Taboo: In defence of prostitution

There is a yin and yang at the basis of humanity – the duality of self versus other.

Yin: My body is incontrovertibly mine. It is the only thing I truly possess, and as such I can do with it anything I choose.

Yang: My body does not belong to anybody else (including the state). No one else has the right to do anything to it.

Their meeting point gives us the mandala of human rights, whereby most states place a limit on our right to do anything we choose with our bodies if our choices affect the bodies of other people. Hence murder, torture and rape are commonly prohibited.

The meeting of self and other also forms the basis of consent. Two people get together on the understanding “This body is mine, that body is yours,” and they agree on how those bodies are going to interact.

This frames the simplest argument in favour of prostitution: It’s my body, it’s my decision to consent. I have the right to choose to have sex with another person for money.

The state shouldn’t play a role in that decision, or assume it can take that right from me.

Ah yes, you may be thinking. Easy to say, from my ivory tower of privilege and plenty. Easy to speak of the right to choose when one doesn’t have to.

But there are other girls without the luxury of choice. Those who are tricked, kidnapped, paying off their parents’ debts. I wholeheartedly agree that the legal system should work to protect those girls, but I don’t believe laws that criminalise them serve that purpose.

I think the best thing anybody could do to prevent trafficking and bonded sex-work would be to legalise prostitution anywhere and everywhere possible. Make prostitutes accountable. Get them on payrolls, in tax systems, give them social security numbers.

Girls would still slip through the net, but the mesh would be that much finer. Girls forced to work outside the system would be easier to spot. Plus, to put it in slightly crass terms, there would be a change in supply and demand, making a black market less viable. (How many New Yorkers continued to make gin in their bathtubs once prohibition ended?)

There is a large grey area between empowered women making positive choices and indentured women with no choice at all. For many women, sex is a job they choose, albeit unhappily. But can they really be said to consent if money is involved?

I think yes – the decision still rests with the person who makes it. Otherwise the implication is that we are able to consent and take responsibility for our lives when we make externally judged “good” decisions, but do not have that ability when making “bad” decisions.

People represent a lifetime of trial, error and choice. I don’t believe it is ever desirable, let alone feasible, for the state to step in and attempt to pass legislation that protects us from our own bad decisions.

But then again… picture if you will a lost soul. Crippled by drug addiction, bound by merciless working hours, trapped in a job that makes it impossible to hold down a meaningful, loving relationship.

Then the guy tells you he is desperate to leave the city, but daren’t miss out on his next half mill bonus.

I don’t think the state should step in to protect this man from himself. Making his work illegal would discriminate against the traders who love their jobs, and have a highly negative effect on people who rely daily on the stock market.

And herein, my friends, lies the rub. Tens of millions of men rely daily on prostitution. If there were no customers, there would be no industry, yet it’s one of the most successful in the world. Without customers there would be no working girls in every city, no legal brothels, no trafficking, no oldest profession in the book.

Most consumers have rights, a voice, but the taboo of paying for sex is so strong that few punters are willing to address the demonisation of the industry. Public figures often go the other way, adding their voice to the lynch mob before slinking away if hypocrisy is revealed.

I’m not suggesting an “I’m Spartacus” style revolution, and I can see that we can’t talk freely about prostitution until we have a big old chat about the difference between commitment and sexual monogamy, but…

It’s a normal part of many people’s lives. I think it might be a good first step if those who can are a little bit braver about speaking up in defence of the men and women we pay to love. I don’t want the loudest voice always to be the Daily Mail’s.


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