June 27, 2003

Paying for it

I skimmed this entry by Steven Den Beste on legalized prostitution. I am not particularly interested in what people do with their nether regions or their cash. If they are adults I think they should be able to do what they like with and to other adults, as long as no one gets maimed or killed. That's all I have to say on my personal views of the bumping of uglies.

But I do wonder if we should be so sanguine about the eventuality (so Steven declares here) of widespread legalized prostitution here in the US. I only know what I have read, really, so my info is no doubt biased. Here are a couple of things that have shaped my thinking on this matter (what little thinking I do of it):

Ursula K. LeGuin is a super-liberal scifi writer. I like a lot of her stuff, anyway, despite the PC-ness of a lot of her recent work. A few years ago she published a novel/thing/collection of stories (it's not easy to describe it) called Always Coming Home. It's based on a "future past" society of neo-Native-Americans living in a kind of post-apocalyptic Shire. I didn't really care for all of it, but one phrase in it stuck with me: in a story about a girl who leaves the idyllic valley to go to live with her father's backward, sexist tribe, and finds out that she doesn't really fit in there either, she decides to get married so she can have sex. The character describes her decision (I am paraphrasing since I don't have the book anymore) this way: "Since I could not be happy, I decided that I would have pleasure instead."

A couple of weeks ago I was idly flipping through channels and I came to that Catholic cable channel (the one with Sister Mary Angelica and crew). There was a priest -- actually a friar, in a monk's robe, I forget the order, which ever one still wears gray robes. He was talking about the days when he used to be a priest in an inner city neighborhood somewhere. A lot of the women who would come to his mission or church or whatever (I'm not Catholic, I don't know what it should be called) were prostitutes. He was talking about them, not in a condemnatory way as you might expect, but just describing what he had observed. He noted that many of them who happened to have daughters all had ambitions that their daughters not join them in their own "trade," but that they get married and get out of that kind of life. Of course, this is just a small segment of society, limited to one point of view, but I did think that that was interesting.

But Steven says something here that I think is also interesting, and betrays to me a certain blindness of just what is cause and what is effect:

Prostitution is legal in several nations in Europe now, and clearly hasn't led to the downfall of society there. (Their societies are collapsing for other reasons, but not for that one.)

Well, I don't think that legalized prostitution is causing the downfall of anything, or that it ever has. I think that an increase in certain of what I will call "indulgent behaviors" is not a cause, but a symptom, of what I am not sure. But I think of that quote, dropped into a story whose protagonists belong to a pacifistic, sexually-relaxed future society, about people who are not happy turning to "pleasure" -- there meaning enjoyments that are temporary and ultimately unfulfilling -- and I think of those women wanting their daughters to get married to one man instead of servicing many strangers for money, and I just wonder if the solution to whatever problems we have is to make prostitution into just another career option.

Posted by Andrea Harris at June 27, 2003 04:17 AM

The brother you saw on EWTN was Fr. Benedict Groeshel. He's pretty cool when it comes to people that society has forgotten... Anyhow.

So, I think you're right towards the end about it being a symptom and not a cause. The thing I feel it's a symptom of (and if you can't tell from the above, I'm Catholic =) ) is the increasingly caviler attitude of society world-wide towards sex. It's as the woman said in your quote, it's no longer about happiness but the pleasure. It's not about a fulfilling relationship or a family or a life but about the pleasure someone can get here, now. We're growing increasingly afraid of being our grandparents. Seems to me they turned out just fine, so I don't see what the fuss is about.

It's the life that computers, television, radio, and to an extent newspapers have slowly pulled civilization towards over the past two hundred years: instant gratification. What once took two weeks now takes a second (mail), and while it might have taken a month for the nation to completely hear that it's president is dead, it now takes less than a day to tell 95% of us (television). So, why can't relationships, nay, sex be that way?

So, we're making it that way. One of the many reasons I hate the movie Pretty Woman (acting, plot, writing, and general theme aside) is that the woman places higher value on a kiss than sex. Think about that.

I'm realistic, though. I know we can't outlaw everything and expect the world to live by it (living in Texas, I think that message was made abundantly clear today for most of us) so the legalization or not of prostitution is irrelevant to me. It's the fact that people want it in the first place that disturbs me.

