Is prostitution wrong?

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I’ve recently had a debate on this blog post concerning the ethics of prostitution. Several people have a different opinion than I do  on the matter. Here is my unified theorem on why I believe prostitution is wrong.

First, let’s address sex itself with regards to men. The power of sex is at once vastly understated in our society while at the same time referred to all too often. Modern society believes that sex is a toy. In reality it has the power to make people  miserable both in its abundance and in its absence. Women especially, in modern society and in the age of sexual freedom are numb to the power that sex has over men. Oh, they know that men look at them for too long when they wear a low-cut blouse, but in no way is the power that sex has over men properly and formally explained to them. Mostly they gain their dim understanding of sexuality from pop culture. The women find that they enjoy the attention they get from men when they wear revealing clothing or are flirtatious, but this belies any wisdom about the matter. Some of these women paradoxically believe that sex is not important while believing that being in control of sex proves they are strong women.   Some women use sex to punish or control their husbands or boyfriends. If they do this, they clearly do not understand the power of sex, and are asking for a good bit of trouble for themselves. It’s difficult enough for men to go without sex, but if he feels that a woman is so cruel as to use his weakness to hurt him, he may look elsewhere.

As most readers will know, I am a Christian and thus take a Christian perspective. I am admittedly bias on the matter. But I must also add that I am human and subject to the same biological forces as non-Christian men. I sympathize with them in regards to their argument that they want sex and believe that prostitutes offer a reasonable outlet for sexuality.

Let’s consider the libido, as like a hunger for food. When we grow hungry, we eat,  and find satiety. Over time we grow hungry again. Suppose a person is very hungry. He or she has not eaten all day and has worked hard. Is it better that they grab a bag of chips, a soda, and a candy bar to assuage their hunger, or that they wait for a while until a proper meal can be prepared? They’re not in a situation where they are likely to starve to death. Most people would agree that a cooked meal at home is better than succumbing to the pull of junk food. I remember having a discussion with a friend of mine when we were in college. He said his professor told him that the urge for sex is greater than the urge for food. This is laughable and clearly shows the kind of people that in many cases are teaching the soft heads of college students. It reveals a society that has become soft, and thus thinks about sex, all the time, anytime. Anyone who’s been hungry, really hungry, knows the last thing on the mind is sex. We can go a day without sex. Try going without food for even 24 hours. Not only does the mind focus entirely on food in this case, but a person’s hormonal profile changes greatly. The procurement of food is far above sex on the hierarchy of needs. Join the military and find out.

I realize that I have not yet proven or even offered an argument that prostitution is sexual junk food;  I will, though I suspect that even the proponents of prostitution will agree that sex with a prostitute is not the heights of possible relationships. Just keep the idea in mind as you read my article.

The primary argument from people that support the legitimization of prostitution is that in its pure form, no one gets hurt. The john pays for a service which the prostitute willingly provides, and as with all things in a free market both parties gain. But there’s a tricky thing about sex, I think. It can harm us even when we don’t know it’s harming us. The pleasure it provides masks the power it has over our conscience and sub-conscience mind.  I refute the idea that no one is hurt. As a matter of observation, there are few people in America more emotionally damaged, generally speaking, than willing prostitutes. Marina Adshade writes:

Research suggests that promiscuity is not associated with increased happiness and, in fact, that the number of sexual partners needed to maximize happiness is exactly one…So if sex makes us happy then surely, if variety really is the spice of life, having more sexual partners must make us happier. Well it doesn’t. People with more sexual partners are less happy than those who have just one…Men who use prostitutes are also less happy. That is, promiscuous people are less happy.

