It is often said that politics is the oldest profession after prostitution. I simply put before you, dear reader, why the former prohibits the latter.
If a beautiful lady sells magazine subscriptions better than an ugly man, is she a prostitute? If a painter sells a painting of a naked woman, is he a pimp? Is a modeling agency guilty of sex trafficking? Should women who choose a date for materialistic reasons be put in jail? Surely, you’ll answer no. However, all these examples represent either the economic benefit of sexual advantage or the sexual benefit of economic advantage.
Of course, you’re not convinced. Sexual intercourse is different than mere sexual attraction. Yet consider this: an adult male approaches an adult female and offers to pay her for sex, she consents, and the transaction is completed. Is that prostitution? Most would readily say yes. But, wait, there’s more! Imagine if, in this hypothetical, a camera caught the whole exchange of fluids and finances on tape. Now it is simply pornography! Legal as a Puritan puppy on the Fourth of July!
In short, virtual voyeurism turns prostitution into pornography and punishment into profit. Most people do not favor prohibiting pornography but favor prohibiting prostitution. I find these two beliefs incompatible. The law essentially allows prostitution if the “John” is not paying the prostitute for his own sexual gratification but rather for economic profit in selling the sexual encounter to others. So how do you draw the line when sex is being sold to consumers on a daily basis and when paid sexual intercourse is legal so long as it is caught on tape?
Well, in short, you can’t draw that line. The best the law has come up with is essentially the discretion of the court. As former Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, so adroitly put it when trying to define obscenity, “I know it when I see it.”
Some advocate decriminalizing prostitution on the grounds that it is a “victimless crime.” However, under most laws it is legally considered a “public order crime,” or a crime that disrupts the order of a community. In fact, it used to be considered a type of vagrancy. Street prostitution is illegal across the United States and only a couple counties in Nevada allow institutionalized or “brothel prostitution.” But prostitution, along with soliciting and facilitating prostitution, is illegal.
Oddly enough, laws prohibiting prostitution are fairly recent phenomena. Before the turn of the century, not only was prostitution legal, but there were also laws regulating it. Laws prohibiting prostitution are a product of the Progressive Era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Prostitution laws largely came from a concern for the spread of venereal disease. There is, perhaps, no worse a way to stem the spread of venereal disease than by forcing those who have sexually transmitted diseases out of the public eye and encouraging its secrecy. Now, assured access to healthy prostitutes is nearly impossible, and prostitutes have less of an incentive to seek treatment (lest they be found out).
Some argue that prostitution isn’t a choice and that most women turn to prostitution out of desperation. I think this argument comes from the right place. It is important to note that the typical hooker is a far cry from the sympathetic Julia Roberts-type TV trope some may have in mind. For most gals, whoredom is probably not a first pick of profession. However, I do not think all prostitutes had no other option, and even if prostitution isn’t a choice, what good would outlawing it do? If they never had a choice to begin with, why would its legality matter?
I, like most people in this country, think sex for economic profit is immoral. But I, unlike many in this country , believe prostitution should be decriminalized. The law does not necessarily speak to morality. What is immoral is not always illegal, and what is illegal is not always immoral. For example, U.S. law does not prohibit cheating on your wife with her sister, giving an old lady the finger, denying the Holocaust, telling children in the street that Santa Claus isn’t real, or just generally being a jerk. If you need any proof, simply take a look at the moral caliber of the people in charge of passing laws.