Sex Work: Our Bodies, Our Rights

ADDENDUM: I want to be clear on this point…how legalized prostitution or sex work should be implemented and whether or not it reduces sex trafficking is irrelevant to the conversation I am having here. I am simply arguing that it should not be outright illegal and that an adult has the right to have sex with another person and receive money for it. That fundamental stance is the one I am taking. The question of whether I can choose to use my body for this purpose is the focus.

I recently gave up some students for the reason that they were both boring and lazy. These are the guys and gals who show up lethargic and coked out on a day’s work in the office. I swear to the gods that don’t exist, sometimes it’s like teaching English to a group of freshly lobotomized narcoleptics. That being said, our last day together wasn’t so bad. I said fuck it to the syllabus and forced everyone to talk about prostitution.

I feel pretty strongly about bodily rights. People should have complete control over what they do with their body and there is no reason why the State should be controlling it. The prohibition of prostitution is a major attack on our bodies’ rights. If adults wish to make a career or a little cash selling themselves sexually they should be fully free to do so – and especially on one’s own property. You’ll find that any argument to the contrary is sententiously grounded in the arbitrary morality of religions or the insecure, patriarchal obsession with holding women’s bodies hostage.

This is not the first time I have asserted that what we find morally repugnant is not necessarily worthy of legislation. For any of you raising your eyebrows at this lovely little number, remember that law is no place for personal preferences or silly, school yard discomforts. The case must be made that prostitution is absolutely harmful to both vendor and society – and I assert that no such case exists.

Some of the most common claims regarding prostitution’s inequities include abusive pimps and their exploitation of prostitutes. While it is true that prostitutes make up a highly vulnerable class of workers, it is not because sex work is inherently more dangerous than say, coal mining, but because they are illicit and cannot rely on the regulation or protection of their governments as other workers can. It is not unlike being an illegal immigrant in that when your human rights are clearly violated the consequences of calling attention to these trespasses represent a larger threat to your general livelihood.

The next complaint is typically that legal prostitution facilitates the practice of trafficking, but this is casuistry at best since that objection pertains to a form of human slavery which is obviously entirely distinct from a sane adult choosing sex work. The first is coercive, the second is voluntary. We might as well claim that allowing a 14 year old to mow lawns or work behind the counter of a family business will facilitate widespread child labor. But this is precisely what government regulation and force of law is for. The potential for abuse of opportunity does not justify abrogating it. I might add, just to beat this dead horse one last time, just as sex workers can be exploited, so can immigrants, that hardly makes legalized immigration a bad idea.

So far, all our complaints can easily be dealt with by regulation and force of law. Other concerns, such as those regarding trafficking are neither here nor there. But what about sexually transmitted diseases. Isn’t prostitution a hotbed for promulgating all kinds of nasty conditions like syphilis and HIV/AIDS? Well, no more than a college campus I’d say. And this is where I reiterate that people are entitled to have sex as often as they want so long as it is consenting – it is again the decision of adults to test themselves regularly and ask partners about this kind of thing. Pregnant women probably shouldn’t drink or smoke at all during pregnancy but…it is not actually illegal for them to kick back the occasional glass or take a few drags. Nor should it be.

Further, many people go on to claim that sex work is a last resort for desperate women and states shouldn’t encourage the practice. But there are many jobs we all hate doing or would resort to only if absolutely necessary. Manual labor in the hot sun for example, being paid next to nothing for hours of excruciatingly physical work, is not anyone’s idea of the ideal job. Nor, would I think, being an enlisted soldier sent to war. But manual laborers and soldiers are still protected in a number of ways, such as guaranteed pay and a fixed number of reasonable hours – sex workers could expect the same under the aegis of government. Even if this is simply the ability to trust that when a client has abused you your being a sex worker will not be held against you, that is enough to prove that government support matters.

In summary, complaints about the ills of illegal sex work and its concomitant exploitation of the people in it, have no bearing on the right to choose to sell one’s body with sex. Those complaints relate to human slavery and pertain to the failed protection of a class of worker. We can choose to sell our bodies for physical labor, art, and fashion, so why not sex? How would selling one’s body for sex, under the aegis of government, be different? And I might remind you, whether others like it or not is not important.

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