There are several studies that show a relationship between promiscuity and depression, as well as other psychological problems. Promiscuity is not causative in these cases, but it certainly seems to be one ingredient in a stew of unhappiness. Now, take the unhappiness generated in a promiscuous life and turbo-charge it by making it one’s job to be promiscuous. The result? Women with the same psychological profile as soldiers suffering from shell shock: 

In a study to be presented today at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco, researchers interviewed almost 500 prostitutes from around the world and discovered that two-thirds suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. In contrast, the condition is found in less than 5 percent of the general population. Studies of veterans of combat in the Vietnam War have found that the disorder may be diagnosed in 20 percent to 30 percent, about half of whom have long-term psychiatric problems.

”Essentially, we need to view prostitution itself as a traumatic stressor,” said Dr. Melissa Farley, a psychologist and researcher at the Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco who directed the study with colleagues from Turkey and Africa.

Moreover, another study showed that prostitutes have a death rate far surpasses the norm. Indeed, female prostitutes die at a rate 5.9 times greater than the general population in the same age group. This rate is triple the rate for the most dangerous job (fisherman) listed by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The argument of course, is that the specific act of sex in exchange for money is not wrong, even of the surrounding facts show that prostitution in a dangerous trade. My retort is manifold: First, as I wrote prior, studies show, and my own anecdotal experience around women known to be promiscuous shows, that multiple sex partners damages us psychologically. Second, this argument is the result of a sickness in the thinking of the modern mind, a sickness that has infected even our sciences: It is the pathology of Cartesian reductionism. Reductionists believe that by breaking down complex systems into individual parts, they can understand the the system as a whole. This sounds good, but in practice, the more complex the system, the less rewarding is reductionism. The reductionist view assumes one knows about all the parts in the first place and fails to comprehend that individual parts are changed in nature by other individual parts.  Reductionists also tend to believe their theories, real-world experience be damned. Many reductionists refuse to acknowledge that their inputs are inadequate, thus their outputs are faulty. In truth, complex systems must often be viewed in a holistic manner, acknowledging emergence.

Peter Corning, a systems scientist explains:

Even in a chess game, you cannot use the rules to predict “history” — i.e., the course of any given game. Indeed, you cannot even reliably predict the next move in a chess game. Why? Because the “system” involves more than the rules of the game. It also includes the players and their unfolding, moment-by-moment decisions among a very large number of available options at each choice point. The game of chess is inescapably historical, even though it is also constrained and shaped by a set of rules, not to mention the laws of physics. Moreover, and this is a key point, the game of chess is also shaped by teleonomiccybernetic, feedback-driven influences. It is not simply a self-ordered process; it involves an organized, “purposeful” activity.[Corning, Peter, The Reemergence of Emergence, 2002]

To say that the compartmented act of sex for money causes no harm is not useful, because everywhere we look, we see that drug use, robbery, disease, and early death (among other things) are the lot of the prostitute. Separating the individual aspects of prostitution amounts to saying that being a soldier is easy, because marching is easy. There’s a quite a bit more to it, though. Human psychology and social systems are incredibly complex.

We can see that prostitution denies the prostitute as well as the john (unless the act is kept secret) access to the one institution that is perhaps more strongly associated with happiness than any other: Marriage. Despite our cynicism, the happiest people in the world are happily married people. Additionally, marriage has a strong impact on individuals’ economic status, and the well-being of children. In other words, the best way to be happy, keep your money, and ensure the success of your children is to get married and stay married. But who marries a prostitute, except maybe her pimp? The wife of a john is sure to be displeased and end the marriage if she finds out about his activities. Thus, prostitution prevents people from taking part in an important institution.

Charles Murray on the sexual revolution and marriage. 

The easy argument against prostitution is that it spreads STDs. But yet again, many take a reductionist view and say that, yes, prostitutes should use protection, but that doesn’t’ make the act itself wrong. And yet, in a world inundated with access to condoms and the talk of their use, STDs among prostitutes even in first world nations runs rampant. One report states that 57% of prostitutes in Newark New Jersey are HIV positive. At one point in the 19th century, 75% of men in New York City had an STD of some sort.  Is it difficult to imagine why historical societies frowned on prostitution, even if they tolerated it? Especially in the days before antibiotics. When promiscuity involves large populations being killed off, I’d say that’s a moral issue. In Thailand, a country well-known for its sex trade, the prevalence of HIV-positive people went from 100 infected persons in 1984, to 28% of all brothel-based prostitutes being HIV-positive. Even if 99% of all prostitutes used condoms every time, the disease would still spread fairly rapidly. One human vector is all that’s needed in a promiscuous population, and prostitution is promiscuity on steroids.

