Why do we make such a big deal about prostitution? Certainly, good arguments can be made about the exploitation that accompanies prostitution. To quote a recent article, “Many girls are forced into prostitution to repay sums ranging from €5,000 ($6,100) to €50,000 charged by traffickers bringing them to France,” and “Manuel Valls, the interior minister, calls [prostitution] a ‘new slavery’. In 2010 France dismantled 39 international prostitution rings, most of them run from eastern Europe and the Balkans.” While these are valid and of serious concern, they are not arguments against prostitution per se, but rather against indentured servitude.
Imagine, for a moment, an arrangement whereby a prostitute is offered money by a client in exchange for a bit of sex. The prostitute, although considering the job perhaps a bit distasteful, agrees to it, performs the work, and both parties go on their way. There is no exploitation, at least not in the form of slavery. The prostitute is free to perform the work or not. Why do many people still have a problem with this? Perhaps because there is something especially wrong with selling access to one’s body, especially when socio-economic conditions make it so that the prostitute really has no choice.
Imagine now, for a moment, an arrangement whereby a worker is offered money by an employer in exchange for a bit of labor. The worker, although considering the job perhaps a bit distasteful, agrees to it, performs the work, and both parties go on their way. There is no exploitation, at least not in the form of slavery. The worker is free to perform the work or not. Why do many people not have a problem with this? Is it any different to sell access to one’s body as opposed to one’s mental or manual labor (never minding that manual labor involves selling access to one’s body)? Why do we seldom talk about the socio-economic conditions that make it so that workers (and even self-employed business owners) really have no choice whether or not to sell themselves?
Perhaps the distaste for prostitution comes from a latent realization that the prostitute is really no different than any of us. Except for a few powerful individuals, we all live in a society that forces us to sell ourselves – a fact we hate but cannot easily discuss. The prostitute, who just happens to deal in the most taboo subjects, provides a convenient target onto which we displace our hatred. But prostitution is not the problem. Or rather, prostitution is exactly the problem, so long as we realize that we are all prostitutes.