a rant about selling sex

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Pinkagendist has done some posts that raise questions about our attitudes towards sex. In western societies, we have developed many key moral features from our dominant religion over the last couple of thousand years, so it’s worth bearing in mind that any instincts we have about selling sex may be influenced by our religious heritage.

For those of you who don’t know, according to the traditional interpretations of Christianity, sex outwith the confines of a heterosexual marriage is evil. Given that limiting sexual activity to heterosexual marriage is not a possibility that most people would naturally either want or be able to do (especially as even thinking about sex with other people is evil), sex became associated with guilt, shame and wrong-doing, and may very well still hold residual negative connotations in many sectors of society.

Therefore, people like Pink reason that selling sex only has a bad reputation because history has told us it is immoral. He holds up examples of the happy, intelligent sex workers who make informed decisions and open choices about their line of work. What percentage of sex workers does he think this would cover? No idea, but lets look at some facts from a UK agency:

  • between 50-75% of women entered prostitution before they were 18, with 15 years being the average age of entry.
  • 70% of those involved in street prostitution have a history of Local Authority care. Nearly half report a history of childhood sexual abuse.
  • rape rate statistics from the US raise the possibility that there may actually be a positive association between legal prostitution in Nevada and higher rape rates in that state.
  • more than half of women in prostitution have been raped and or seriously assaulted and at least 75% have been physically assaulted at the hands of the pimps and punters.

Selling sex isn’t something that’s likely to go away in human society. Sex workers deserve the same kind of employment and personal protection that people in any other line of work take for granted. We can’t make it go away by criminalising it and, in fact, we only make conditions worse for the mainly vulnerable people who get involved. Criminalising sex work also makes it more difficult for people to move on to other lines of work.

But let’s not pretend that selling your body for the use and sexual pleasure of a paying customer is likely to be a fulfilling vocation for many people. Let’s not pretend that the industry doesn’t perpetuate society’s problem of treating women like objects. Let’s be clear that the reality for most people selling sex is exceedingly grim and that the circumstances that brought them there have nothing to do with choice.

If 1000 years from now, a utopian society where women and men are truly equal has happy sex workers in a legalised profession with a career structure, safe from harm and choosing their profession from the myriad opportunities open to them, I won’t complain. But we’re not there, and given the exploitative and normally abusive nature of sex work in the world today, I think it’s naive in the extreme to suggest that the case for legalising prostitution has anything to do with it being an aspirational career.

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