Sex, Prostitution, and Well-lived Lives

16 May 2005

First, I want to thank Debra Satz for being our guest on the show yesterday.  It was interesting and fun.  I hope it was also enlightening.  The discussion certainly provoked lots of calls, e-mails, and even comments on the blog.  Even in philosophy, sex sells, I guess.

Having sat with this topic for the last couple of weeks, I’m still pretty unsettled on my own final take on things.   I’m pretty convinced -- I think -- that criminalizing prostitution – either on the supply side or on the demand side –  is unworkable.  I tend to side with those who think criminalization probably makes what is already a bad situation for many much worse.  Moreover,  some ways of “configuring” prostitution seem clearly to be more problematic than others – both for the prostitutes themselves and for society at large.  And that makes it relatively easy to envision legal frameworks that outlaw or discourage certain forms of prostitution, but permit or incentivize other less debasing and destructive forms. Still, I don’t think the issue is completely cut and dry.   there will always, I think, be a demand for even the most debasing kinds of prostitution. There will always be people in dire straits with few options but to strike desperate bargains.   So there is no guarantee that  the more destructive, debasing and exploitative forms of prostitution would disappear or even seriously decrease if the less destructive and exploitative varieties were legalized.

But my focus in this post is not on the admittedly difficult collection of social and political questions connected to the legalization of prostitution. I want rather to explore a little bit further an idea I was trying out on the air.   I said, as I recall, that because of the kind of relation that our own sexuality has to our identity and agency in the world,  it seemed to me that  sex is the wrong kind of thing to distribute via  the market.  Neither Debra nor John accepted the proto-argument I gave on the air.  So let me try to do it again, a little more slowly.  I’ll say up front that I’m not yet fully convinced that I’ve got the right way of thinking about it.   

John called the approach I was defending moralistic  -- or perhaps “prudish” was his word.  But that’s not right.  It’s not because I condemn or fear sex and sexuality, but because I celebrate them and believe that they are crucial ingredients of many versions of a well-lived life that I have qualms about prostitution.   We are deeply erotic beings. Our erotic nature  is not just a source great pleasure, but is tied up with our very identities as beings in the world.  The erotic partly defines the boundaries of the self.  One who violates another sexually has violated not just the body but the very self.   The erotic connects us to others in intimate, joyous union.  In the deepest most exhilarating erotic encounters,  one regards one’s partner not just as an object or instrument of one’s own pleasure or satisfaction, not just as one’s sexual tool. Rather, each takes the other as another self – as another self for his or her self.  One takes the pleasures of one’s lover as further  sources of pleasures for oneself.  One delights not only in the giving and receiving of pleasure, but also in the recognition and respect offered up by the lover.  Erotic encounters can be theaters in which our autonomy and self-valuing are recognized, respected, and taken bodily and emotional delight in by another self-valuing, autonomous being who we in turn recognize, respect and take bodily and emotional delight in.

I do not mean to imply that all or even most erotic encounters either do or should have such deep resonance.    There are many varieties of mutually satisfying erotic experiences.  No doubt,  a well-lived life may contain some considerable variety of them.   Indeed,  a well-lived life may even be entirely devoid of erotic experiences all together.  So I am not suggesting  that one’s erotic experience must take some  one definite form or occupy some  one definite place in one’s life if one’s life is to count as well-lived.  Still,  I do find myself tempted to say that erotic experiences of this deeply resonant sort indicate something about the true “telos,” as Aristotelian might put it,  of the erotic.  I admit to not having a knock-down argument for this last claim. That is why it’s  a conclusion to which I’m merely “tempted”  and not yet one that I fully endorse. I’m not even sure that there could be a knock down argument for any such claim about the telos of the erotic. 

But suppose we bracket such qualms for the sake of the present argument.  If the erotic has a telos and if that telos is as I have described, then it’s possible evaluate erotic experiences, and their potential contributions to a well-lived life,  by considering the degree to which they depart from said telos. 

It seems clear that many, but perhaps not all, encounters between prostitute and john will depart pretty far from that telos.  In the prostituted erotic encounter,  the john alone remains more fully a sexual agent.  But even his sexual agency is  diminished.  He  functions as a merely self-regarding sexual agent, one who uses another as mere sexual instrument.  This need not imply cruelty or violence. But it does imply the lack of the kind of mutual recognition, valuing and delight in the pleasure of the other that is the mark of erotic encounters of the highest sort.    When I say that the john  remains more fully a sexual agent,  I do not mean to deny all agency to the prostitute.  She offers  her  (or his) body and bodily skills to the john.  She (he) may even take a certain delight in the use to which she (he)  puts her (his) body and the excellence she (he)  displays in deploying those skills.   Moreover,  she (he) does all this in some sense willingly and with the expectation of “fair” compensation for her (his) efforts.

We might say that even in the prostituted erotic encounter,  the prostitute remains an economic agent even if she does not remain fully a sexual agent.  In this respect, some will say,  she is no different from anyone else who offers her brain or muscle to another for a fee in ways that neither reflect the value she places on herself nor demands of the other recognition of the value she places on herself.

