What’s the Difference?

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman. – Henri Leclerc

No matter what Western religions claim, sex is no different from any other human activity once the possibility of creating human life is removed by birth control.  I strongly suspect that realization is the real driving force behind most of the current American anti-abortion, anti-birth control rhetoric:  moralists (perhaps unconsciously) realize that without the threat of lifelong consequences, people will stop seeing sex as a magical sacrament which is “dangerous” without official sanctification.  Without belief in the mystical significance of sex, prostitution is just another personal service like massage, hairdressing or wet-nursing.  And once one recognizes that, one has to question the necessity for special laws which only apply to sex work.

Take “pimps”, for instance.  If all the stereotypes and drama are stripped away, “pimp” is just a pejorative term for a prostitute’s agent; there is no innate moral difference between such a person and an agent representing a writer, actress, football player, etc.  It’s true that some such relationships are exploitative, but the same can be said of any other agent/performer or employer/employee relationship:  it’s the exploitation which is bad, not the relationship itself.  In my column “Thought Experiment” I wrote,

as I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions…the abusive, controlling pimp of legend is so rare we can consider him an anomaly.  In fact, the fraction of prostitutes who have such an abusive pimp – roughly 1.5% – is so similar to the percentage of women who report that their husbands/boyfriends are either “extremely violent” (1.2%) or “extremely controlling” (2.3%) that it’s pointless to consider them a different phenomenon, especially when one considers that any non-client male found in the company of a whore will inevitably be labeled a “pimp” by cops or prohibitionists.  The notion that hookers only have relationships with a certain kind of man, who is labeled a “pimp” by outsiders, derives from the Victorian fallacy (alas, still alive today) that we are somehow innately “different” from other women, and therefore our men are different as well.

The rest of that column presents an analogy between whores and barbers which may help you to see through to the truth of the matter.  It’s very important that people do understand, because claims of “exploitation” are used to demonize anyone who has anything to do with a prostitute, including clients, drivers, boyfriends,  secretaries, landlords, dependent adult family members and even other prostitutes working together for safety; a new law in New York even targets taxi drivers who “knowingly” carry hookers in their cabs.  The penalties for these “offenses” are usually greater than those for simple prostitution; the latter is generally a misdemeanor while “pandering” and “avails” charges are often felonies, and if the prosecutor decides to label such relationships “human trafficking” they can result in asset seizure, decades-long sentences and consignment to “sex offender” registries.  But since feminists think it’s just grand for a woman to have employees, agents or even a dependent husband if she’s a politician or corporate executive, why does it suddenly become intrinsically “exploitative” if she’s a sex worker?

Sex worker rights advocates, human rights organizations and health experts all support the decriminalization model; this means that there should be no special laws which apply only to hookers but not anyone else.  Brothels, for example, are subject to the same workplace safety and other applicable laws as govern any other business, and if an employee of such a place feels she’s been treated unfairly she can make a complaint just as any other employee of any other business could.  There is no need for any special “anti-pimp” law, because the existing laws work just fine when the trade isn’t forced into the shadows; in Colombia (which doesn’t have full decriminalization but is much closer than the U.S.), for example, a whore who is cheated out of her fee can summon a cop just as a restaurant owner could…as Secret Service Agent Arthur Huntington discovered to his chagrin.

New Zealand decriminalized in 2003, and though most everyone other than diehard prohibitionists are happy with the results in general, there are still a few bugs:

More than 40 [street sign] poles have been bent, buckled or broken in the past 18 months in one area of south Auckland, New Zealand…“Prostitutes use these street sign poles as dancing poles,” said [a member of the city council.  The claim appears in a pamphlet]…detailing frustrations of residents and businesses struggling to cope with [streetwalkers and calling]…on parliament…to give Auckland Council powers to ban sex workers from certain areas…other…incidents [include]…a transvestite [ramming] a supermarket trolley into a woman’s car before lying across the bonnet, and a school-bus full of children observing a transvestite changing her dress…

While I can certainly sympathize with the residents who have to put up with these antics, I feel compelled to ask:  aren’t vandalism and indecent exposure already illegal for everyone?  Why does there need to be a special law banning all prostitutes from the area?  If the police can’t enforce the existing laws against this kind of aggressive and disruptive behavior, how will even more laws help?  The answer, of course, is that they won’t; belligerent transvestites and abusive pimps are just the excuses used by prudes to restrict the majority of sex workers who are guilty of nothing other than being sexual.