Posted by: Adam at June 27, 2003 at 07:46 AM

First, a zinger for Adam:

"Sex is a biological function. Kissing is a commitment." -- Bruce Feirstein, Nice Guys Sleep Alone.

Now to the serious part:

The arguments for and against the decriminalization of prostitution often fail to address what every argument about social engineering through the law should address. Will the repeal / passage of this law do what its proponents promise, at an acceptable cost, and without infringing on already agreed-upon rights?

My impression is that, as with the War on Drugs, the laws against prostitution:
-- have had essentially no effect on the frequency with which people purchase sexual services;
-- have allowed police excessive latitude in pursuit and prosecutors excessive discretion in prosecution of "sex crimes;"
-- have created inroads for selective prosecution of persons noxious to the political Establishment;
-- have created immense occasions for the bribery of law enforcement personnel.

(In addition, anti-prostitution laws have created an important way in which young women are put at the mercy of men -- either policemen or pimps. This ought not to be lost among the other considerations.)

None of this has any necessary connection to the moral weight one puts on loveless non-marital sex. It's about the power of the law to reshape society, which is frequently more limited than we'd like to believe.

To wit: If prostitution offends you, I'd suggest you not patronize prostitutes. If it delights you... well, have fun, but please, keep it to yourself. I've got daughters to raise.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at June 27, 2003 at 09:25 AM

To add to Mr. Porretto's points, I'll offer a scenario: Proscription creates an opportunity for organized crime to parasitize women. Every woman under 'protection' of a pimp and his bosses is de-facto a slave.

Worse, it is not in the pimp's best interest to protect the woman from disease, abuse or addiction. Without vulnerability and dependence, she may become a free agent.

And with a premium on 'fresh talent', it's in the pimp's interest to engage under age workers.

I bring this up because it is my impression that women in this situation don't derive pleasure from sex. Not emotional pleasure, not satisfaction, and rarely any physical enjoyment.

I've no data to back up any of this. It could be propaganda I'm parroting, I don't know. If it's true, though, then there exists a condition where neither happiness nor pleasure benefits women - and perhaps male prostitutes too - in what should be the joy of joys.

Posted by: Ranald Hay at June 27, 2003 at 11:08 AM

The "pleasure" comment, by the way, I meant to illustrate the actions of people who would use the services of prostitutes, not that of the prostitutes themselves. Not that I am saying that there are no prostitutes who enjoy their work... But I thought that it was clear that the woman character in the story was in the position of the buyer/taker of pleasure, and the husband was the one being used for it.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 27, 2003 at 02:49 PM

This may not be as deep or well reasoned as the above comments. I live in Reno and thought I might inject a bit of my daily reality here. There are brothels outside of Carson City which lies just south of Reno and even some east of Reno (the Mustang Ranch, now closed, is one). Plenty of the women who work at them live in Reno. To the best of my knowledge (and I have met some of these women) they aren't generally treated differently or looked down on here (I did say generally). I think they are accepted as just someone else who lives and works in the area. The funny thing is that Reno is a pretty conservative town. Very family oriented.
To say that legalizing prostitution and/or gambling is a syptom of a larger degenerative shift may not be entirely true. I have a strong sense that most of the people in Reno don't patronize the brothels because they think it is wrong to do so. They don't want their kids having anything to do with them either yet they are accepting of those who do get involved for whatever reasons and aren't ostracizing them. The folks in this state seem to have the attitude Andrea expressed above that what adults do on their own time is their own business as long as no-one gets hurt. Having grown up in California where gambling and prostitution were both illegal, I never felt that the prevailing sentiment was as tolerant.
Many residents of this state have come here from elsewhere partly because of this attitude that we are all adults and can take care of ourselves without government intervention.
I personally feel that the easy access to legalized gambling and prostitution makes it less glamorous and mysterious. As we get used to it we become less concerned with it and soon hardly even aware of it. In my mind that doesn't represent a descent into depravity but rather a step up above being concerned with something that, once faced head on, turns out not to be much of a problem at all. Yes I'm well aware that there are people who become addicted to sex and gambling. They are the exceptions and we can't (shouldn't have to) adjust our lives to accomodate their problems. There are people who are addicted to video games and pizzas but those haven't yet been declared illegal.
I know this is a bit rambly and superficial but thought it might provide a closer point of view. In case it helps with perspective, I am not a religious person, though I was raised to be one.
Sorry for the length.