There is something to this line of thinking.  But less, I think, than at first meets the eye.  First,  if we distinguish economic agency from sexual agency, we now have two dimensions along which to evaluate prostituted erotic encounters.  One might think that prostituted erotic encounters in which the prostitute is able to preserve her(his) full economic agency, even at some cost to her(his) sexual agency,  are morally preferable to prostituted erotic encounters in which the prostitute must surrender both some degree of sexual agency and some degree of economic agency.  There is, I think, something deeply right about this thought.  And I think any scheme for legalizing prostitution should have as one of its aims to make it more possible for prostitutes to function as full economic agents.  Any such scheme should protect them against economic exploitation and seek to fully integrate them into ordinary economic life.   That some such scheme is possible and morally preferable to any scheme that denies  the full economic agency of the prostitute is the grain of truth behind the observation that prostitution need not be – though it often is -- different from any other economic transaction.

But what this observation misses,  I think, is the fact that ones sexual agency in particular is not the kind of thing the loss of which can be compensated for by a gain in one’s economic agency. Indeed, the two spheres of agency are, in a way, incommensurable.   That, I suspect, is the difference between selling of one’s writings and the selling of one’s body.   Selling one’s words does not diminish one’s “authorial agency.”  Indeed, such transactions can be instrumental in many ways  to one’s flourishing as an author.  Someone will seize on this remark and insist that selling one’s sexual skills can, in a similar way, be instrumental to one’s flourishing as a sexual agent.  After all, in every sphere of life, practice makes perfect.  But the sense in which this is true misses the point.   In the prostituted erotic encounter, the prostitute is alienated, at least for the space of the relevant encounter, from her full sexual agency.  So too, in a way, is the john.  But the john is alienated in a different direction.  My worry is that such alienation cannot easily be limited and contained.  There are many reasons why this might be so.  One has to do with the fact that the largely male driven demand for alienated sexual agency is backed by great economic and political power.  And that demand plays, I think, some role – but not an exclusive role -- in the social configuration of the sexual agency of all men and all women, even those not directly involved in prostituted  erotic encounters. Marxists claim that all capitalist economic arrangements have such effects.  I do not think this is true globally.  But because the erotic remains at its core a distinctive sphere of agency, with a distinctive place in well-lived human lives, something akin to the  Marxist global critique of capitalism does apply locally to sexual agency and prostitution. 

Or so it seems to me.  At any rate that is thought behind my on-air remarks that sexuality is the wrong kind of thing to be properly distributed by the market.   I don't think that makes me a prude.  And I don't think it means that I've over-romanticized sex.

Comments (16)


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Tuesday, May 17, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

Selling one?s words does not diminish one?s

Selling one?s words does not diminish one?s ?authorial agency.? Indeed, such transactions can be instrumental in many ways to one?s flourishing as an author.
I'd like to bring in the case of rank-and-file journalism, to argue that perhaps prostitution is not as special a case as it might seem, or rather that "sexual agency" is not especially vulnerable in a way that "authorial agency" or, say "crafting agency" or whatever agency you give up in doing your job.
The position of a professor is quite a privileged one as far as the marketplace for ideas goes, as is the position of, say, a successful novelist or a well-respected journalist. They might not feel they are giving up their "authorial agency" by selling their intellectual product for money. On the other hand, a low-ranking journalist forced to cover certain issues in a certain way by her editors and the general climate at her news organization might well feel that she is sacrificing a great deal of her "authorial agency" in return for a (somewhat) steady paycheck. The issue is the degree of control that one has over how one sells one's work, and how much one has to compromise the self-driven aspects of one's work.
Prostitution similarly comes with a variety of styles and statuses - perhaps not as wide ranging as other professsions, but one has to ask if that is something inherent in prostitution or a result of its criminalization. A prostitute may have more or less freedom to choose his or her working hours, which clients to see, what sex acts to engage in, when to terminate the encounter, and so on. One has to wonder whether by insisting that a prostitute's work is especially alienating, we are not in fact compounding the harm by imposing a limited vision of what prostitution can be. A low ranked journalist, for example, can see herself as working towards one day having more editorial control over her pieces - to tell her that all mediawork is inherently alienating is in fact to deny her a sense of working-towards rather than just "getting by".

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

Okay Ken, you raise some interesting points. Yet

Okay Ken, you raise some interesting points. Yet even if I accept your premises (i.e., that there is a telos to sex, that sexual agency is incommensurable with economic agency) it does not follow that prostitutes cannot have the kind of sex that makes for "well-lived lives" outside of their work. You need to add something to your argument --that somehow the fact that a prostitute engages in commercialized sex on the job everyday corrodes her ability to realize non commercialized sex outside the workplace. There's something to this idea --Arlie Hochschild documents the pervasive effects of the commercialized emotions of airline stewardesses in her book The Managed Heart --but it does seem over stated. Someone who works as a technical subordinate in an advertising firm --drawing inane designs or composing sickly jingles --might still be a great artist or poet outside the job.
It also seems to me, ideally, that a well lived life has many dimensions --and we cannot maximize on all of them. So people need to make trade offs.
The biggest problems I see with prostitution is that we do not live in an ideal world --globally speaking, most people have far less than adequate choices, and women fewer still. Most women in prostitution (globally) are there as a last resort, and are subject to violence and economic exploitation as well as disease. Even in the developed countries, women have far less economic opportunity than men. So, lots of prostitution (but not all) is compounded by poverty, unequal power, exploitation and violence. And lots of prostitution (perhaps all) is permeated by gender --by norms of inequality based on sex, in which women are there to serve men's needs, and women's sexuality is controled by men. That's why I think its troubling; but I could imagine circumstances where it would not be so. (Unfortunately, my imagination here runs far ahead of anything that looks remotely possible....)