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29 Responses to “What’s the Difference?”

  1. #1 |  Adrian Ratnapala | 

    The rest of that column presents an analogy between whores and barbers which may help you to see through to the truth of the matter.

    Man I was only reading this post while putting on my shoes so I can go and get a haircut! Maggie says she is a Wicca priestess, maybe she is psychic too. Although what mystical importance she places in my hair, is beyond me.

  2. #2 |  Burgers Allday | 

    Where can I take this challenge?

    “Its gotta be Burgers!” ™

  3. #3 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 


    I sympathize entirely with your position, but I sometimes wonder if working with sex has distanced you from how much the addition of sex to any situation screws with peoples objectivity. Sex is a primal drive at least as powerful as real hunger (which, that God, I have never known, and I hope you haven’t either). It is a ‘natural’ urge that is highly likely to drive across the behavior-matrix of the culture we live in (I’m not in favor of everything ‘natural’. ‘Natural’ is overrated.) and therefor it is likely to be a drive that has gotten tangled in other issues. People are seldom rational about much involving sex.

    Now, I think that society’s policies SHOULD be rational, wherever possible. I think that rational laws about sex-workers are possible. But I don’t let myself be surprised that people get hysterical about the subject. OK, tell the truth and shame the Devil, I TRY not to let myself be surprised.

    This is why I think local society should be able to place limits on what can be displayed – not sold, bought, owned, or printed; just displayed – in their area. Erotic images trow sand in the gears of civilized discourse, which are all too prone to seize WITHOUT interference. This is especially true (to my mind, anyway) of erotic images that don’t meet one’s personal wavelength; several clothing lines use homoerotic images in their advertising. My ganglia pick up the message, but don’t interpret it as pleasure, but annoyance. I makes me wonder how dedicated Gay men can stand 9/10ths of the advertising in America without running amok.

  4. #4 |  Other Sean | 


    Fascinating, once again. The discovery of your blog has more than made up for Balko’s absence. I would add…

    The whole stereotype of the urban pimp seems to me a natural consequence of black male unemployment in our inner cities. Despite all the nonsense one hears about drug “dealers” and gangsters with stacks of cash, the economy of the ‘hood is based overwhelmingly on the income of women – nurses, office workers, municipal clerks, etc.

    There are a millions of men who, lacking any other option, live off the earnings (or the government assistance) of those women. Whatever other label society attaches to such men, most of them would not be called pimps. That tag is reserved only for those who derive an income collaborating with sex workers.

    Hence, the term “pimp” doesn’t so much define a type of man, as it reinforces discrimination against a category of women. And as you point out, the pimp, in so far as he provides protective service, is not even strictly unemployed.

    But anyone who has met those nurses, office workers, and municipal clerks would see that many of them are also involved in relationships with men who seem like idle exploiters against the yardstick of traditional values.

    The problem is ultimately a scarcity of jobs.

  5. #5 |  celticdragonchick | 

    “No matter what Western religions claim, sex is no different from any other human activity once the possibility of creating human life is removed by birth control. ”

    Which means we are all going to hell, if you read anything from the conservative Catholic bloggers. Supremely freaked out whacko “Erin Manning” at RedCardigan and who also regularly appears at Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Conservative is one of my sanctimonious, sneering favorites.