Posted by: jilmba at June 27, 2003 at 03:16 PM

I wasn't coming at this from a religious perspective, if you are wondering. I am also not sure that making/keeping these activities illegal is the answer to anything either. It was more of an observation that people who are not happy -- fulfilled, contented -- in their own lives often turn towards momentary physical pleasures to make up for whatever they lack. Sometimes this is harmless, and helps a person deal with momentary setbacks in their lives. But I am not so ready to label all people against certain "vices" as uptight prudes. I'm not so sure that making every single act in human existence into an "everyday, ordinary" activity is such a wonderful thing either. After all, people who want their favorite "vice" legalized are only to ready to complain in the next breath about how bored they are with some "ordinary, everyday" activity.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 27, 2003 at 03:32 PM

My father was a construction electrician for forty years. He used to tell me that he didn't want me to become one also. Who wants their children to follow in their footsteps as ditch diggers or burger flippers? Nobody. They are all crummy jobs that nobody aspires to. Yet the people who do them provide a wanted, if not needed, service. Also, no moral stigma is attached to those occupations. It IS attached to prostitution because it's about sex. We are country founded by prudes (Puritans) which may explain your hard-to-define negative feelings about prostitution.

Posted by: Doug Purdie at June 27, 2003 at 03:58 PM

Ah, I was wondering when I'd get my first accusation of being a prude. Hey, I don't care what people do. Fuck in the street for all I care. I'll drive around you.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 27, 2003 at 04:02 PM

It's a problem. I have mixed feelings about it, too. On the one hand, legalization could lead to regulation. Regulation could do a lot here, I think.

We shouldn't think, however, that legalization and regulation would eliminate the street walkers or pimp/drug dependant girls. They will always exist to commit acts that “legitimate” hookers would not consider.

What I don't want to have happen (that I think is your point) is that people can do whatever they want (up to a point), but I don't have to RESPECT them for it. Prostitutes may exist--they always have and always will--but it isn't a career option, of a respectable nature. There is a danger, in our current moral relativist thinking, that if we decriminalize the practice, it won't be too many years later than Johnny takes Mommy to career day and Babette describes her daily activities.

I have similar feelings towards telemarketers. It may be LEGAL, but the person who walks on the edge of the line of legality can still be a scoundrel. Legal doesn’t make it right.

If someone can guarantee me that an aptitude test will never be given to a 14 year old girl with "sex worker" as the outcome--I'll consider the option more thoroughly.

Posted by: Mrs. du Toit at June 27, 2003 at 04:05 PM

I didn't see Mr. Purdie's comment so much as an attack on you (i.e. - calling you a prude); more of a statement about society.

We (Americans in general) tend towards an attitude that sex is wrong, and nudity is bad, but if you ask most people why, they won't be able to tell you. They just know that it is. (I've done an informal poll of my own - admittedly not very scientifically done) It's often an unconscious thing (i.e. - your "hard-to-define negative feelings" as Mr. Purdie phrased it).

Am I calling you a prude? Hell no! I also don't think he was, either. If either of us have any prudish tendencies, though, it's probably due to societal pressures that we don't consciously realize are there.

We now return you to others who can actually make sense. grin

Posted by: Keith McComb at June 27, 2003 at 04:16 PM

I believe that legal prostitution is better than illegal prostitution, but it is still a great sorrow.

Legalized prostitution reduces (but does not eliminate) spread of venereal disease; allows concentration of police resources on preventing child prostitution/white slavery; reduces protection rackets; increases police protection (i.e. helps reduce the number of prostitutes serially murdered); things like that...

I would like to see some tax revenues derived from legalized prostitution diverted toward counseling, alternative vocational training, and rehabilitation (if demanded) by the men/women involved.

But ultimately, Abraham Lincoln (I think) said something like ..Men are as happy as they make up their minds to be. .. And many people, not just persons who patronize prostitutes, have not disciplined themselves to be happy.

Posted by: Adriane at June 27, 2003 at 04:24 PM

To use a parable from the bible:

God created man in his own image and he was allowed to frolic in a paradise that has never been known since Adam ate the forbidden fruit.