Prostitution is perceived as social chaos, even if only subliminally. Where there is open prostitution there will also be increased rates of theft, robbery, rape, and murder. Criminal minds sense the permissive environment in which prostitution thrives, and that disorder inevitably begets more disorder, as James Q Wilson explained in his Broken Window Theory. Most human beings know that paying for sex, and the subtle yet dangerous emanations that emit from prostitution is not the desired state of human existence. Even the paying johns view their act as a form of addiction, and a fatalistic surrender to the tides of blanched misery. this is true from Las Vegas, to Kiev to Bangkok. For no human, no matter the depths of his or her cynicism, can bury fully the knowledge that sex is important and should be treated as such.  After all, we all exist because of sex.

I have shown that promiscuity is associated with unhappiness and that marriage and stable relationships are associated with happiness. We know that children are much better off with both parents present, and it’s easy to believe that prostitution cheapens meaningful relationships such as marriage.  I have shown that prostitutes tend me be miserable and die a very high rate, that deadly STDs have been spread and are still spread through the practice. Also, that complex systems cannot always be understood by understanding their individual parts.

As such, prostitution should be discouraged by society, even if not criminalized. This is not an easy task in the post-sexual revolution period, in which sex was reduced to the mere mechanical interactions of body parts. The reductionists have had their day. But the damages wrought by the sexual revolution are beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say we value marriage less, and the statistics and anecdote exists to support that children and thus society have suffered, and will suffer more. The acceptance of prostitution is viewed by the young as an argument from silence. It tells the next generation that the very kernal of human society–the family–is meaningless. And beyond a sufficient human society is Hobbes’ “state of nature”, the howling wildernesses that make up many of the countries of Africa and South America, where life is nasty, brutish and short.






13 thoughts on “Is prostitution wrong?

    Royce said:
    May 11, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Interesting post and I agree with your argument although I think there are aspects that you didn’t address. Today many people are living together without marriage under the belief that the words don’t matter. They do and you and I both know they do. Also when a man’s sexual drive is frustrated they frequently turn to prostitution but many also turn to male friends. This is more common than people realize, especially in the military, but the result / impact is the same — a lowered self-esteem. While these things are common and have been since time began your point is well made — they are not without consequences and they are not victimless.

    Bill said:
    May 11, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    Well, I never thought i’d say this, but I don’t think I agreed with much of anything you said here. I haven’t been able to go through each piece of the research cited but so far it’s hardly definitive (I know you say it’s reinforced by anecdotal to your credit). Even if it is harmful, it’s not always the case. Maggie McNeil and her huge following have an entirely different perspective. One can be a prostitute for short periods of time too, it’s not a permanent state of being. So the real question that should be asked is, should it be illegal – or taking your premise,is it harmful enough that it should be illegal. That means criminal records, throwing people in jail, taking them away from their kids and the double standards that go with it . Sorry Doug, but this really sounds like the same arguments coming from the radical feminists (and any time that you see radical feminists and the hard evangelical right lockstep on an issue, it’s worrisome). I’m certainly not making that charge – I’m just saying the argument is the same one they’re making

    magus71 responded:
    May 11, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    Oh I’m expecting to get a good bit of flak for this one. Even the feminists get some things right some of the time. However, I don’t argue that prostitution need be criminal. Nor need it be endorsed, which seems so often to be the case when people are arguing for decriminalization.

