A person can legally perform any number of paid services for another person, including massage and other bodily treatments — but said services must not cross the line into providing sexual gratification. If they do, then they’ve entered the realm of prostitution; and that, of course, must be Stopped At All Costs.
If a person is ready and willing to offer the pleasures of their body to customers for pay, then why shouldn’t they be able to do so? In much of the world, they can. Prostution is legal (with some restrictions) in Canada, England, most of Europe, most of Asia — practically everywhere except the puritanical U.S.
But wait, you say: Keeping sex work illegal protects sex workers (mostly women) from danger and exploitation and also protects the Sanctity of the American Home.
Um, no. That logic is exactly reversed. If prostitution is legal, then the state can regulate it. The workers can be required to have regular medical checks and to be certified as disease-free. (The self-regulating pornographic film industry requires its workers to get checked regularly, to the benefit of all involved.) If a sex worker is found to have a drug or alcohol problem, they can be referred to treatment. They can work when and where they choose, and therefore don’t require a pimp. Their services need not be entirely secret, and need not take place in cars, alleys, and other hidden places, thereby protecting the workers from dangerous clients. Heck, the sex workers can even begin to pay taxes on their income, thus bringing them fully into the economic mainstream.
As for the Sanctity of the American Home, individuals who visit prostitutes will visit prostitutes, legal or not. There are any number of reasons why someone might choose to pay for sexual release, and none of them are caused by the existence of the sex industry. If prostitution is legal and regulated, then a man on a business trip who purchases quick sex can be assured that he won’t take a disease home with him and that the service will be clean and safe.
Unfortunately, much of the U.S. population has little tolerance for sexual self-expression of any kind. We will forgive all manner of vices in our politicians, for example, including stupidity, pride, anger, gluttony, anger, greed, and sloth. But not lust. No, anything relating to lust will get a public official a quick trip into the headlines and out the door of his office. Even transgressions by family members are enough to raise howling mobs and cost people their jobs. Untold bushels of tax dollars are spent on legislated morality, investigating and prosecuting adults for private, consenting behavior.
If only more Americans could see beyond their own short-sighted ideas of right and wrong and grasp the larger benefit of tolerance regarding sexual matters. Sex work is fundamentally a private transaction between two people. People who choose to participate will do so regardless of outside pressures on their conduct (and those who exert such pressure on others are just as likely to carry on their own personal sexual shenanigans). We don’t have to approve; but if we claim that our interests lie in protecting the workers, their clients, and families, then we can do that best by legalizing and regulating the profession. The status quo — danger, disease, harassment, and arrest — helps no one.