Post- effective contraception, women’s liberation, and sexual liberation, (and beyond that to a modern world heading towards equality for homosexuals and acceptance of transsexuals), most people (at least people whose opinion is worth considering) have normalized sexuality, accepted it as a natural part of life and, frankly, not really such a big deal as people used to make of it (and some still do).
It’s how we – and all multicellular life – reproduce, and it also happens to be enjoyable (except, not “happens to” – it is enjoyable specifically in order to get us to do it, because otherwise we wouldn’t).
They are all examples of ways we have learned how to deliberately activate our own pleasure sensors - originally designed with some evolutionary function or other - but we can skip past all that survival of the specie nonsense and use our intellect to make life more pleasant for ourselves. Sometimes there end up being negative side-effects, but plenty of times there aren’t. When there aren’t any negative side-effects, there is no good reason why we shouldn’t.
My first two comments on this were both very similar. They both addressed some commonly held ideas about the real world working conditions of prostitutes - specifically "street walkers" - currently, in the United States. This is not an essay about what "is". It is about what "could be" - perhaps even should be. I believe that the REASON conditions are so bad for those women, and the reason many of them have backgrounds of addiction and/or childhood abuse is BECAUSE of both the illegality and the social stigma. The same degree of correlation does not exist, for example, in the porn industry, which is a legal version where a person has sex in exchange for money. Some correlation still exists, but then again, the social stigma is there even if the criminality isn't.
However, given that this is what probably many people will be thinking about upon seeing the topic, I should address it early on.
Many people simply accept it as a given that the majority of prostitutes are being exploited by pimps, that they were abused as children, or that they began working as prostitutes as children.
As is often the case, common knowledge does not fully match up to even current reality in the first place:
"a Miami study found that only 7 percent had pimps"
"studies that compare matched samples of street prostitutes and non-prostitutes [regarding childhood abuse] show mixed results; some find a statistically significant difference in experience of family
abuse, while others find no difference."
"victimization is apparently not nearly as prevalent, even among street prostitutes, as the oppression model asserts."
"An estimated 20 percent of all prostitutes work on the streets in the United States."
"indoor sex workers are less likely to experience violence from customers than those who work on the streets. For example, Church found that few call girls and sauna workers had experienced violence (only 1 percent had ever been beaten, 2 percent raped"
"compared to streetwalkers, indoor workers have lower rates of childhood abuse, enter prostitution at an older age, and have more education. They are less drug dependent...Sexually transmitted diseases are fairly rare among call girls, escorts, and women who work in brothels"
"Research finds that many indoor workers made conscious decisions to enter the trade; they do not see themselves as oppressed victims and do not feel that their work is degrading. Consequently, they
express greater job satisfaction than their street level counterparts. And they may differ little from nonprostitutes: A study by psychologist Sarah Romans and colleagues comparing indoor workers
and an age-matched sample of nonprostitute women found no differences between the two groups in physical health, self-esteem, mental health, or the quality of their social networks."
Update: that link seems to have gone bad. Try:
(or web search for "prostitution: facts and fictions" by Ronald Weitzer)
Street walking is the most visible form to most people, and the form that critics always point to, but there is absolutely zero reason to assume that it represents anything inherent about prostitution. Understand that all through-out this essay, I am referring to prostitution philosophically, removed from the social elements in day to day practice in the United States which are largely a result of both it being illegal, and the social stigmas which are a direct result of the sort of collective beliefs we hold about sexuality that I am addressing in this essay.
But in the case of sex, an awful lot of people don’t feel its ok even if the professional prostitute is an adult, and choose that line of work voluntarily. What does this say about our hidden beliefs about female agency? Can we assume that no one would ever voluntarily make that choice, therefore they must be a victim? No other profession carries with it an assumption that the worker must be being forced or manipulated into taking the job. I would never voluntarily work in a sewage plant, a landfill, a slaughterhouse, a coal mine, or wearing a giant advertising character suit. Yet I don’t assume that anyone who does those jobs was traumatized in their past, is on drugs, or is being manipulated or threatened by their manager. I just see that for the right price, different people choose to rent themselves out in different types of employment. For unskilled or semi-skilled labor, the most unpleasant jobs tend to pay pretty well.
I propose that the real reason for the cultural stigma of prostitution may have actually originated from somewhere quite different – nearly opposite – than the purported reasons of today (protecting women), and it ties in with the housewife analogy I made earlier.
Our species is slightly sexually dimorphic – that is, males and females have slightly different characteristics aside from those which directly affect reproduction. For example, males have furry faces, females do not. Males also tend to be slightly larger in stature and stronger physically than females. Whatever the reasons this dimorphism originally evolved, as humans formed ever larger and more complex social groups, we tended to set up arrangements where males used their strength for hunting and protection. This gave them a social advantage, since they had something to offer that females need - protein - while males were capable of gathering plant food as well if need be (and frequently did, during the long periods of waiting that hunting involves).
