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Lies About Prostitution: 2) Prostitution Degrades Women

The idea that prostitution degrades women is based in the belief that sex is sacred and money is bad

Playing Cards, by Wouter Crabeth II
Playing Cards, by Wouter Crabeth II, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Consent and personal autonomy

Prostitution is trading sex for money in a consensual way.

If it were non-consensual, then it would be sexual slavery, not prostitution.

Radical feminists and anti-prostitution politicians secretly hate the word “consent”, because what they want is to impose their morality on other people. Which, of course, is non-consensual.

The underlying ethical value here is personal autonomy. My body is mine to do with it what I want. However, this is not an absolute ethical principle. There are some occasions in which the State can impose certain things on me for the protection of the community. Like paying taxes or getting vaccinated. So, in the case of prostitution, is there a reason for the State to prohibit it?

What is involved is the personal autonomy of two people: the prostitute and her client, who want to consensually engage in sex in exchange for money. This is a private, indeed intimate, transaction that should not concern the State. Just like any other instance in which two people choose to engage in consensual sex.

The best way to fight exploitation

In the previous article in this series, I have addressed the argument that the State should prohibit prostitution to avoid human trafficking. I argued that prostitution and human trafficking are entirely different things.

Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation could be fought more effectively if prostitution was legal, just like any other instance of labor exploitation. Non-exploited workers would be the first to point out the cases of sexual slavery because it represents a double threat to them: unfair competition and the danger that they could become sex slaves.

Unions of prostitutes - like OTRAS in Spain - would be a place where sexually exploited women could seek help.

Does prostitution degrade the prostitute?

This would be for the prostitute to decide, just like we decide whether any other sex act is degrading. Chances are that, if the prostitute has freely decided this kind of work, that she doesn’t find that it detracts from her self-esteem. For many sex workers, converting sex into a professional activity comes after a personal quest about what sex means for them.

Saying that prostitution degrades the prostitute is slut-shaming her. It’s an act of psychological violence not different from shaming gays, trans people or promiscuous women. It’s emotional violence done with the specific purpose of curtailing the sexual freedom of a person.

Is prostitution degrading for all women?

The reasoning gets more ideological when the degradation supposedly produced by prostitution is extended to all women.

Saying this assumes that there is something sacred about sex that gets soiled when sex is not done in a socially approved way. Moreover, this soiling produced by sex somehow gets magically transmitted even to women that do not engage in prostitution. This is basically a purity argument, similar to what has been used by religions like Christianity or Islam (by most religions, indeed) to justify sexual repression.

Defenders of the specialness of sex may argue that sex is only legitimate when done between people who love each other. In other words, sex is only ethically admissible when done to fulfill the higher goals of fulfilling the obligations or marriage or establishing emotional intimacy.

However, as I argued in a my previous article Is Sex Sacred?, this would make masturbation and casual sex unethical. However, most people in the Western world are past that repressive stage. Or, at least, past the stage in which they accept that the State dictates what happens in our bedroom.

Another argument is that it is money, when traded for sex, what sullies the woman. This is a favorite of anti-capitalist radical feminists, who like to view prostitution as another sin of capitalism. However, money is good when we get it as pay for our labor, or when we sell things, or when we inherit it. Why is it suddenly bad when one gets it in exchange for sex?

Sex is not bad, even when it’s casual. Money is not bad. There is no logical reason why trading sex for money should be bad. What makes it so it’s just the remains of religious dogmas that were widely used to repress women and keep them disempowered and poor.

Does prostitution maintain the patriarchy?

This is an argument often used by radical feminists. It goes like this: women have been sexually exploited by men through the centuries, so any sexual act between men and women has to be examined for signs of this exploitation. The examiners should not be the people having sex, but the radical feminists themselves, or the State acting in their name.

But, by doing so, the radical feminists or the State breach the consent, the right to intimacy, and the personal autonomy of the people having sex. This is an injustice similar to prohibiting sodomy, gay sex or any other consensual sex act.

Why should exchanging sex for money be an act of exploitation? How is this different from any other transaction of service for money? The only argument to justify this would have to resort to sex being special or sacred.

Sex cannot be exchanged for money, they argue. Why? Because there is something about sex that makes it different from other human activity. Unlike anything else we do, it cannot be done to earn a wage. So we are back to the “sex is sacred” argument.

The patriarchal system in which women are always the providers of sex and, therefore, the sex workers, is starting to break down. As women become empowered, men are increasingly performing sex work as strippers, as porn models and even as gigolos or male prostitutes.

In fact, the idea that sex can soil women, but not men, is at the core of the patriarchy.

In a sex-positive culture in which sex is divested of its magical qualities as guarantor of personal purity, sex work is just one more manifestation of our increased personal freedom. Prohibiting any consensual sex act should be seen as an intrusion of the State in our intimate lives.

Copyright 2022 Hermes Solenzol.

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