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

Debra: Three points: First, even if one co

Debra:
Three points:
First, even if one could manage to "bifurcate" one's sexual agency that would still leave one's overall sexual agency diminished. It's not as though only the good times count toward determining the character of one's sexual life or contribute to determining how well one has lived. At best, the prostitute would be a fragmented sexual agent. It's an interesting question whether the fragments could be smoothly integrated into a reasonably coherent life, or whether, failing that, each could remain within its own sphere. That's probably very much a person-by-person thing. Certainly, I would guess that neither integration nor Clintonian compartmentalization would be an entirely psychologically easy thing to pull off. Of course, it may also be that a sexually fragmanted life isn't such a bad one and a sexually coherent life isn't such a good one. I suppose it is true that if one wants to live an integrated and coherent life, then subjecting oneself to the risk of fragmentation is probably unwise. On the other hand, if one can compartmentalize, then the benefits of fragmentation may be considerable.
Second, I suggested but didn't elaborate much that the diminishing of sexual agency (relative to the telos of sexuality) that arguably happens in prostituted erotic encounters applies both to the prostitute and to the john, but they are diminished in different ways. The john does not give recognition and respect. The prostitute does not receive it. But this is mostly important as a prelude to the third point.
The third point is that my worry is not meant just to be about each individual's sexuality and how he/she copes with diminished and/or fragmented sexual agency. The worry is also about how the instution of prostitution contributes to the configuration of the sexual agency of all -- even those who are not directly involved in prostituted erotic encounters. I worry that the array of forces driving us to institute a sphere of diminished sexual agency -- the political and economic power that backs intense demand by males for sex from diminished sexual agents and the economic desperation that drives mostly women to satisfy that demand-- helps to configure and constrain the sexuality of all in ways that undercut the (assumed) telos of sexuality.
What I mean by this is that by jointly endorsing and constituting a prostituted sexual sphere through politics, the law, and the instruments of civil society, we in effect offer this space up to any sexual agent as an arena in which some aspects of her/his sexual agency may legitimately be enacted. The offer may parade as the offer of increased economic opportunity for some -- the would be prostitute -- and of increased sexual freedom for others -- the would be john. By my lights, though, that offer is partly a sham. Yet unless we jointly recognize and represent the offer as a sham, our own sexual self-representations now includes as one possiblity among others this kind of debased arena, but without recognizing it as debased.
This, again, isn't an argument against legalizing prostitution. But it is an argument that prostituted sexuality ought to remain as it were the marked case rather than the unmarked case.
Hope that helps.

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Thursday, May 19, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