As obsessed as our particular society is with rape, in practical terms, barring the use of weapons, bondage, or drugs (none of which had been invented yet) to force submission, it’s simply challenging to do successfully. Imagine trying to get a key into a doorknob while someone on the inside keeps turning the handle. Now imagine instead of just turning the knob, the other person has the knob out of the door, and they are spinning it and waving it all around, and also punching you in the face and kicking you in the crotch at the same time you try to get the key in the keyhole. The difficulty in practical terms is reflected in how rarely rape is successful by total strangers who don’t use any sort of weapons, drugs, or other means to force submission.
This is reflected by real life statistics. Depending which study you look at, 70-90% of rape victims knew the attacker personally, and the vast majority of these happen inside the home of one of them. In these cases there are a myriad of social and psychological factors that affect power dynamics, so in order to determine any inherent gender based power imbalance, we have to focus on only those rapes committed by strangers.
Among all rapes, in 54% the victim was intoxicated, and while many of these coincide with the cases of known assailants, at least one study suggests that women raped by strangers are more likely to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of attack. Of rapes committed by strangers, 20% brandish or use weapons, and 20% have more than one assailant. These 3 factors will no doubt have some overlap, but it means somewhere between 60% and 90% of the time there is something other than just physical strength differences involved. Of what remains, a very significant number of victims do not resist. This is likely from a mistaken belief (one which has been actively promoted by well meaning but misinformed professionals) that resistance will increase the violence used against them, when in fact "resisting victims are less frequently and less seriously injured after taking some kind of protective action than non-resisting victims"
When a potential victim offers physical resistance before rape has occurred, it is effective 85% of the time.
Another study found violent physical resistance prevents rape up to 86% of the time it is attempted and simply running away is effective up to 85% of the time.
Apply that 85% of the time an attacker is unable to overcome resistance to the up to 90% of the time when physical strength is the only advantage the attacker has, and the reality matches up with the thought experiment - outside of modern social and technological factors, the physical power imbalance between the genders is much smaller than we commonly assume.
Once agriculture is invented, though, women are less dependent on men for sustenance, and the power balance shifts in their favor. To try to compensate, men formed strict social roles that attempted to keep women dependent, all the way to the fairly recent era of housewives and breadwinners – a female may be just as capable physically and mentally as doing whatever job her husband does, but if she is capable of supporting herself, what incentive does she have to stay with him and continue providing him sex? (Incidentally, this is perhaps reflected in that, since female employment has become normal and wide-spread, the majority of divorces are initiated by women).
Then, perhaps largely to that end, at some point in our history, cultures all over the world invented marriage.
This is good in a way for females, as it mandates males to stay put and provide half of the time and/or resources necessary to sustain the helpless human offspring they helped to create.
But it also takes away the one source of power that they had, as (up until about 19??), the deal also mandated that a wife satisfy her husband sexually anytime he wanted. It allowed females themselves to be commoditized, a possession originally owned by her father, later transferred to her husband in a match the father arranged.
Most important of all, it was good for social cohesion and society as a whole, and allowed a mechanism by which one group could form alliances with others nearby.
Before there was any such thing as law, there was only one thing societies leaders could do. Invoke a religious based morality, one which needs no justification or explanation, because it is claimed to come directly from the mouth of “god(s)”. Prostitution, along with all non-procreative sex, gets condemned universally. In a world with no technology and no law enforcement, where individuals may live any distance from anyone else, and where the majority of families are responsible for their own sustenance, there isn’t much leverage a society’s leader has over the people. If individuals can be convinced that there is something fundamentally bad about the pleasure of sex, that it is permissible only in the context of an officially sanctioned marriage, then those who control marriage control an important aspect of individuals lives – and of course marriage is universally controlled by religious or government officials, those same entities which have attempted to maintain control over people for as long as people have lived in groups. Every expression of sexuality outside of it then becomes expressly forbidden – per-marital, adultery (even if its consensual, including the consent and/or participation of the spouses), incest, prostitution, and even masturbation – by way of the false “morality” of religious decree.
Of course any sane person, told that, for example, enjoying the sunshine on your face on a sunny day, or enjoying a delicious orange, or enjoying music, or laughing with friends was actually immoral and angered “god(s)”, not for any particular reason, but just because (S)He says so, would immediately disregard such utter non-sense, and probably disregard pretty much everything else the priest who made that claim said as well. It has to go beyond just a decree. It has to be a universal condemnation of any pleasurable aspect of sexuality which is drilled into every single individual from the moment they learn to speak, if not sooner. Herein lies the birth of the concept of nudity and its inseparable concepts of indecent exposure, modesty, and shame. Never allowing any person to see one’s sex parts outside of the family unit creates a subtle anti-sex message to a new human trying to make sense of the world even before they are old enough to speak.