Yet, if Adam had not ate the fruit, he and Eve would have lived forever in an earthly paradise (the keyword is earthly).

Only after eating the forbidden fruit, was mankind able to have the ability to ascend to heaven. The pinnacle.

Of course, mankind would not know it. Every generation born until Jesus was doomed to hell.

Or to put it another way (I heard this from a comment on Mrs. du Toit's site):

Some people just know not to do it, others learn by watching, but there are a few who just have to whiz on the electric fence to learn.

You can't be really good unless you have the capacity to commit evil. That's why I am sanguine about the whole prospect.

Posted by: set at June 27, 2003 at 04:30 PM

I would posit that anything that encourages treating a human being as a commodity is bad for the general health of society. I therefore cast a rather jaundiced eye toward prostitution.
I do not see major progress in stamping it out, however. I'm not sure that our 'cure' for prostitution is not worse than the disease.
Policing doesn't eliminate prostitution, it's all the police can do to keep it in neighborhoods that don't make too much noise. It takes an inordinate amount of limited time and resources jut to do that, plus try to keep the working girls from being robbed, beaten by pimps or killed by the really wierd Johns. Not to mention turf wars, drugs and so on.
On the plus side of the ledger, working girls are great informants, they know who the bad guys are and what they're up to.
I don't have an answer. If we could do away with child abuse and drug addiction, we'd have a lot less prostitutes, the overwhelming majority I met during my career had been raped when they were young or were druggies, or both.
I'd be a lot more sanguin about Nevada's solution if it weren't for driving through Reno on my way to visit my sister in California. I don't know the town and got turned around, drove down a 'stroll' with my wife. If legal cathouses are the answer, what were all those working girls doing on the street?

Posted by: Peter at June 27, 2003 at 04:42 PM

To continue with the prudery thing, what I objected to from Mr. Purdie was the idea that I don't have any inkling of why I supposedly have these "hard-to-define negative feelings about prostitution." I don't intend to bring my feelings about the profession into the discussion at all, which I thought I had made clear in when I said "I am not particularly interested in what people do with their nether regions or their cash." I don't know where he or Mr. McComb got the idea that I have any "hard to define negative feelings" about prostitution, nudity, or anything else. As a matter of fact my "ideas" about these matters may be few, but I have no trouble defining them. For instance, I can tell you exactly what sort of public nudity I object to and why; I will have no difficulty defining them at all. Whether you agree with me is another matter. But I am not interested in going into that here; if I was I'd write a post on it.

What I said was that I did not know what exactly was the cause of the downfalls of previous societies that had experienced a rise in such vices as prostitution, and that I was not so sure that legalizing activities previously considered to be vices would solve certain problems, but that hardly makes me a "prude" or a victim of some sort of floating ancestral prudishness inflicting society who has no idea why she thinks or feels the way she does, or anything else.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 27, 2003 at 04:43 PM

Problem with the argument. A monk says he's spoken with prostitutes (a select group that entered his church. Not all prostitutes do this. Only those with an imbicilic upbringing that exposed them to brain damage, early. Ver den? In church.

So, he says these women want their daughters to do something else. And, in Adam Smith, he argues about the "unseen hand" of the marketplace. That when Capitalism and technology comes along, the vibrant pin maker who made the whole pin (but only a few at time) grasps the importance of greater sales through streamlining production ... And, he does this changeover to the boredom of 'one task' instead of the whole design, and he makes MORE MONEY and DREAMS HIS CHILDREN WILL RECEIVB EDUCATIONS, and hence, not have to work like this dad. He hopes money is what floats his family into a new middle class.

My argument with the monk/priest is that what does he know about sex? Early on he's told not to touch himself. And, that strangely enough, all that sexual pleasure can be transformed into brain dead beliefs transmuted by the lavender and lace brainwashings ... of repetitive prayer.

Your choice. But at least Adam Smith makes sense. The monk/priest? Didn't you notice he extrapolated an agrument not with proof, but with declarations? You know. Buy my snake oil because some yahoo somewhere says it cures cancer.

Did you know most human beings have minds that let them sniff out the truth? Even if they're too afraid of boogeymen to state what they feel?

