As a society, we tend to balk at the idea of selling sex. To be clear: it is unacceptable for a person to be sexually exploited by another person. Sex trafficking and forced prostitution are unambiguously and unequivocally wrong. However, many people who work in the sex industry are not actually being exploited. These people may simply enjoy their work or find it to be less onerous than the lower-wage or more physically grueling work that they might otherwise be doing.
In thinking about voluntary, consensual sex work, there are a number of apparent contradictions that pop up. Perhaps the most obvious is that people who perform sex work are stigmatized and criminalized in a way that their clients are mostly not. Additionally, most Americans seem to hate the idea of commodifying erotic pleasure, yet we have no issue with commodifying other forms of intimate human contact. Some examples:
We gladly pay psychotherapists to listen to us talk about our feelings, and to provide us with emotional comfort. How different is this from a client paying a sex worker for The Girlfriend Experience, a type of sex work in which the worker “performs” both sexual and emotional connection for the client by pretending to be (and acting like) the client’s girlfriend?
We pay massage therapists to touch virtually our entire bodies (pretty much everything except our genitals). We derive pleasure from this intimate touch; indeed, that’s the whole point of it. Why does the addition of an orgasm fundamentally change the nature of such an exchange?
Sex surrogates are therapists who are paid to have sexual contact with clients who need assistance working on some aspect of their physical and emotional sexual expression. Sex surrogacy is legal. How is this different from consensual sex work that is simply pleasurable, rather than therapeutic, in nature?
People go out on dates with one another all the time. In many cases, one party treats the other party by paying for dinner, drinks, or entertainment. The ostensible goal of a romantic date is to find a short or long-term romantic and/or sexual partner, yet we do not see this “treating” behavior as a form of commodified sex.
Given these contradictions, please use this discussion forum to explore some of your ideas and theories about why American culture seems so intractably opposed to the legalization of consensual sex work. What (if any) do you see as the potential benefits of legalizing it? What (if any) do you see as potential downsides?
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