I must admit that towards the beginning of the pro

I must admit that towards the beginning of the program, I thought that the question of prostitution might best dealt with by thinking of sex like the caller who likened selling sex to selling massages: intimate bodily contact, with sex just being a more intimate form of physical contact. But as the discussion progressed, I found myself coming around to Ken?s point about the telos of sex, especially after his observation that the crime of rape (whether of a man or a woman) is different both in degree and in kind from any other crime involving some sort physical assault (forgive me if I am not using the term telos completely correctly; I got a B in the one philosophy class I took). And, as I think through it, my wife has no problems with the occasional vacation-spa-massage, but I am fairly confident that she would take a very dim view of the occasional vacation-spa-prostitute.
But, while I agree with Ken?s point about the telos of sex, I think equally important to this discussion Ken?s point that there exists a considerable spectrum of types of sexual encounters. One end of that spectrum may consist of the deeply resonant sort to which Ken points. It seems, however, that towards the other end of the spectrum lie anonymous encounters between consenting adults where no money changes hands (be it, for example, in bath houses in the gay community or in sex clubs or swingers? parties in the straight community). I assume from reading Ken?s post that he would agree that these types of encounters are not morally problematic, however much that they diverge from any sort of ?telos? of the erotic, and that such experiences are merely part of the fuller spectrum of sex. I then do not see how the exchange of money from one party to the other (or I suppose others) as the incentive to engage in this kind of sex somehow converts this into a morally problematic exchange. Again, I?m ignoring all of the other problems (coercion, physical abuse, etc.) and trying to focus on the question of whether the exchange of money for sex strikes me as morally problematic.
Perhaps a focus on the telos of sex in the discussion of prostitution masks the actual transaction that defines prostitution. I think that I agree that market forces do not properly distribute the deeply resonant sort of experience, and I would argue that by definition market force cannot (because you cannot pay someone to feel this way about you). Leaving that type of experience aside, however, I am not sure that I see the moral problem of paying to have those types of sex that may be closer to the massage in their lack of deep resonance. In addition, I am not convinced enough in my ability to assess the damage, if any to the psyche (or as Ken puts it, to the sexual agency) of the prostitute who is engaging in and exchanging for money these, let?s call them lesser types of sexual encounters, and thus I am inclined to leave that calculus to the self-assessment of the prostitute. (Oops, is my libertarian streak showing?) Given fully informed consent by the prostitute to any encounter, I would be inclined to leave the decision to the prostitute, no matter how debasing, destructive, or exploitative I might find it, because one person?s degradation is another?s titillation. (To repeat: I focus in this discussion on the fully informed consensual encounter for monetary gain; I acknowledge as did Ken the many difficulties that surround this type of exchange in real life, and I am not attempting to deal with those here. Yes, it?s cowardly, but this is a blog, and I don?t do this for a living.)
On this note, I think that the argument that there exist people in dire straits with few options but to strike desperate bargains cuts the other way. If a person were in such dire straits that they are willing to strike a desperate bargain, then I would need to be wholly convinced in the righteousness of my position before I would take that option away from them based on my moral calculus (and, presumably, leave them to even more desperate bargains). Here, I am thankful that I am not in a situation where I come to decide that having sex with strangers for money is the answer to any financial problems that I may have, but I am not convinced that doing so is so morally wrong that I would deny that option to (or criminalize it for) someone else.
Apologies. I realized just as I was about to post this that the discussion has taken off from Ken?s initial post, and that its direction has evolved. I wrote this off line and did not see the subsequent interesting exchange between Ken and Debra. Again, as I do not do this for a living, I add this post for whatever it?s worth, and apologize that it does not build on the prior posts. I will have read those posts in more detail over the weekend.

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Guest

Sunday, May 22, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

I'm one of the sex workers who spoke to your rovin

I'm one of the sex workers who spoke to your roving reporter and I've posted something about it on my blog. It's a stone age blog, I have to warn you...no pings, bells or whistles.
http://www.tracyquan.net/gossip/blog.php3
Thanks for having me on the show. I enjoyed it and was delighted to hear the Brazilian caller. Brazil is one country in the forefront when it comes to prostitute organizations. So is India. The prostitutes' movement in Thailand is also very vocal and numerous. The US is considered to be the most backward in activist terms. We have smaller numbers and less interaction with government than activists in other countries.

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Guest

Monday, May 23, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

I very much enjoyed Melissa's blog and recommend i

I very much enjoyed Melissa's blog and recommend it to others. I'd like to reply to some of the comments on this blog.
Working for a living gives a person dignity and being able to make your way in the world -- even if you don't operate at the most glamorous levels -- is rather satisfying. I know this because I did not always work in the best circumstances, and I sometimes kept my beginnings a secret from my better clients after I became successful. But I wasn't horrified about my humble beginnings, I just knew I had an image to uphold. Like a glossy magazine writer who doesn't mention that she once wrote for a supermarket tabloid.
Also, it is not true that prostitution is always about faking. The work can be physically pleasurable -- some prostitutes have orgasms at work. Of course, a prostitute also knows how to fake it, but sex is complicated and unpredictable. Prostitutes can love their clients and vice versa, though it is not the norm for everybody to fall in love! But there is often warmth/attachment between buyer and seller and when our clients die, we have been known to shed a few tears. You do get attached to your repeat clients who, over a decade or more, have watched you grow and blossom and change apartments and acquire different boyfriends or hobbies.
We are just people. Ditto the clients. The idea that NO love or pleasure or affection can occur is as absurd as the idea that it must always.
It's puzzling that someone would say, as the host did "Would you want your wife or sister to do this? Your daughter?" Women in the sex industry are wives, daughters, sisters. Most of us have families. Whether some husband, father or brother approves of us or not, we do it. We are everywhere! We are in families and classrooms and grocery stores. I think the more important question would be "How do you come to terms with your wife, daughter or sister being a separate person with desires, intentions, ambitions, plans and perhaps even a few personal contacts that you didn't know about?"
Can you get past the idea that we are some sort of icky scary "other" that should never touch your personal life? That is really the only way to learn something valuable about prostitution.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