Posted by: Carol Herman at June 27, 2003 at 06:10 PM

The word “wonder” appears multiple times in your post, and your statement that indulgent behaviors are a symptom “...of what I am not sure” led me to believe that your feelings are “hard to define”. My bad for the misinterpretation.

I have come to realize, though, that my own feelings are hard to define. When I posted my comment I really thought I had transcended the effect of living in a nation founded by prudes. I haven’t. Although my ditch digger analogy is apt, I explored my feeling further by applying the “daughter” analogy to myself. How would I feel if my daughter … blah, blah, blah. Not very well, I discovered, and I have no logical explanation for it.

And Mr. McComb is right. I don’t think you are a prude, anymore than I think I am. He explains my position on the effect of living in a society founded by prudes better than I could have myself, so I’ll say no more.

Posted by: Doug Purdie at June 27, 2003 at 07:22 PM

To Doug: fair enough.

To Carol Herman: I have no idea what the hell you are talking about. Maybe you should just post in your native language (whatever it is) and I'll run it through one of Google's translators.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 27, 2003 at 07:41 PM

I read through both Stephen deBeste's post, and then this post, the entire thread. Even though I have raised as a Catholic ("Strict Catholic," isn't that redundant?) I believe what consenting adults do in private is no one else's business, INCLUDING the federal, state, county or city governments. But maybe I'm a radical? Please note those THREE KEY words. I do NOT believe in coersion; that MUST be illegal. Also, let children grow up FIRST, before you shove "Jane has Two Mommies," or similar such instruction manuals at them. Finally, most folks don't want to be bothered, so do it in PRIVATE, not on the front lawn. I don't see these things happening in America any time soon, but that's the way I feel.

Posted by: Cas at June 27, 2003 at 09:10 PM


Prostitution is legal in some parts of Australia and illegal in others (legal in Victoria where I grew up and in the ACT where I live). Strangely enough it is more obtrusive and "in your face" in the places where it is illegal than in the places where it is legal. In the places it is illegal it is as big a source of police corruption as illegal drugs.

I had a girlfriend that lived in one of Melbourne's redlight districts and didn't know it until I told her and pointed some of the (very discrete) establishments out to her. She moved out as soon as possible after that.

The story of the "girl" who works her way up to "madam" and gets her own establishment is one of the traditional Australian working class myths.

I have no idea what this means about Australia's state of moral decay.

Posted by: Russell at June 27, 2003 at 10:42 PM

The basics of prostitution:
1. Men are horny bastards.
2. Women have the cure.
3. Men are willing to pay for the cure.

Anything more than that, is overanalyzing!

Posted by: rinardman at June 27, 2003 at 11:32 PM

Read "Adriane at June 27, 2003 04:24 PM" for most of my view. Would I want one of my family to be in that business? Heck no! But if it should come to pass, I would want that person protected by the law, not add fines, "you're illegal, therefore scum" attitude, and jail time to the other problems of the trade.

Nor do I believe it is a "growing" problem. Researching for a term paper many moons back, I came across a book by a retired judge who said that in his youthful practice, circa 1860's (the book was published around 1907), over 60% of the women in London engaged in prostitution at least twice a year.

Posted by: John Anderson at June 27, 2003 at 11:51 PM

It is probably a sign of something endemic to the human condition, now that I think of it.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 27, 2003 at 11:55 PM

There are at least two sorts of sex: sex for pleasure, and sex for intimacy.

Some people (men and women) enjoy sex for pleasure. They can't always get it from a SO, or get it the way they want it. It seems completely reasonable that if they have the money to spend, they should be able to pay someone else to voluntarily participate in whatever-the-heck-it-is they're looking for.

The are people that enjoy having sex with others for pay, or merely to make other people happy. I know a few. They're not scum, evil, disgraceful, whatever. They're just people who know what they like to do and have the wherewithal to do it despite what our goofy society says.

There are definitely people who are prostitutes because they don't have a choice. There are definitely people who assemble Nike shoes for $.50 an hour because they don't have a choice. Which is better? (Neither isn't an option--there are people at all levels of ability and social position in the world.)

It's about choices, and about recognizing that the forbidden generally takes on a mysterious attractive power of its own accord. We would be far better off as a society by recognizing that people need to be considered adults and given the responsibility for their own behavior before they'll start behaving as adults--not the other way around.