  6. #6 |  jesse | 

    “No matter what Western religions claim, sex is no different from any other human activity once the possibility of creating human life is removed by birth control. ”

    If that’s the case, why are so many husbands and wives so snippity about the adulterous acts of their partner? I don’t agree with any laws preventing behavior among consenting adults, but it’s disingenuous to equate sex with getting one’s shoes shined.

  7. #7 |  Bernard | 

    Was going to say what Jesse said. As with prohibition of any sort the goal of most of those in favour is to increase the risk and cost of the activity to reduce the quantity consumed.

    Whether they’re successful or not is another matter, but it’s people having easy access to unemotional and extramarital sex that a majority of society is at least uneasy about.

    Misunderstanding the source of opposition is unlikely to help to minimise or sideline it, even if your stance is ultimately more reasonable than theirs.

  8. #8 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    “sex is no different from any other human activity once the possibility of creating human life is removed by birth control”

    I was going to let this pass, because I had other point to make, but since it has attracted attention anyway;

    In other words it is largely useless, carries a high risk of injury or infection, does little to advance survival of the species or individual, and is ridiculous when viewed dispassionately.

  9. #9 |  Auggie | 

    I’ve really enjoyed your posts, Maggie, but in my experiences which are about 15 years on the streets of Baltimore and Miami as a junkie, prostitutes always had a pimp or “boyfriend”. These women were addicts in the worst neighborhoods but isn’t that true with most prostitutes? Unless things have changed a lot recently pimps can’t be called an anamoly.

  10. #10 |  Ben | 

    Maggie didn’t say that pimps were an anomaly. She said that abusive, controlling pimps were an anomaly.

  11. #11 |  ClubMedSux | 

    . . . in my experiences which are about 15 years on the streets of Baltimore and Miami as a junkie, prostitutes always had a pimp or “boyfriend”. These women were addicts in the worst neighborhoods but isn’t that true with most prostitutes? Unless things have changed a lot recently pimps can’t be called an anamoly.

    Or perhaps your experience as a junkie on the streets of Baltimore and Miami is the anomaly. I don’t know any sex workers personally (at least not any that I’m aware of) but reading Maggie’s site leads me to believe that the crack whore in the back alley is no more representative of sex workers than a loan shark in the ghetto is of finance workers.

    Actually, the loan shark might be more representative, but I digress…

  12. #12 |  Maggie McNeill | 

    #9 – If you read the linked posts you’ll get the full explanation, but here’s the nutshell version: Fewer than 15% of all sex workers are streetwalkers, and very few non-streetwalkers have anything we could realistically call a pimp (unless, like the prohibitionists, you define every non-client male as a “pimp”). Fewer than 50% of streetwalkers work with a pimp at all (in underage girls it’s only about 10%), and in more than half of pimp-hooker relationships the hooker controls the pimp rather than vice-versa (i.e. he’s a dependent employee rather than a slavemaster). That means the fraction of streetwalkers who work for a pimp is roughly 20%, and of those fewer than half say their pimps are abusive or controlling, which comes to roughly 10% of streetwalkers. 10% of 15% is 1.5%, which is very similar to the number of women in developing countries (such as Cambodia) who say they were forced into prostitution.

  13. #13 |  croaker | 

    @10 Or more correctly, the abusing/controlling men are pimps, the others are either employees or customers.

  14. #14 |  Deoxy | 

    While I favor legalization of prostitution, it’s for the simply reason that the “cure” is worse than the disease (same argument can be made even stronger for the drug war).

    To say that it’s not any different than any other human activity is to disagree with the personal life experience of the vast majority of humanity. Not a winning proposition.

  15. #15 |  johnl | 

    The story about streetwalkers damaging signs seems like propaganda. Do you have any readers in NZ to check? Signs have to be pretty sturdy to hold up to the environment. Anything flimsy enough that a person could damage it by pulling on it would have already been destroyed by wind. If you want to destroy a sign pole using human power alone, you need a winch not a wench.