I am a retired Dominatrix from the UK. Having spen

I am a retired Dominatrix from the UK. Having spent 30yrs in the `profession`& experienced most things that one would say is or could be seen as negative `at times`! Insomuch have had a client who tried to kill me in the 70`s. He unfortunately for him died at my hands whilst I defended myself.
So I have been through the social stigms & judgements made by law & society, & come through it!
I do not see myself as a victim, not have ever thought so. I have also been `out` of the profession in order to `see` & experience that perspective.
During my `out` time, I set up a support agency in Plymouth, UK, specifically for all sex-workers, with Government quango funding partnerships.
It was during that time that I came to the conclusion that it is NOT the sex-workers that need to change or be eradicated, but the stigms & taboo`s surrounding the attitudes towards sex-workers.
To guess & submise that sex-workers are victims of either a personal/sexual/political/financial impositions, does not solve, not deal with the issues at hand. These type of stances serve to further diminish & not only that reinforce the attitude of society against another culture!
Therefore `increasing` the taboo policy that has been so destructive & at times murderous towards sex-workers.
The `personal` impositions could be very much changed of sex-workers were valued instead of castigated.
The `sexual` impositions would be changed if new sex-workers were offered support & advice by other experienced sex-workers.
The `political` impositions could be altered if acceptance for others values were honoured.
The `finiacial` impositions would be shared within the communities. Giving sex-workers the status back of citizenship. Something that has been denied them, even at an international level. Denying them their human-rights, either in the countries court of law or the international rights courts.
No, I am not as educated as some of the sex-workers that have written here, nonetheless I have a voice.
To have that `voice` hushed or diminished due to others thinking that I don`t have control of my truth, or my insights, I find oppressive & demeaning.
We spend so much time focusing on the perceived victims & not celebrating the strengths & successes that go with this industry, is like saying that all doctors are dodgy, after reading about the few who disrespect their professional status.
It is the percieved victims that we focus on, because we `look` for fear. Fear being a multi-million dollar industry which is incorporated & absorbed into our everyday lives.
Some sex-workers like myself have a spiritual aspect to there being & could possibly offer a `close encounter` observation of clients. Maybe giving new insights to ourselves as sexual beings on this planet.
Domination by professional sex-workers rarely if ever means sexual intercourse in the usual sense. Focusing instead on the `erotic within the mind`.
This type of prostitution is getting more popular, do you think this is by chance?
More & more people are indulging in fetish-driven erotica & sex, is this a coincidence?
To surpress sexual expression is unhealthy for society.
Women by nature look for a worthwhile & generous aspect of the male. Even in marriage, the strength of that marriage is on what is provided.
Sex is not just the domain of lovers in the sense that some see it...it is to be enjoyed & shared by all.
What right has anyone to say that just a bonded pair can enjoy the true meaning a caring sexual encounter?
Presumptions are made based on the experience or judgement of one against another, not a healthy aspect in anybodies terms.
So I instead feel that yes, sex-workers are honourable, valuable contributors to humanity & deserve the recognition & respect that they so rightly deserve.

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Guest

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

To Tracy, Melissa, and Lynne: I'm glad to hav

To Tracy, Melissa, and Lynne:
I'm glad to have some folks with real-world experience commenting on this thread. I'm not sure though whether we're talking to one another or talking past one another.
To Tracy, for example, I'd say that I don't think that John or Debra thinks of prostitutes as some "icky, scary" others. I know that I don't.
Speaking only for myself, I think of prostitutes as real people, who, more often than not, find themselves needing to strike bargains in situations of at least a degree of desperation.
What is true is that I tend not to regard the buying and selling of sex as just one equally rational economic transaction among others. Nor do I regard prostituted sexuality as just one equally satisfying and valid form of sexuality among others. But nothing follows directly from that about how I regard the prostitute him or herself. Nor does anything follow from my attitude about whether prostitution should or should not be legalized and, if it should be, in what form and with what protections for the prostitute.
To Lynne, I accept your view of yourself as not any kind of victim. That's really for you to say not me. But I do suspect that many women are victimized by prostitution world-wide, especially by the way that prostitution is economically and socially configured here and throughout the world. But that's not at all inconsistent with saying that the economic and social configuration of prostitution should be changed in lots of ways. In fact, it entails that if prostitution is to be legal, it needs to be structured in ways that doesn't make a bad situation worse, that integrates prostitutes and prostitution into the above ground economy, etc.
I propose a thought experiment. Imagine a world in which economic and political inequality between men and women is largely eliminated. I know it's hard to imagine in detail the shape of such a world, but let your imagination run wild. Also imgagine that in this world it's not just that men and women are equally bad off but that everybody is pretty well off, that few live in desperate poverty, that few are denied decent educations, that economies do not produce savage inequalities and divisions between haves and have nots, that exploitative labor practices have largely been eradicated, etc. etc.
Now I may be wrong, but I suppose that even in such a world, the largely male driven demand for the services of prostitutes would not ipso facto be significantly decreased -- male sexuality being more or less what it is. What I do doubt, though, is that the supply of women and men willing to satisfy those demands would remain constant. I don't think the supply would disappear, but I do suspect it would be severely diminished.
Maybe I'm wrong about that. It is, after all, an empirical questions. Unfortunately, we're a very long way from being able to collect the relevant data, since we're a very long way from the world I am imagining. But IF that's right, then, as things actually stand in the messy, unjust, divided world we actually inhabit, some significant number of people must be driven to prostitution not because they find it a deeply satisfying form of alternative sexuality (that also happens to be financially rewarding) but because of sheer economic necessity and lack of alternatives.
Finally, to Melissa, who writes on her own blog the following:
"It's as if the force of our belief in sex's supposed "natural" state actually keeps the spectre of erotic capital at bay -- that when it comes to this one aspect of working life, we still fool ourselves, by older prejudices, that the world's oldest profession is some great uncharted accident with no history, no purpose, no goal, no reason?"
I like the phrase "erotic capital." But in this post I wasn't trying to keep the idea of erotic capital at bay in the sense you seem to imply. Rather, I was exploring the idea of whether the erotic could legitmately function as capital and/or commodity. I was arguing that turning the erotic into mere capital, or, better, into a mere commodity, to be bought and sold like any other is to debase the erotic.
Lots of people think there is nothing intrinsically wrong with commodifiying the erotic. I mean the erotic is clearly heavily and extensively commodified. Sex sells and is sold. My questions is whether there are any limits on what ought to be capitalized and commodified.
Capitalism in its most unrestrained forms is a totalizing system and would sweep everything into the market. But I reject that kind of capitalism -- not becuase I have an ahistorical view of things or privilege the natural over something else. It's rather that I think that some things are so intimately tied up with our very beings, our very identity that to commodify them is to commodify the self.
Of course, the boundaries between what ought and ought not to be commodified is a hard one to draw and it may not be an all or nothing thing. In almost everything we do for pay, we give away a little bit of ourselves, as several comments on this thread have pointed out, and we try to hold onto something that is not a mere commodity. But I think protecting the core of oneself from full commodification once one has allowed a little encroachment, as it were, is much easier said than done.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