Even though, in the years between then and now, quite a few totally game-changing events have happened. Women have regained recognition by males as people. Women have ceased to be legally property. Rape is no longer a crime against a woman’s father or husband, as it was in the Bible, but instead a crime against her. Women have been included in democracy, allowed to vote and hold office.
Another sea-change in human culture is region lost its strangle-hold on society. It still has plenty of adamant followers, and even among non-believers its influence on world-view can be rather dramatic, but it is no longer a serious rival to secular government in making Laws which must be obeyed by all. That leaves open for questioning all of the “moral” rules handed down by it which have no actual basis in the fundamental ethics of harming or helping sentient beings which real morality is based on, and nearly all of them have indeed been questioned by secular liberals, and occasionally even secular conservatives and religious liberals. In dramatic contrast to the religious past, homosexuality is widely tolerated, if not accepted outright, gambling is a problem only if it leads to addiction or crime, blasphemy is just a figure of speech, and Family Guy is aired nightly on broadcast television with nothing more than a brief message of parental advisory.
The third gigantic change – one which may actually have had significant affect in helping the other two occur – was the invention of forms of contraception which actually worked. People have been using methods to try to enjoy the pleasure of sex without the inconvenience of reproduction since before anyone thought up the wheel, but “actually worked” are the key words. That invention completely dissolved most of the original reasons for centralized authoritarian control over individual sexuality – managing fertility and kinship in order to manipulate social relationships. The main reason left for anyone to want to control an individual female’s sexuality is the power imbalance caused by sex being a necessity for men but a nicety for women. Now that she can have sex without the risk of having to raise a child without paternal support, she has substantially more power. Couple that with women’s substantially increased rights, and women, by gaining control over their own sexuality from both men and from biology, and in doing so gained a huge amount of power over men. As religion lost strength and contraception became cheaper, easier to access, and more effective, many of the sexual morays which pretended to be morality but were really about controlling fertility and maintaining power structures began to melt away. While it’s not exactly dinner conversation, it’s pretty much understood that most normal healthy people masturbate at least at some point in their lives. Swinging or open relationships are seen as choices a couple makes. Premarital sex has become the norm – who in modern society would marry someone they had never had sex with? Homosexuality, once seen as the gravest of sins, is no longer a capital offense, no longer a mental illness, and in many places, nothing to be ashamed of at all. All of these things which we take for granted were once considered capital offenses. Regardless of the consent of all parties involved, the punishment for any sex outside of marriage was death.
You can still hear post-sexual-liberation women use the term “slut” and “whore” as an insult against other women. A “slut” is just a female who chooses to have sex with multiple partners without forming relationships with them first. A “whore” is a derogatory word for prostitute, or, anyone who receives compensation from a partner for engaging in sex. Why should these things continue to offend women? Certainly a part of it is the same lingering religious morays that condemn incest, but there may be another factor as well. As previously noted, much of the reason for the original subjugation of women may have been men’s attempt at undoing the power unbalance, and with women’s liberation, the power imbalance returned, and with the advent of contraception and abortion, that influence over males could be exercised with no risk of unintended offspring. But the power shift to the entire gender is only available to any individual to the extent that she controls the only access to sex for a given partner. Although any given couple is unlikely to make every sexual contact a squid row quo, generally both partners are expected to contribute to the relationship, and sex is frequently seen as a negotiating point in the females favor since, as since ancient times, no matter how much she may desire and enjoy it, she can do without it, while a male can no more go without then he can without food (which is why there are so many cases of celibate priests in sexual scandals, but it is essentially unheard of among nuns).
However, if a prostitute comes along, it diminishes that negotiating power, as her partner now has another avenue for that resource, one that comes without the explicit long-term contract of marriage or even the implicit long-term contract of a relationship. And of course a promiscuous female is even worse, since they don’t require any form of compensation. Obviously few if any women actually consciously think all this through when looking down on another women for their sexual choices, but I propose it may be a subconscious mechanism that explains why some people who take per-marital sex for granted and are totally ok with homosexuality still have a distaste for prostitutes and promiscuous women.
And once you have removed the “non-reproductive-sex is evil” non-sense from the equation, all that is left is prostitution is a job. A job in which you temporarily rent your body to someone, and do something you wouldn’t otherwise be doing in that particular moment. Just like every other job that exists or could possibly exist. If you are employed, in any fashion, if you get compensated by anyone for doing or thinking anything, that makes you, essentially, a whore. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.