    But I cannot in good conscience “support” prostitution. Laws, all the way back to William Blackstone, have a firm foundation not only in supporting what is rational, but also upholding community standards. In the case of prostitution, I think that the state has a significant interest in at least controlling it, as well as discouraging it. And anyone who wants to accuse me of being an authoritarian needs to consider that this is how the rules and laws have been for some time. So maybe we’ve always lived under tyranny.

    I believe that those who argue against me believe that society itself has no right to attempt to steer where society is going, that it must invariably give in to low expectations in the name of freedom.

    magus71 responded:
    May 11, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Also Bill, the feminists argue that prostitutes in America are being exploited, which is total bs. In some countries they are. But not here, for the most party. They are making an unwise choice, however, and should be told so.

    magus71 responded:
    May 11, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    Here’s what prostitutes in Mumbai think of their clients. It’s easy to see how this would damage society.

    zhai2nan2 said:
    May 11, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    > The wife of a john is sure to be displeased and end the marriage if she finds out about his activities.

    Unfortunately, in some countries (e.g. Japan), the wife just wants to give up on sex, and so encourages the husband to consort with prostitutes, but not with her!

    Also, I have a question for Royce:
    >Also when a man’s sexual drive is frustrated they frequently turn to prostitution but many also turn to male friends. This is more common than people realize, especially in the military

    Do you mean to say that frustrated men spend time non-sexually with other men, or they spend time pruriently (e.g. going to strip clubs), or they actually have homosexual sex?

    If military men commonly go to strip clubs, I would not be surprised. If military men engage in situational homosexual sex, I would be somewhat surprised.

    WTP said:
    May 12, 2014 at 3:12 am

    Of course there is the third option. How is it more shameful than prostitution that it is rarely mentioned?

    Bill said:
    May 12, 2014 at 4:33 am

    Doug – I have a post penned up about Apollonian that I need to finish and post, but I think there’s so much here I might have to take a stab at a full rebuttal.

    A few points. First, the depression or ‘broken’ issue – where’s there any evidence (and i read the linked articles and tried to get to the original research, I’m not seeing it) that promiscuity (even if you assume it’s ‘bad’ ) isn’t a symptom as opposed to a cause? If it’s a symptom, then it seems the argument takes on a new face.

    Next, What is promiscuity really? I slept around in college as did most of my friends, hitting mid range double digits my freshman year alone. I wasn’t unhappy then and can’t think of any damage I suffered. I’ve always made a point of keeping a good relationship with exes (with one exception that I failed miserably at) and I honestly can’t distinguish any difference in happiness between exes or just female friends that slept around and ones that didn’t. Indvidiual cases, sure, but on the whole, no way.

    But every night, prostitution goes on at every club across the country. A guy needs to spend a certain amount of money, be it dinner, movie, drinks or whatever and he in turn gets laid. In some of those cases he could have had it either way, but in many cases, if he didn’t (he asked her to pay ) he wouldn’t get sex. That is the exact same dynamic as ‘true’ prostitution, its’ just less formal. Princess Diana is revered, but she seems no less a prostitute than any street walker. I doubt she screwed Charles b/c he was good looking and charming. Doti might have been a playboy but he certainly wasn’t the best looking or most charming guy around – no one who didn’t have mega bucks was tapping that ass. And that’s the case with tons of women.

    You take issue with prostitution being bad and you include promiscuity (kudos for intellectual honesty on that – although it’s not surprising you kept it real there – that’s why you have loyal readers) but it seems you’re making the case that prosititution is worse and that the state has an interest in controlling it. If Megan is willing to sleep with me after knowing me for 2 hours, why is it worse if I hand her $200.00 at the end of it? I don’t think women who sleep around are sluts, but it seems that any damage related to prostitution necessarily applies, perhaps moreso to amateurs. You’re not arguing that society has a vested interest in controlling sex between say, aspiring starlets and connected casting agents. Or between 20 something’s and rock stars. In each case, they’re trading sex for something of value – a shot at getting a role they want, notoriety of sleeping with a celebrity, bragging rights among their friends, introductions to other famous people etc etc. In college bar after college bar, some well known upperclassmen is scoring with a freshman, in large part b/c she is trading sex for (hopefully) popularity. Whether it’s a chance at being in the cool crowd or $200.00 – I don’t see the difference in moral terms and don’t see why one is better than the other, how one is more or less damaging to the people involved or is any more or less of society’s business.

