logic behind unsuccessful anti-drug campaigns such as "Just say no!"), and a push for criminalisation laws to be passed in countries which have previously not had laws specific to, or have otherwise tolerated, prostitution - this despite the evidence for any success of such strategies remaining in absence.
- Liberals are somewhat divided on it much in the same way that feminist thought is. On the one hand, social liberalism that focuses on freedom of expression and freedom to do what you want would be for the legalization and protection of prostitution. On the other hand they can view it as exploitative, unnecessary and a barrier to social mobility. In many if not most cases, these two views are held together as being two sides of a complex issue; they aren't especially contradictory.
- As with social liberals, libertarians are fine with it. But because of the basic libertarian principle of letting people do what the fuck they like, they don't tend to hold the same reservations as liberals because that might mean too much Government Interference. Whether they'd change their minds on this if their kids got into it is a different story.
- Generally socialists are fine with it, although it cannot be a profession one must take if available as a condition of getting unemployment insurance. This is less about socialist ideology having a belief that sex work is somehow significantly "different" from any other job and more about the simple fact that literally forcing people into prostitution is not very popular for some reason. Both Socialists and Communists encourage sex workers (and all others) to get organized into labor unions of various forms, which leads to this old joke; Horrified at the thought of exploitive "right to work" brothels, a man walks into a unionized brothel. He says "wow, the blond woman in the window is amazing! I'll take her!" "Excellent choice, sir, but I'm afraid the fat old toothless woman in the corner has seniority."
- Communists think that it's bad, seeing prostitutes as victims of the Capitalist system. Of course, this ignores that, being the oldest profession and all, prostitution pre-dates human civilization and thus its existence has nothing to do with Capitalism. Though communists in general have no high opinion of dependent labor as a system and as such many communists see no difference in principle between prostitution and bone crushing factory work for minimum wage.
- Similarly to libertarianism, anarchists oppose the use of force to prevent prostitution. However, they disagree about whether sex work itself is acceptable. In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, feminist anarchists in Barcelona tried to get prostitutes to leave the profession by putting up posters in the red light district offering training courses so that they could acquire skills for alternative occupations (although some of the more impatient anarchists simply started shooting pimps instead). Modern anarchists focus on helping to improve prostitutes' lives, which includes opposing laws prohibiting their work.
In any case, the issue of prostitution is often tied up with matters of slavery, illegal immigration, and sometimes child molestation in public dialog, vastly complicating the moral issues involved. Legal or no, however, prostitution continues everywhere and is often known as marriage.
Prostitutes who make individual appointments are called "call girls" or "escorts" — referring to the way that they contact and become involved with their clients. They often work independently, service rich clients and earn a lot of money. An even more high-end prostitute would be a "sugar baby", who only have a single client who pays for their rent and lifestyle.[note 2] These services, while primarily sexual, often involve a surprising amount of non-sexual activities as well; the fantasy for people is often less "stick tab A into slot B" and more "in a loving relationship with an attractive young woman". This is as opposed to "streetwalkers" who, as their name implies, walk the streets to find clients. They typically make less money from each of their customers, and are much more likely to be involved in the more unsavory activities that are most often associated with prostitution. Some streetwalkers specialize, such "lot lizards" who frequent truck stops. The general trend though is that the more money you charge, the less sex you are actually having. Male prostitutes/"escorts" may be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, while their sexual proclivities have no bearing on the clientele they service, just as for women in the industry. Male prostitutes who service wealthy women are often known as "gigolos".
Marriage as "legalized prostitution"
Marriage is considered to be legalized prostitution by some feminist scholars, such as Dale Spender and women's rights activist Victoria Woodhull. Despite this claim, many men and women are happily married in loving relationships. Wedleases (temporary marriages) are especially subject to this perception. This is because wedleasing may be viewed primarily as a financial endeavour for sex rather than one involving commitment to a fellow wedleaser. This can be readily contradicted by the very existence of "marital rape" laws, which more or less outright declare that even in marriage, sex in itself is not something that either spouse is inherently entitled to, contradicting the whole idea of marriage being nothing more than a long-term sex contract. Though in fairness, those laws only appeared in the 1970's, and only because of the hard work of many feminist activists.
Technically speaking, Iran does not have prostitution, but it does allow for temporary marriages that last for a short period of time, which may be the only literal case of institutional legal prostitution through marriage.
There are some who view doing anything that you don't want to do, but are willing to do for money, as a form of prostitution. This would make most of the global work force, and almost all politicians, filthy stinking whores.
- 5 Myths About Prostitutes I Believed (Until I Was One) — from Cracked.com, Note that deals article reflects on the experience in a legalized and somewhat regulated setting.
- Inside London’s Prostitute Graveyard — from The Daily Beast.com
- And "window shopping" is how they advertise in Amsterdam.