  16. #16 |  Leland D. Davis | 

    I have to disagree about the sexual activity being identical to every other activity. Sexual intercourse (in normal, non highly promiscous people) is associated with hormonal releases (oxytocin in women, for example) associated with bonding. People fall in love with sexual partners more readily than, say, their barber, or the cashier at the grocery store.
    Speaking of religions, it is my understanding that St. Augustine (one of the more hung-up about sex theologians) felt that prostitution should be legal for the same reason we have sewers. He and other Christians had suffered under the Emperor worship cult in Rome, and so he had a view of civil government that was limited and restrained.

  17. #17 |  Mark F. | 

    A lot of people are offended at the idea of sex as a purely recreational activity. But I’ve had great sex with “professionals,” and have found many to be delightful people.

  18. #18 |  Auggie | 

    I suppose my experiences with the sex trade, strictly as an observer, are limited to the worst of society but the pimps I knew were abusive and I’d estimate 90% of The prostitutes were represented. This is what I, and probably most people think of when referring to the sex trade. If the majority of sex workers aren’t exploited it definitely strengthens the argument for legalizing to end the exploitation that does exist. Thanks for enlightening me on this, like most stupid laws education is the key to changing them.

  19. #19 |  egd | 

    “No matter what Western religions claim”

    Are you suggesting that buddhism and hinduism don’t teach abstention from sex as part of spiritual purity? They most certainly do. You should amend that line to “Eastern and Western” religions. Or how about “Major religions”? Maybe your message would come across clearer if you just wrote “Religions I don’t follow”.

    “sex is no different from any other human activity”

    Only if you ignore the emotional and physical consequences. Acquiring an STI in a barber shop is unlikely.

    “once the possibility of creating human life is removed by birth control.”

    Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?

  20. #20 |  ClubMedSux | 

    Maggie, I think you do a great job of getting people to see things from other perspectives, but when you assert that sex is no different than any other activity I suspect you may be the one guilty of approaching the issue from a narrow perspective. I have no doubt that it’s no different to you, and certainly holding such an opinion would be consistent with your decision to enter the sex worker trade. I also suspect that, given your occupation and interests, you tend to surround yourself with like-minded people. However, even as somebody who’s sympathetic to your viewpoint, I’m not so sure you can make the leap from subjective opinion to objective fact. Mind you, I’m not ruling out the possibility that there are psychological studies out there suggesting that, absent religious influence, humans would view sex as just another recreational activity, but until I see such evidence I suspect the issue is far more complicated.

  21. #21 |  TGGP | 

    Sudhir Venkatesh has some numbers on the violence experienced by Chicago prostitutes depending on whether they had pimps or were independent:
    I think dependent husbands of even respected women are looked at askance, since gender norms are that the man is supposed to support the woman.

  22. #22 |  demize! | 

    Thats from “The Player’s Ball” isnt it?

  23. #23 |  Gorbachev | 

    The point is not whether or not sex is the same as any other activity.

    The point is whether or not the courts and the *state* has any right to police or regulate how people express or experience sexuality.

    Having sex may, for you or me or him or her, be a moving experience. But the same can be said for eating or drinking or anything else.

    Maggie’s basic point is that sex is the *same* as any other human activity (when voluntary) and there’s no more justification for controlling sex than there is in legislating, for examplem that eating apples be made illegal, or eating more than 2000 calories a day be illegal.

    Is sex different enough to require state intervention?

    When it comes to rape, that’s assault – it belong with getting the crap beaten out of you and being held up at gunpoint or being kidnapped. Rape is a crime not because it has anything at all to do with sex, per se – Rape is assault.

    Sex itself should not have any legislation or regulation associated with it.

    We make exceptions for children. As communities, we agree to these standards. They are, by natgure, arbitrary, and often make little sense (a 17 year-old one day before her 18th birthday is a child, like a 2-moth old baby, so her sexual partner goes to jail if he’s too old; had they waited a day it would be legal. Tell me there’s sense in an arbitrary definition like that).

