public morality vs. private, consenting behavior


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.

6 responses to “public morality vs. private, consenting behavior

  1. An excellent post, well written with convincing arguments. There are also some pretty powerful arguments against legalization- see, for example. Ultimately, it seems to me the anti-legalization view, whatever its motives, is unrealistic. Many women enter the profession as an escape from poverty. I think that people who wish to suppress prostitution should first provide alternative, equally rewarded employment for those who would otherwise, along with their families, face economic hardship. Prostitution is not going to go away. The evil in it is the exploitation by pimps and the dangers and I can’t see how criminalization can do anything but increase those. And whatever one thinks of it, prostitutes deserve respect- as much as nurses, in my view- for doing a difficult and often dangerous job while at the same time being scorned by a hypocritical society and hounded by the authorities.

  2. The document you cite is interesting and makes some good points, particularly about prostitution in Thailand, which is seen as something of a haven for exploitive sexual behaviors (especially involving children). But the paper comes from a militantly feminist viewpoint that goes too far for me. (Believe me, I’m a feminist, but sometimes certain feminists go a little over the edge, in my opinion.) The author says, for instance, that pro-legalization arguments such as “‘the consent of two adults’ are nothing but the formation of an illusion perpetuating lack of social awareness of sexual slavery.” I’m aware that sexual slavery exists and that some women are forced against their will into the sex trade; this is obviously a crime, as is any use of minors as sex workers. However, if a woman, of her own accord, to escape poverty, or pay her way through college, or simply to make more per hour than she can elsewhere, chooses to sell sex, then I can’t view her choice as sexual slavery.
    I completely agree with all your points. As you say, ideally, society would offer sufficient alternatives that becoming a sex worker just to pay the bills wouldn’t be necessary. But even in such a society, there will always be men who wish to purchase sex in various forms and who will be willing to pay enough that certain women will be willing to do the work in exchange. I understand that certain call girls in New York make hundreds of dollars per hour; I’m not sure what other job they could do (other than political consulting, perhaps) that would pay as well. There is and always will be a demand. There is and always will be a supply. Isn’t that what the much-ballyhooed U.S. capitalist economy is supposed to be all about?

  3. The irony to sexual satisfaction is that each person gets off on varying things. I once read an article by a woman who provided Brazillian waxing services and one of her clients orgasmed each time she was waxed. Is that prostitution or deviant behavior (rherotical), but you get my point. I think there is a fine line between what can be construed as sexual release and paid sexual services. Hypothetically, I get off when I’m massaged on the base of my back. I’ve paid for the massage, but did I pay to get off? Again, the fine line. This is a highly debatable topic and one that will go on for all perpetuity. I do have issues with sexual contact that involves children, but consenting adults? Not so much!

  4. Nice post, and I agree with your point of view. The only thing I have to say regards framing… in a couple of instances you mention “tolerance”. I hate that word. Just the idea of someone “tolerating” someone else is a crappy frame. I think “acceptance” is better. I’m not trying to come down on you at all. Like I said, I’m in agreement with what you’re saying, and my bet is that you didn’t even notice the word you used.

  5. Yes, I used the word “tolerate” on purpose. To me, tolerance and acceptance are different things. I don’t expect that everyone in America will ever accept the legitimacy of sex work; however, I’d ask that they tolerate the existence of the sex industry for the larger benefit of society. I’m tolerant of people’s widely varying religious beliefs, but I’ll never accept those beliefs as correct (although I accept those people as the individuals they are). I also just found an interesting quote: “Political tolerance is the willingness to extend basic rights and civil liberties to persons and groups whose viewpoints differ from one’s own” (, which seems to be a central tenet of American democracy. And, I tolerate the fact that I’m getting older, but I will never accept the fact that someday I’m going to die. 🙂

  6. what a great site and informative posts, I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

    I’m Out! 🙂

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