- Daddies and Babies might use a bit of mental gymnastics to argue about how their arrangement of "sex in exchange for goods/money/services" is not prostitution, however beyond this point the lines can get a bit blurred as to the demarcation between "I'm only in a sexual relationship with him because he buys me stuff" and "I'm only in a sexual relationship with him in exchange for stuff"
- Unrepentant Whore: The Collected Writings of Scarlot Harlot by Carol Leigh, 2004. ISBN 0-86719-584-3, p. 69
- Sex Workers Outreach Project USA
- Meaningful Work: Transgender Experiences in the Sex Trade
- Facts About How The Aztec Culture Handled Their Desires
- History of Prostitution in Thailand
- Prostitution not as common as previously thought, Business Insider
- Martin A. Monto, Christine Milrod "Ordinary or Peculiar Men? Comparing the Customers of Prostitutes With a Nationally Representative Sample of Men", International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
- from Vox
- The ugly truth about prostitution is that without various forms of force it would collapse'
- Ruth Mazo Karras, Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England
- Farley, Melissa; Barkan, Howard (1998). "Prostitution, Violence, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder". The Haworth Press, Inc.. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
- "Prostitution Is Not A Choice". Retrieved September 24, 2015.
- "Working Conditions and Job Satisfaction Survey", National Ugly Mugs, UK Network of Sex Work Projects
- Cecilia Benoit, Chris Atchison, Lauren Casey, Mikael Jansson, Bill McCarthy, Rachel Phillips, Bill Reimer, Dan Reist & Frances M. Shaver, "Gender, Violence and Health – Contexts of vulnerability, resiliencies and care among people in the sex industry", Understanding Sex Work
- Nick Mai, "Migrant Workers in the UK Sex Industry", Institute for the Study of European Transformations London Metroplitan University
- Susann Huschke, Peter Shirlow, Dirk Schubotz, Eilís Ward, Ursula Probst, Caoimhe Ní Dhónaill, "Research into Prostitution in Northern Ireland", Commissioned from Queen's University Belfast by the Department of Justice
- Charrlotte Seib, Michael P. Dunne, Jane Fischer & Jackob M. Najman, "Predicting the Job Satisfaction of Female Sex Workers in Queensland, Australia", International Journal of Sexual Health
- Meaningful Work: Transgender Experiences in the Sex Trade
- Lisa Maher, Thomas Crewe Dixon, Pisith Phlong, Julie Mooney-Somers, Ellen S. Stein, Kimberly Page, "Conflicting Rights: How the Prohibition of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Infringes the Right to Health of Female Sex Workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia", Health and Human Rights
- Jay Levy & Pye Jakobsonn, "Sweden’s abolitionist discourse and law: Effects on the dynamics of Swedish sex work and on the lives of Sweden’s sex workers", Criminology and Criminal Justice, 31 March 2014
- Susan Dewey & Tonia St. Germain, "“It Depends on the Cop:” Street-Based Sex Workers’ Perspectives on Police Patrol Officers", Sexuality Research and Social Policy
- Lynzi Armstrong, "“Who’s the Slut, Who’s the Whore?”: Street Harassment in the Workplace Among Female Sex Workers in New Zealand", Feminist Criminology
- Melissa Farley, Isin Baral, Merab Kiremire & Ufuk Sezgin, "Prostitution in Five Countries: Violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder", Feminism & Psychology
- Melissa Farley, Ann Cotton, Jacqueline Lynne, Sybille Zumbeck, Frida Spiwak, Maria E. Reyes, Dinorah Alvarez & Ufuk Sezgin, "Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries", Journal of Trauma Practice
- Ontario Superior Court of Justice, 28th September 2010, "Bedford v. Canada, 2010 ONSC 4264", p.92-93, CanLII
- Dr. Calum Bennachie, "Comment on Melissa Farley's claims regarding decriminalisation of sex work in New Zealand"
- Dr. Calum Bennachie, "Complaint to APA Against M. Farley"
- W Rössler, U Koch, C Lauber, A-K Hass, M Altwegg, V Ajdacic-Gross, K Landolt, "The mental health of female sex workers", Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica
- "Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?". World Development. 2013. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
- Clare McGlynn, John Stuart Mill on Prostitution: Radical Sentiments, Liberal Proscriptions, Nineteenth Century Gender Studies 8.2 (Summer 2012)
- What did Karl Marx think of Prostitution
- Beevor, Antony (2006). The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-7538-2165-7.
- What it's like to have a sugar daddy
- Wendy Shalit, A Return to Modesty, pp 230, ISBN 9780684843162
- David A. J. Richards, Women, Gays, and the Constitution, pp 168, ISBN 9780226712079
- Rampell, Paul. "A High Divorce Rate Means It’s Time to Try ‘Wedleases,’." The Washington Post (2013).
- Temporary marriage in Iran and women's rights
- "Work: a prison of measured time." Phoenix Rising Magazine