    I’d argue just the opposite really. Since Pros (not drug addicted street walkers using it to fuel their habit -that’s only a small subset of prostitutes) have a vested interest in not contracting disease, are adamant about using protection and engaging in safe sex, visit the doctor regularly, know who they’re sleeping with – it seems society is better off in every regard when it’s done that way as opposed to amateurs. Amateurs spread more diseases than pros do (I can provide quite a few sources for that), take longer to figure out they’ve been infected and are spreading it, don’t often know who all they’ve slept with and therefore can’t warn them and get pregnant. Whatever problems one wants to claim about with respect to prostitution, the spreading of disease and unwanted pregnancy are not among them (again, I’m talking about prostitution on the whole, not the edge cases of drug addicted prostitutes using sex to feed their habit).

    Once again I see I’ve written a book and taken more than my fair share of the space here , so I’ll take it to a counter post in the name of being a polite house guest, but yes, I’d maintain that we have absolutely no business at all controlling other people’s sexual behavior as long as it’s between consenting adults. If you wrote a post claiming that we need to control how many people you can have sex with – that would be ridiculed as too authoritarian and impossible to implement. I see the same case here. Prostitution is against the law and yet here it is. Making it illegal only pushes it underground where the more unseemly aspects can flourish. If you want to control it, legalize it – you can control the hell out of it there. Now, we have a system where its arbitrarily enforced, the women are targeted much more than the men b/c too many of the men are powerful and voters . There’s a perception in the legal community that a prositute can’t be raped – even if you don’t like prostitution, they should have the same legal protections as anyone else and I know that if you put yourself in a dangerous situation, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get burned, but we don’t treat college freshman like that – in fact it’s just the opposite, if a girl gets too drunk and does a walk of shame, then claims rape, the guy’s life will almost certainly be ruined, even if it was 100% consensual. If she’s a prostitute however, she can’t even go to the police without exposing herself to likely arrest , there’s very little chance a DA will take the case most of the time and even if the DA does, the chances of a conviction are next to null. There are plenty of cops (sorry to say this man, but it’s true) that shake down hookers regularly – and demand favors from them to avoid a bust. In any other situation that would be rape, but here it’s not. From the cases I’ve seen, most cops don’t even get put on unpaid leave for such an ‘allegation’.

    Lastly, another commenter said it’s certainly not victimless. That’s playing games with the word Victim. If I do drugs, that will invariably hurt those that love me. They become victims. But there’s no true victim in the legal sense as there is if I say, robbed someone. There are adverse consequences to it but there are adverse consequences to me cheating too – there are adverse consequences to having sex with non-pros or as Tiger Woods did, the semi-pros. Even if you could make the case that prostitution is in fact ‘bad’ , i don’t see any mechanism that we have that could enforce an equitable prohibition on it. And i don’t see any way that any such mechanism isn’t arbitrary as hell, to the point of being , well, completely arbitrary. Let’s face it, a lot of women go through a ‘slut’ phase. Many of those women are our sisters, our daughters, even our current spouses. That’s the main reason we treat things differently. The act of handing over money at the end of it doesn’t make it any more or less bad – so at best we’re taking about promiscuity being bad – and I think that argument is far from being made.