I say again, excuse me if I have not got this quit

I say again, excuse me if I have not got this quite right. I am not au-fait with politics, nor certin types of terminology.
Nonetheless here goes:
The Nirvana type ideal world you asked to envisage has got to be the `ideal` that most of us could or would happen as an inheritance of our collective experiences.
personally I think you are right that elements & participants of the sex industry would be reduced in such a world, perhaps for a while; because for a number of reasons think this would be temporary.
Yes, many active prostitutes because their financial situations were better would cease to look in this direction for career choice!
Though this would not take into account those who maybe started their sex industry career for financial gain, but found along the path that there was other elements to prostitution, previously missed or not understood i.e:
Psychological insights.
Spiritual insights.
Erotic insights.
Then there are those prostitutes who knew this from the beginning!
The constancey of demand on/for prostitutes are forever ebbing & flowing, meandering & adapting to the rhythmn of the needs of societies & concepts within.
To see commodifacation of the erotic as debasing, could be missing what the giving & recieving is about!
What do we see as valuable?
When we work & are paid for that work we feel valued or achnowledged (whatever the job)!
When we look to work for no pay, we still look for some kind of gratifacation or `sense of value`. Value in our offeringstoo.
Our sense of existence & survival I feel is measured by what we bring to the table either, financially, emotionally, spiritually or intellectually.
What we `give away` in any of those four needs is rewarded many-fold by our sense of `being` & being part of a flowing structive of society
What form that de-criminalisation of prostitution takes is another matter.
A difficult one to imagine & to implement considering the attitudes, taboo`s & stigma`s that plague humanity, especially in its views of sex & sexuality.
Which in turn reflects the way those `outside` the sex industry see those within it.
before we can even consider this quandary I feel we must firstly look at what & why societies are thus affected. We must be honest about he way we see oursleves as sexual beings, the way our cultural/historical backgrounds have affected our views. We must try to begin to stop being so afraid!
Seeing it instead as a spiritual space in context of ourslevs which connects to our physical presence.
Taking the fear & the victim out of those who little understand their own fears & others.
Educating children (next generations) in sex & relationships beyond what we have done so far.
In educating theirs & others part they play in `Knowing Themselves`.
Instead of being teddy-bears for their parents or family, which in turn affects the way they relate & their expectations of others.
The politics of gender need to be resolved, taking away much of the fear based concepts of each other.
The only thing that makes us different from each other (sexually) is a genetic-chemical reaction which determines after 6 weeks gestation within the womb, who is what!
Prior to that we are but one!
Therefore what affects us is the way we feel rather than the way we are.
Maybe then sowing the seeds of understanding is the future for the percieved freedom for not just prostitutes, but all affected by finiancial, emotional, spiritual, intellectual insecurities.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

Interesting posts here; while not a sex worke

Interesting posts here; while not a sex worker, it's something I've carefully considered. It seems to me that your(Ken's) thesis is hinged in toto on the current perception of prostitution and society as it currently exists. You discuss the unwilling objectification of women via economic pressures and offer an idealized ( not false, simply idealized ) picture of erotic relationships as support to the idea that such objectification (sexual in nature) is somehow distinct from other forms of unwilling objectification.

I would suggest that this is based in societal bias. I think that separating the erotic being from the economic being is a societal bias and a convenience, not an obvious or even, necessarily, reasonable act. You suggest that we are deeply erotic creatures - which I will not contest! - but I would balk at any suggestion that such erotic nature exceeds in import our drive to eat, to seek shelter, to seek the affirmation and approval of our tribe, or to support and succor our children/family/tribal unit.

