Opinion is divided across the world with regards to the criminalisation of prostitution. In The Netherlands it is legalised and regulated whereas in the UK it is illegal. Now you’re not going to find an article anywhere online condoning prostitution. Trust me, I’ve looked for them, and this isn’t what this post is going to try and do. I’m not suggesting that prostitution is a career move to consider or any part of a persons ‘life plan’. What I am going to question in this post is the morality of prostitution. Does society still need to frown upon it to the extent it has done in the past? Are we more desensatised to sex than ever before? Can you genuinely argue the case for prostitution as a business? Why will there forever be an divide in opinion, is this generational, cultural or individual?
Europe has very different viewpoint and here on this blog you know how much I like to explore the big arguments of the day:
Is regulated prostitution really a bad thing?
In Europe, as in the rest of the world, prostitution has been around for as long as there have been people walking on the earth. The current definition for prostitution is: the practice or occupation of engaging in sexual activity with someone for payment. Or, one of my favourite types of politically correct definitions ‘the unworthy or corrupt use of one’s talents for personal or financial gain.’ Why is it ‘unworthy’ and ‘corrupt’? That’s another argument all together.
In many countaries across the world prostitution is legal and regulated i.e. Germany and The Netherlands. The CATW suggested that there are around 30K prostitutes in the Netherlands.
De Wallen or the Red Light District, as it is known by many, is as much of a Dutch tourist attraction as it is a street for trade. The Paradise Club in Stutgard had a documentary filmed about its 5 floor ‘Mega Brothel’.
In the United Kingdom, it is illegal to pay for sex with a prostitute who has been “subjected to force” and clients can be prosecuted even if they did not know the prostitute was forced, but prostitution itself is legal. – because that makes the rules nice a clear!
All of this legalization and conversation that has been going on for years regarding laws has seen a growing number of more accessable sex workers and made the industry easier to get into. Here lies the idea that made me pause for thought, if there was a system that is regulated, controlled and done in a safe environment – what is the problem?
You don’t have to go far these days to find references to sex, naked photos, porn is accessible almost everywhere – there are even some dodgy instagram hashtags. You don’t have to actively search for sex to find it. TV shows and movies use it as a subject point to create conversation and debate. A recent 3 pronged series on Channel 4 in the UK (Cucumber, Banana, Tofu) raised some very active comments and asked some very personal questions to its actors, the viewers and the words media. Sex is talked about more and more these days. Why shouldn’t you be able to buy it? You almost don’t need an ‘imagination’ – that’s always been my moms comments about this stuff ‘they don’t leave anything to the imagination nowadays’. It’s true. They don’t. You don’t need to know what you like, technology will tell you what to like or at least offer you a plethora of things to choose from.
My first wonder down the Red Light District in Amsterdam was an experience I’m not likely to forget. I have talked about this before I’m sure. I wont forget it not because of the seedy, uncomfortable, shockingness of it all but for the lack of it. I have had 3 visits to the Red Light District. 2 in the daytime and one in the evening. My expectations where pretty high on my first visit. I was expected to be shocked, sickened, maybe even turned on but no. I felt nothing. There was a distinctive air of non-sexy-ness. To the locals it wasn’t out of the norm to see scantily clad women sitting behind a glasspane and if I’m honest I’ve seen people walk around in the summer with less clothes on. You can openly see doors opening and gentlemen entering and reimerging from behind the velvet curtain at all hours of the day. If we can be so accepting of this in between a café and a butchers shop what is all the fuss about?
Can you really ban regulated prostitution?
Not every country regulates and has legalized prostitution. There are many countires that because of this have an underground, unsafe sex industry which is most worrying. Alongside this is the risk of under aged workers, however the most reliable data on the proportion of sex workers that are underage comes from places where the industry is legal and it can be studied openly it is estimated at about 3.5%. There are many other reasons for tighter controls such as the association of criminality and drug culture that surround it, it is undeniable that the two appear together in many areas of the sex trade. We must not forget the many arguments that women and men are sometimes forced into these industries against their free will to pay off debts or to earn money for pimps or dealers. Rape and other forms of sexual violation of women and men is a crime and I would NEVER condone it, for the sake of argument in this post I am talking about those prostitutes that work as a business selling a service through choice. What we have to remember in all of this is that in some cases its not a case of women HAVE to sell their bodies, some women WANT to do it. Women can like sex too – the concept of it is about pleasure after all.