    We may accept these random, arbitrary definitions “to protect the children”, but beyond that–

    What business does anyone, and I do mean *anyone*, have telling anyone else what to do in the bedroom – EVER?

    It’s a kind of busy-body, patronizing nannyism to be concerned with what other people are getting up to and wanting to stop them. Such people shoudl be laughed at and scorned for wanting to inject themselves into other people’s lives.

    We are individuals, not members of an amorphous collective.

  24. #24 |  Deoxy | 

    Maggie’s basic point is that sex is the *same* as any other human activity (when voluntary)

    Restating her original statement with more emphasis doesn’t help, you know.

    What I think you were trying to say (and some other parts of that were a bit better written on that topic) is that sex, from a LEGAL perspectice, should be considered the same.

    Even that, I would say, is not really true, either. Rape would no longer be any worse than (or perhaps even DIFFERENTIATED FROM) any other form assault. Rape is recognized as worse for a REASON.

    And that reason IS that sex IS different from most other human activity.

    As I said, I support legalizing prostitution in that the state “solutions” to the problem are far worse than the disease (“prostitution should be legal for the same reason we have sewers” is a great way to put it), but what several of the commenters here are trying to point out is that saying sex is no different from anything else is not a helpful argument.

    It reminds me of the bit in the drug war: “people should be free to do what they want to their own body.” Well, yes, but most people simply interpret that, in that context, as “I want to do drugs.” Whether it’s RIGHT or not, it’s not a winning argument – in fact, it’s usually downright counter-productive.

    So is this argument – I think perhaps even more counter-productive than the drug one.

  25. #25 |  John David Galt | 

    I’ve always used “pimp” in a much narrower meaning — one who keeps sex workers as slaves. A sex-workers’-associate who doesn’t do that is not a pimp (although of course the nanny-statists will pretend he is, just as they will pretend that all whores are trafficked).

    As for the parking signs: I’m just amused, and maybe the city should consider decriminalizing parking. :D

  26. #26 |  Gorbachev | 


    I’m going to present some scenarios to you to challenge your worldview. Please don’t default into the “he’s apologizing for rape” meme: I’m not. I’m simply trying to step out of the current zeitgeist and view this phenomenon from a human-neutral perspective, and show how your argument that rape makes sex different from othert human activities has no bearing on whether or not sex is like other activities.

    Rape is just another form of assault; its sexual component is actually incidental to the charge of rape. What makes it bad is the assault nature, not the sexual nature of the crime.

    For this post, this is my point:
    Sex is like any other activity. It’s the rest of human behavior that makes it “bad” when it’s bad.

    We criminalize both aspects of the crime. This meme is the source of your ennui about seeing sex as anything else: Because in rape, sex is criminalized. I contend that we should not criminalize the “sex” in rape, but treat it as any other assault (but still treat it very seriously). The fact that it involves sex is irrelevant.

    This is not a minor philosophical point. It underlies and displays our attitudes about sexuality.

    #24 | Deoxy | July 26th, 2012 at 10:23 am
    What I think you were trying to say (and some other parts of that were a bit better written on that topic) is that sex, from a LEGAL perspectice, should be considered the same.
    Even that, I would say, is not really true, either. Rape would no longer be any worse than (or perhaps even DIFFERENTIATED FROM) any other form assault. Rape is recognized as worse for a REASON.
    And that reason IS that sex IS different from most other human activity.

    Sex is the same as any other human activity. There’s no evil Patriarchy ™ hunting women in dark alleys, making special use of sex. That’s fear of human sexuality working in the back of your mind. Most people have this fear to some degree, fear of their own and other people’s sexual desires or appetites. It plays out in different ways in different people, among the religious or ideological or anti-ideological, but the upshot is that it makes it hard to think of sex without seeing it as different from anything else that people do – either elevated or degraded in some way, usually both. In truth, it’s nothing in and of itself. it’s *used* for many things – fun, intimacy, relief, power – often all of them at the same time. It’s the same as eating, going to the restroom, sleeping or any other action.