If I may propose a similar thought experiment - let us imagine a world in which it is considered the height of degradation to have to work for another - to 'give up one's economic agency' to the whims of an employer. Let us further imagine that said world embodies much of the capitalist nature of American society, and that economic independence is not, by default, available to everyone. In such a society, doesn't it seem reasonable that 'enlightened individuals' might lobby to have 'employment' outlawed directly? That those forced to face such humiliation might work grudgingly under the thumb of their employer/opressors? And finally, that there might not be that minority of employees that realize that the bias is purely social in nature, and accept their position willingly, happy to have the economic resolution they possess and unwilling to accept the percieved indignity heaped upon them by the 'average guy'? That they might reject the 'outreach' programs of the oppressive society, rejecting the thesis that what they do is humilation?

Let me further fancy that in this society in question, prostitution is not considered degrading, but considered to be a prime means of self-employment that one might be proud of. That delivering a quality product and experience is a paramount means of competition - where there might be, in fact, competition for 'johns'. With the weight of social disapproval gone from their shoulders, how many prostitutes would necessarily be 'humiliated'? How many might love their jobs - how many might just do it because it made a lot of money? Do you think it might be possible in this world that the prostitute's guild might not contribute money to outreach programs designed to help employed single mothers enter the much less stigmatized and better paying world of prostitution?

In closing, a couple of questions... How many people love the job they are doing now? Does the fact that many people hate their jobs and have been forced into them via economic pressure mean that employment is necessarily and habitually dehumanizing and degrading?

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Sunday, July 3, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

Hey, just want to leave a word or two. I am a 25 y

Hey, just want to leave a word or two. I am a 25 year old man an a product of prostition. The fact is my 45
year old mother Betty Justus earnd her own way in nursing school by selling sex (oral, anal, intercourse, or other). When she was 20 thats when I came along. I do not see anything wrong with it. She raised me, had a
home, a car, and went to college and paid her own way by the way of selling sex. Even now she is a head RN and still is in to prostition and loving every second.

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Friday, July 15, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

As an Indian Devadasi, I find this discourse rathe

As an Indian Devadasi, I find this discourse rather euro-centric and limiting, however by being paid for my reproductive labour I am believe that I able to exercise a control over my sexuality that allows me to organise my relationships with men in a way that is transparent and rational.
I do not have a sacred/secular divide that means a certain type of sex is more wholesome or life enriching than sex which is compensated for by some payment.
As each man is an incarnation of my Deity I can enjoy each encounter as if I was with my "husband" or primary partner. Their payments to me represent an acknowledgement of my skills and value as a partner and I appreciate being able to command such tributes.
As Engels suggested that economic inequality between sexual partners is indicative of an exploitative prostitution state I would imagine that Westerners should be spending more time considering the exploitative nature of sex in marriage and other partnerships rather than the transparent payment for sex from a sex working agent.
I think the European dichotomy that would suggest that paid sex had a lesser intrinsic value than ?real? sex is a false dichotomy that is a cultural construction that needs unpacking and reexamination.
Thankfully as a Devadasi I do not feel bound or constrained by such a false dichotomy.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

Dear Sir I'm not a psychologist or anybody near t

Dear Sir
I'm not a psychologist or anybody near that field.
Mine is just a question that disturbs me a lot. I just wonder whether prostitutes are able and do fall in love with anybody?
If someone has had sex with so many males in her life I tend to believe that for such a woman, having sex is just a routine business and nothing else. If any special attachment to a man maybe only for security reasons. Please take your time and give me your answer.
Thank you
Mailutha

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Tuesday, May 9, 2006 -- 5:00 PM