    magus71 responded:
    May 12, 2014 at 4:43 am

    Bill, to answer part of your comment, the part about me thinking prostitution is worse then promiscuity, I actually considered this. My conclusion was that prostitution is worse, if only because it is a more insidious problem to deal with because of the issue of money. So, now we have not only the problem of libido, but money makes prostitutes want to do it even if they really don’t want to do it. Its one thing to do something that has a good outcome even of you don’t want to do it. It’s another to do something we don’t want to do with little good outcome. So I admit it’s not the money transfer that makes it bad. It’s the money that urges women do it even when they hate it and it damages them. That said, I believe our entire system is so damaged, there’s no saving it by trying to address one issue like prostitution. the prevailing attitudes about such things are such that the ship is filling quickly from various breaches. Which is why I joined the reaction. From here I can be far more bold than are “conservatives” who refuse to tell the truth for fear of being disliked.

    thejanelane said:
    May 13, 2014 at 5:02 am

    Really interesting post and discussion. To me, the issue is too broad to stick a yes or no label onto the ‘is it wrong’ question. I would break the question into ‘what is wrong about prostitution?’ and ‘what are we going to do about it as a society?’

    As a former sex worker, I agree whole heartedly with your comment here:
    “money makes prostitutes want to do it even if they really don’t want to do it.”

    I would not universally condemn sex work because I think it’s going to happen anyways whether or not it’s legal – I would prefer that people were protected, entitled to safety at work like any other job, etc. I also think if it were made more mundane then we as a society might stop glamourising it.

    There’s so much I could say in answer to your question, so in short I will say that it’s suboptimal (rather than wrong).

    In a better society, people would be able to earn a living wage for any type of work, be that working retail, in a restaurant or in an office, so that some of the desperation and need for easy cash is removed. I know one of the things that drove me into it was that despite working many hours at a coffee shop as a barista, I had no money to pay rent, my parents had no money to bail me out, and I couldn’t go back home since I had left to escape unhappy circumstances in the first place.

    I was in dire straits, and sex work gave me an out. Despite the damage (suffering from complex-ptsd) I actually don’t know what I would have or could have done differently. I did the best I could with the mental and physical resources I had at the time.

    The pros for me were that it actually helped me respect and love my body, as a recurring anorexic who had been hospitalised 5 times, it was so powerful to see my body as something positive and to start to value it precisely because of the pleasure it can bring, rather than in self mortification.

    Of course there were downsides too and I am suffering still from the after effects, which is why I’ve started my blog on recovering from sex work. Perhaps if it had been someone less vulnerable than I, they would not have suffered the same psychological harm.

    The trick is to use it while you can and not become entrenched in the lifestyle. And definitely, definitely, definitely, tread with caution in the case of any prior abuse or rape, as sex work can be a trigger for flashbacks as well as creating more trauma. Unfortunately, for the most vulnerable, they may not always have the options afforded to everyone else, so the ones who need the help most may be driven precisely into that thing which will harm then further.

    Jane x

    magus71 responded:
    May 13, 2014 at 5:05 am

    Do you think you would have been better off if you never did it? If you had to mentor someone else, is this an option you would offer them?

    magus71 responded:
    May 13, 2014 at 5:09 am

    Not to push my book, but its main theme is repeated throughout by one character, Craig Looms: “Nothing good is easy.” If someone were to ask me if what they should do in the case they were a prostitute, I would tell them to stop as soon as possible, and begin to build a happier life from the foundation up.

    thejanelane said:
    May 13, 2014 at 5:18 am

    First question – there are too many variables. If I change that about my life, what would be different now since what I’ve done has led me to this point? Yes I was a mess, but I met my husband back then (not a client I might add!) and had I not been the reckless wee thing that I am, perhaps we wouldn’t have run off and got married. I feel lucky – I got out, and was able to escape that life, and I found love, and we’re still happily together 10 years later. Would I risk not having that and change what I did back then? Nope!!

    Had I stayed in mediocrity with a minimum wage job, perhaps my life would have been more normal. Normal people don’t run off and elope at 18, then emigrate to another country. I took the risky path, came out with a few scrapes and bruises, but I’m a fighter.

    Would I advise someone else to do the same? No, no no. I did it and learnt from it and would not want others to go where I did. I earnt my battle scars and wouldn’t want to erase them, because they are part of what makes me who I am. But I don’t want others to suffer.

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