Service Users (if that is the best title for them) come in all shapes and sizes, men, women, young, old, professionals, partners etc. It is estimated that 7-8.8% of UK men have paid for sex at least once and 13.5-21.6% of Dutch men have paid for sex at least once. Researchers in this study reported difficulty finding reliable data because of a scarcity of prior research, variations in sample sizes, and possible underreporting by survey respondents about their private sexual practices. Sex can in many way be as private or as public as you want to make it yourself.
So what about these people that use the service up for sale. You cant expect to go into a restaurant and eat for free (maybe that’s a bad analogy). What is the difference between a person who goes out every weekend and takes a different partner home compared with one who pays for a good quality service from a professional? A professional who has been tested for diseases, knows how to do the job well and wont have that awkward ‘what does this mean?’ conversation.
Sex as a Commodity
Many lobbyist groups and protest groups have strong opinions on the sex trade and prostitution. Many arguing that the sex industry is out of control, the status of women is reduced and women are belittled. In all fairness the status of women has been reduced for many years – wage equality, human rights, aspirational expectations. We have had to fight for the right to vote, to work and to defend our own countries in war, lets not talk about repressing women any more.
If we consider the definition used earlier the ‘use of one’s talents for personal or financial gain’ that can be anything. A hairdresser, a tattooist, a florist. A cracking comment from my best friend this weekend: “Anyone can cut your hair but if you want the job done right you pay for a professional”. Is it possibly to think of sex the same way? Many people frown upon tattoos yet the trade is still going, the profits are on the up and there is probably at least one shop in every town, not including the freelancers. Not everyone agrees with it or likes it but some people do and wish to pay for it – are we talking about tattoos here or prostitutes?
“Why is it illegal to charge for what can be freely dispensed? Sex work is no more moral or immoral than the chocolate or distilling industries.”
Catherine La Croix
You’ve then got the religion aspect of things to consider to; sex being ‘special’ and ‘sacred’ to share between a husband and wife. These beliefs are great I’m not knocking them but the world and movies and people out in the street generally don’t think like this. We are in a world that can’t escape beauty and sex and businesses. Our idea of women and men is most unrealistic, photoshoped covers of magazines, the price of anti-aging serums higher than gold, lotions and potions to lighten, brighten, tighten…you can see where I’m coming from. The idea of ‘normal’ has gone. Our expectations aren’t realistic but they are so unrealistic that that has become normal.
In Amsterdam the prostitutes rent the window for a fixed price. They sell a service, cash on performance. In a normal business setting the proprietor rents the shop for a fixed price. They sell a service and charge for what they sell…I don’t see much of a difference here.
Our views on sex have changed over the years. What was dirty and seedy, a career choice for unskilled women is now more widely acknowledged. Many prostitutes and escorts are highly skilled and are very aware of what they are doing. In societies in which everyone is equal what right to we have to judge? We want men and women to be the best they can be, to get jobs, earn money, spend money – what right do we have to dictate how they do this? Safety and security of the prostitutes and the clients must come first. In legal and regulated countries this is the most important part of the trade. Class A drugs aren’t legal because they can kill you, sex can’t kill you, abuse of fast food can kill you but nobody is lobbying to criminalise Ronald McDonald. Diseases and lack of cleanliness can cause harm, some with devastating effect which is why we need regulations in place and the situation needs to be controlled. If prostitution is the choice of the woman (which isn’t the case every time but often it is) then I genuinely don’t see the issue. Sex Trafficking is wrong, sexual abuse is wrong, rape is wrong, and in many countries the punishments for those found guilty of commenting such crimes isn’t strong enough. But for some men and women work in the sex industry through choice. In todays western world nobody has to do something they don’t want to and should be allowed to so anything in which they do. I don’t think legally regulated sex workers should be penalised or cast out from society. We must respect the choices of others and not judge them by it.
I think the point I am trying to make here is that decriminalising prostitution may not be so much of a bad thing if the rights of the women are protected and that the safety and security of all participating groups was ensured rather than criminalised.