    Rape is an other kind of assault, a sub-category, and is bad not because it’s sexual – but because it’s assault. Here’s something even more controversial:

    Not only that, in its non-violent form, it’s also far less serious than almost all aggravated physical assault. What makes assault scary is if permanent injury follows, or serious wounds: in Classical terms, this was a “loss” that needed to be compensated (“You hurt my leg! I can’t farm! Give me money!”)

    At one time, pregancy was a very serious (permanent) consequence of being raped; now, abortions and contraception (the pill) can prevent this. Disease is another risk of permanent injury. But absent these things, and physical risk, and almost all other assault is far more serious.

    Let me give you an example:

    1) Man rapes woman on date (date rape), but there is no physical trauma, and the woman was not injured in any way. She said no, didn’t struggle but didn’t want to be there, and he went ahead anyway (perhaps she was afraid or socially embarrassed). She goes home, cries, but at least physically is none the worse for wear. She can now choose what to do.

    2) Man makes an enemy at work for some reason, and guy at works elects to exact some harsh revenge. Though victim tries to avoid it, victim is beaten, has several smashed teeth, two concussions, a broken hand, and many gashes requiring stitches, as well as a week-long course of antibiotics to fight infections from broken glass, rocks and pebbles ground into wounds from being thrown on the pavement, etc. Man is badly inured and is unable to work for a month. The injury to his hand may be permanent, though not totally debilitating.

    3) Sociopath finds unknown woman, forcibly restrains her, threatens to kill her, beats her, possibly tortures her, and serially rapes her over several hours. He leaves her to die, but she crawls out of a confined space and seeks help. Takes one month to recover in hospital, and the woman has minor injuries which may either take a long time to heal or are mildly irritating.

    Which gets the worst sentences?

    In our present social system, 1 and 3 are about equal. The man who raped the woman in 1) and 3) both get added to sex-offender registries, effectively ending their useful lives forever; they have been socially excommunicated from human society, and will be barred from the most basic social functions for the rest of their lives. If 1) resulted from a misunderstanding, an overstepping of bounds in the heat of the moment, or some other such thing, the man from 1) now finds himself socially and legally equated with the insane, violent psychopath in 3).

    I’m not apologizing for 1)’s actions, but this man is not the same as 3). #3) is deadly dangerous; #1) is dangerous, perhaps, but on nowhere near the same level.

    What’s shocking is that both crimes usually get more or less the same sentences. #3 might even get a reduced sentence if he makes a deal; #1 may be roasted, because such a man is likely feeling guilty and will cop to whatever he’s told, and #3 will likely fight the process the entire way. Perversely, the least dangerous offenders often get very harsh sentences while more dangerous individuals get punished less.

    2), while far more serious than 1, and about equally serious in permanent injury to 3), is usually treated with far, far, far less severity. The perpetrator can escape much of a sentence, get out relatively quickly, and have no long-term effects on his or her record.

    I say her, because it’s even better for the perpetrator is the perp is a woman. When women initiate violence and engage in this kind of behavior, which is relativley common in “bar land” in most urban centers, there is usually little to no punishment of any kind. If anything ,any associated males who assisted or even stood by are often given sentences equal to the female perp’s.

    In an objective sense, Crime #2 and Crime #3 are both far, far, worse than Crime #1. In fact, crime #2 and #3 might even be considered comparable to each other.

    But when we say “rape”, it’s often even equated with “murder”, as in “Rape and murder”.

    This is absurd to do if rape itself involves little to no assault or violence. It may sound apalling to say this, but this only shows how “mythologized” the sex act is in our culture.