Posted by: 42nd SSD at June 28, 2003 at 01:08 AM

An observation: your statement about everyone needing to be considered adults who are responsible for their own behavior doesn't match your assertion that there are "definitely people who are prostitutes because they don't have a choice."

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 28, 2003 at 01:23 AM

"An observation: your statement about everyone needing to be considered adults who are responsible for their own behavior doesn't match your assertion that there are "definitely people who are prostitutes because they don't have a choice."

I don't see where those two statements disconnect. When someone says, "I didn't have a choice" What they mean is, "my other choices were unacceptable to me."

I don't have a choice except to work for a living. So, I chose to do the kind of work that I think is best for me. I can see where, for some people, that choice might be prostitution. I think that is being responsible for your own behavior.

Back before AIDS was a problem, I was making business trips to Asia. In any large Asian city you could find upscale prostitutes who were young, good looking and enjoyed their work. Many of them were building a nest egg to buy a small business. One I knew already owned half of a bookstore. These women were not forced into prostitution, it was their way to a better life.

Before someone jumps on me: yes, there is a dark side to prostitution in Asia with young girls being sold into what amounts to slavery. There is something about Asian culture that allows things like that and they need to fix it.

Another tibit: In Japan there is a practice called "compensated dating." This is where a high school girl goes on a "date" with an older man. Dinner and sex and the girl leaves with an envelope. I can just see the uproar if this started in the US. The Japanese don't officially like it, but don't seem to be trying very hard to stop it.

There are many favors to prositution, some where the women are abused and some where it is their choice. Making it unlawful seems to encourage the former.

Posted by: Sam Hall at June 28, 2003 at 07:49 AM

My feelings about the subject are along the lines of what Doug has expressed here, but I would like to add to his last comment about the career options for his kids. When I think about my kid (who is a boy, but it makes no difference, does it?), I certainly don't want to see him making money from prostitution. I also don't want to see him making 50c an hour in a Nike factory, as someone here put it, or cleaning public toilets for a living. Now, to me prostitution does seem less attractive than those other options, as I am sure it does to Doug. But Doug, we have to go farther and ask ourselves why. The obvious single reason is society's attitude towards sex. If we viewed sex just like any other natural activity, such as eating, then prostitution may still be an unattractive option, but not any less so than cleaning toilets. Note, I am not saying that sex is just like eating. For one thing, people can survive individually without sex. But I do think that a more relaxed attitude towards sex would do our society at least some good.

Posted by: Alisa at June 28, 2003 at 11:28 AM

Alisa: I wouldn't look down on a job cleaning public toilets myself; at least in this country, such a job means that your son probably has a government position as a "sanitation engineer" or whatever the euphemism these days, with decent pay, early retirement, and excellent benefits.

Sam Hall: no, actually, the phrase was "had no choice" -- and it means that the person feels (however wrongly) that they were in some sense a victim of forces outside themselves, which kind of contradicts the point about taking responsibility for all one's actions that 42nd SSD made in the next paragraph.

As for the Asian prostitutes, you say they enjoyed their work, but how do you know? I would think that a successful prostitute certainly isn't going to allow herself to give the impression that she thinks of her profession as a dreary routine, no matter how much she might think so to herself.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 28, 2003 at 01:59 PM

"Look down" is not the phrase I had in mind...Anyway, there is no reason I see why prostitutes should not have decent pay, early retirement and excellent benefits. Although I would not want to see it becoming a government position, one of the reasons being the rather interesting euphemisms it might inspire.

Posted by: Alisa at June 28, 2003 at 02:43 PM

I thought it was already an "unofficial" government position. ;}

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 28, 2003 at 03:52 PM

What I can't understand is why it can be illegal to sell something that it is perfectly legal to give away.

Posted by: Eric at June 29, 2003 at 08:53 PM

What I can't understand is why it can be illegal to sell something that it is perfectly legal to give away.

Posted by: Eric at June 29, 2003 at 08:53 PM

Good question, although, as I understand, in some states it is illegal to give away unless the two people are married. The adultery laws are not being enforced, of course, but neither were the sodomy laws, until Lawrence.

Posted by: Alisa at June 30, 2003 at 01:49 PM