THE JOHN'S TALE My typical weekend begins promp

THE JOHN'S TALE
My typical weekend begins promptly at 5pm on a Friday afternoon. Usually I and my mainly married colleagues will walk the couple of hundred yards to a bar near the train station which loosely describes itself as a ?British Pub?. This means the décor and furniture are in poor condition and the beer is warm. They used to have a Filipina working there who could actually speak English but she left.
Actually it?s not so bad and very convenient for a quick pint or two after work. As I drink I pull out my packet of continental menthol cigarettes and light up. I only smoke when I drink ? in fact I try and keep all my vices together in the hope that they will only count as one sin in total come the final reckoning. I am in many respects a bad man.
I spend an hour with my work mates becoming slowly more and more frustrated at the requirement for me to retain at least a modicum of respectability. Just before 6pm I run for the 6.01 train to the city centre and my transformation from almost respectable employee to whoremonger is nearly complete.
On the train I break out my hip flask and take quiet nips of vodka. I begin to relax after the exacting trials and tribulation of the so recently expired week of work. At the main train station it is a quick transfer to the bus and a 10 minute ride to the heart of the red-light zone.
My first stop is a Thai style bar and my usual hostess Nan brings me a glass of dry white Chardonnay as I light up another cigarette. ?Drink for me?? Nan asks and I nod almost imperceptibly.
Nan?s a cute looking girl and she doesn?t look her 30 years. She is slim and dresses in a revealing short skirt and skimpy top. She has a small son and no husband but I?ve never been able to tempt her to meet me outside the bar worse luck.
After two more drinks I tip Nan unnecessarily and walk to the main drag of the strip. I have a drink in a few more bars and chat to some girls I know. Almost everyone knows me around here. At work a woman once mentioned that she?d read in the paper that there were 2000 prostitutes in this city. ?2000?? I said. ?I must know all of them...?. Even she thought that was funny.
Most of the freelancers working the bars are African, Brazilian or Cuban with a sprinkling of Russians and other east Europeans. The Thais are mainly in the erotic clubs and massage parlours which I rarely visit as it is too controlled (and expensive) for my taste.
In one of the bars suddenly Claudia wanders in and immediately makes a bee-line for me. ?Hey Paul do you wanna buy me a drink?? she coos. ?OK,? I reply and she slides in next to me at the bar and begins stroking my thigh.
Claudia is 28, good-looking, African, English speaking, no kids. She has a number of piercings and I?ve been with her several times before. ?Do you wanna come with me short time or I?ll stay with you tonight if you like??. She flutters her eyelids mockingly. ?OK, short time,? I say.
We walk to her small one-room apartment and do the business. It costs me around £100 for an hour. (This is an expensive city.) I emerge from the apartment block into the rain and make my way to my favourite bar. This bar has a band every night and a quiet Thai restaurant/bar attached which is good for chatting once you have selected your potential mate for the night.
I wander through the bar and say hello to several girls and a few other whoremongers I recognise. I am looking for Nina but in the end it is Nina who finds me. In French she exclaims ?Paul, where have you been? I?ve been looking everywhere for you.? I smile, escort her to the small, quiet bar and buy a bottle of dry white wine for the two of us.
My O-level French is not very good but it is good enough for our purposes. ?Paul, I want to stay with you tonight. Tomorrow I have to go back to Paris. OK?? I nod. I like Nina. She?s also 28, African, French speaking, big smile and warm personality. She has one kid in Africa and a caesarean.
She?s not the cutest girl on the game here but she?s has got a nice ass. She is also very friendly, good fun and I trust her enough to have her in my home. I trust Claudia too as it happens but as it turns out tonight is Nina?s night. We have something to eat and then get a taxi back to my apartment.
In the morning I drink a bottle of white wine while Nina does a pretty good job of cleaning my apartment. After lunch we retire to the bedroom for an hour. Later we shower together, dry ourselves and get dressed. I give her £400 and then walk her to the train station to buy her a train ticket back to the city.
?A la prochaine fois!? she says as she kisses me. ?Yes see you next time, honey,? I reply. She gets aboard the train and waves at me until she?s out of sight. I like Nina, she?s sweet. They are all sweet ? well nearly all.
I spend the rest of Saturday afternoon drinking wine and doing chores until I fall asleep sozzled and content. I have bust my weekend budget of £500 so next weekend I?ll have to cut back a bit. Yeah next weekend??.
Sunday is my day of rest. No women, no fags and no booze. Just a very bad hangover, plenty of bottled water and plenty of sleep. With luck I?ll just about be fit for work tomorrow morning.
You might think that this lifestyle is a bit risky. I would say that my lifestyle and that of the girls around me is riskier than most but nowhere near as risky as most people would probably imagine.
You might also think that it is impossible to love a prostitute but that?s not true either. I love (in my own way) all the women I associate with. They are different, daring, unusual, sexy and alluring. They are in addition a surprisingly kind bunch of people.
Prostitution isn?t well understood (or well regarded) in the UK. It?s generally thought of as a seedy, dirty world populated by drug addicts, pimps, pushers, traffickers, criminals and sad people (like me).
Now, no doubt all of these types of individuals exist in the sex industry here (& elsewhere) but this is largely due to the illegal nature of the trade and the lack, therefore, of any regulation except the prosecution of all and sundry (weather permitting).
I have a great deal of experience of prostitutes. I am 47 and over the last 15 years I have paid for sex with women in the UK, USA, Holland, Switzerland, the Philippines and Thailand.
I have had good (mostly) and bad experiences. I regard myself as a professional John. Being a professional John, however, doesn?t pay well. Sebastian Horsley says in his article ?The Brothel Creeper? (Why I?ve slept with 1000 women) that it cost him £100,000. I?ve spent a similar amount on only 500 women so he must either be cheap or a better negotiator.
Why do I go to prostitutes? Well, I don?t want a traditional girlfriend and I don?t want to do one night stands. Plus if I pay I get who I want (within reason) no strings attached.
Prostitution is not all sleaze, pimps and drugs. It is women?s business and it can be classy and expensive. The double-standard employed by government whereby it appears sex can be packaged and used to sell almost anything for a profit by anyone except women themselves for their own well-being.
Society at large should stop victimising whores (and Johns) who are engaging in natural human activity and press for the decriminalisation of prostitution.
-Paul Pisces (Author of "Desperately Seeking Sex & Sobriety")

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Prostitution is a victimless crime. The victimless

Prostitution is a victimless crime. The victimless crime is a tool used by the state to violently push a moral or social agenda on the entire population. All victimless crimes should be legalized so the police force can start putting its resources to actually doing something useful. This is a good thing.

 

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