    As a final test of this, whether sex is “special”. There are many type sof crimes that people experience, many kinds of abuse, from drunk drivers to random assaults to shakedowns to blackmail.

    In your own mind, go through this list and determine what is worse. If you equate “rape and murder!” and therefore consider the sexual part of rape the worst part of a rape assault, then just order these crimes in terms of severity.

    If you do this honestly, you’ll illustrate my point: The bad part of rape is assault, and rape is only as relatively bad as the assault is bad. The actual sexual part of being assaulted is more or less incidental.

    So here’s the activity. Which of the following situations are worse than the others:

    – You’re being raped by a supposed friend. He’s not using force but is insistent and you can’t get away. You realize that he’s more or less raping you, though how you both describe it may differ.

    – You just got paid for 4 months of work, delayed because the company was in fianncial trouble. You desperately need the money, and are a month and a half behind in rent. You are robbed at knifepoint and lost all the money, which you had in cash, leaving you with nothing, and are now in trouble.

    – A man you have secretly loved for years is now single, and he professes his affection. You are filled with joy and enthusiasm and commit to a relationship. Alas, he was just on a rebound after being dumped, and admits it after three months of being there for you. He feels embarassed and ends up dumping you over 5 months, withdrawing affection, while he cheats on you for the final 2 months with a much, much more attractive woman who is incidentally ten years younger and very similar to his ex. He then wants to remain friends and says he was just trying to be nice to you. You had been thinking a serious, lifelong relationship was going to happen, and you really wanted to do it with this man.

    – A) Your husband has a crazy night of sex with your sister (cousin, friend, other close female).
    – A1) He does this in your bed when you’re away on a business trip.
    – A2) He later denies it, lies, and then admits it, and blames the woman.
    – A3) He says it’s over and you suspect it’s continuing. You’re preparing to go to the Jerry Springer Show because you found out he’s fathered her child and it was going on for a decade.
    – A4) He also spent all of your money on (insert useless activity here), and to add insult to injury, told people about your terrible secret.

    – A stranger is in your house, with your life’s collected posessions as well as tools you use for your trade, and is stealing everything of value plus smashing what’s left. He threatens to hurt you but if you acquiesce, you will escape without personal harm.

    – A con artist bilks 20 older people out of their life’s savings, leaving them utterly penniless.

    – A man tricks you into investing in something, and he may or may not know that this is a bad idea. Anyway, you lose a year’s worth of saved wages.

    – Your ex-husband and you are getting along, and decide to attempt to get back together. You have sex one night, and he later reveals that he had no intention of getting back together – he emotionally manipulated you into having sex as a means of revenge for perceived slights. You are emotionally stunned and devastated.

    – You go on a date, and the third date, a man sexually fondles you and is sexually very insistent. To get him to finish and get lost, you “consent” to sex.

    – Your boyfriend travels to Germany, meets a girl in a bar, is lonely and attracted to her, finds out she’s a prostitute, and while uncomfortable with prostitution, decides to part with a small amoutn of cash to spend a few hours with her.

    – A random robbery ends up with a man killing your beloved dog, quite brutally, as the dog was likely attacking the man.

    – An arsonist sets your neighbor’s house on fire for reasons that are irrelevant. Yours is destroyed in the process. You have no insurance.

    – Your 17-year-old daughter and her boyfriend have been creating their own porn and uploading it to the internet for a year. She refuses to stop and angrily calls you a prude and a busybody when you confront her.

    – A terrorist detonates a bomb on a subway in your city, shutting down commuter traffic and killing hundreds of people. You are personally inconvenienced (perhaps seriously), but not in any way injured. You’re at risk of having to listne to people wax loquacious for decades about how noble and brave subway-goers are.

    – You’re walking home and someone is trying to rob you and kill you. You are seriously injured, but make it to the hospital. You require several weeks of recovery, and will have scars where you were wounded, though no other ill effects. A non-working keepsake watch given to you by your beloved grandfather and passed down for 150 years is stolen, likely hawked for pennies.

    – You’re raped by a violent psychopath and kept as a sex slave for three days before escaping. You have no physical injuries but it was horrible and terrifying.

    – You are driving home and a drunk driver T-bones your car. You lose the use of one leg.

    – You’re traveling, and are kidnapped. You have a choice of working as slave, likely sexually if not some other mundane task, or being killed outright.

    – A woman at works hates you. She throws acid at your face. You avoid it, but are permanently slightly scarred across the left side.

    When ordered, if the casual date rape not involving any serious repercussions is near the top of the list, there’s something very wrong with the way you view sex.

    Sex itself is not the crime in any of these rape incidents. The assault is the crime.

    What makes sex slavery a crime is slavery.

    What makes sexual abuse a crime is abuse (of trust, power, etc.), not sex.

    What makes violent sexual assault a crime is violence and assault, not sex.

    You may find this parsimonious analysis absurd, but it just goes to show: We treat sex as something mystical, sacred, secret, soul-defining and soul-destroying.

    It’s not.

    It’s everything else that does that. Sex and everything sexual is, in and of itself, in no way different compared to any basic human function.

    So Maggie’s point is good:

    If a prostitute decides, voluntarily, to sell sexual services to men, for money, in an exchange, the act of sex itself bears no shame, stigma, or moral value of any kind. There’s no crime. There’s nothing at all.

    If the man refuses to pay her, he’s stealing her services (calling it rape – the equivalent of a violent assault – is absurd). If he hits her, or uses her roughly, this could be assault. If he forces her to do something she doesn’t agree to, he’s assaulting her. If he injures her in this process, it’s aggravated assault.

    Sex – itself – is not a crime.

    And this is the point. It can’t be said enough:


    But stuff around it could be.

  27. #27 |  Gorbachev | 

    To summarize:

    Sex is morally neutral. It has no moral consequence. It’s other actions that may or may not be associated with sex that have moral or social consequence.

  28. #28 |  Goober | 

    Sex is not the Same as “any other human activity”. Not by a long shot. Maggie, I think that you having commoditized your sex for so long has narrowed your viewpoint on the matter too much. But that isn’t the point, nor should it be the point, and I think to fall off the point is to veer off topic into dangerous territory.

    THe point is that selling sex for money should not be something that results in punishment from governmental agents acting on the behalf of society as a whole. The force and violence inherent in that is by far the worse sin of the two laid out here. Two consenting adults making a mutually beneficial arrangement are not hurting anyone else. Government agents with guns locking those two people in a cage for what they did are hurting us all.

    And my views on this are not based on religion, either. I ascribe to no particular religion. However, I do believe that there are certain societal fundamentals that religion embraced (after they were already created) that people associate with religion, but have nothing to do with religion at all. These fundamentals were created out of basic human nature, not out of fear of a vengeful deity.

    We found that in society, we were better off when we followed a set of rules that catered to human nature – the nature of humans to desire to be promiscuousm, but to want partners who are not, conflicts. Promiscuity conflicts nastily – violence from jealousy, unknown paternity, inability to pass on property to heirs because you have no idea who your heirs are… Monogamy creates better social order. It also caters to the more base human desire to have a partner that is not promiscuous. In nearly every society, regardless of religion, these rules have applied, and for damned good reason. In nearly every society where these rules broke down over time, the society suffered from it. A lot.

    Sex isn’t the same. it is different from everything else. it is more than skin-slapping. It is entirely a different matter. But that doesn’t mean that selling sex should be illegal.

  29. #29 |  Son of the Agitator « The Honest Courtesan | 

    […] crowd who dared to question their shooting an unarmed man in the back.  On Tuesday I published “What’s the Difference?”, a “sex work is work” column incorporating passages from “Bogeymen” and TW3 #29.  On […]