Why I’m for the Decriminalization of Sex Work

Apparently this is the week of HAVING OPINIONS.

Let’s talk about sex work. I support the legalization of all forms of non-abusive sex work. That includes prostitution. I don’t think anyone has ever leveled an argument at sex work that couldn’t be summed up as either, (a) some of it is abusive, therefore all of it is bad, or (b) sex workers aren’t capable of choosing whether or not they want to do sex work because paternalism reasons.

Let’s start with (a). Yes, there is abusive sex work. Human trafficking, people forced into it, etc, etc. There are absolutely terrible things going on that qualify as the selling of sexuality. There are two reasons why this is a terrible argument against sex work as a whole. First, because not all sex work is like that. When wall street collapsed, we blamed it on banks. We did not then conclude that we should outlaw banking. Instead, we decided to do the obvious thing, and go after the problem people specifically. Second, because by making all of sex work illegal, we would be making it more difficult for the people in the best positions to spot abuse to report that abuse. You know who’s going to know best how to distinguish harmful sex work situations from nonharmful ones? Sex workers. You know what makes it harder for a sex worker to report such abuse? Making all sex work illegal. You want to catch the people who engage in the real abuse? Make it so people in a position to report them don’t have to put themselves in legal or financial jeopardy to do so.

I think human trafficking is terrible, and that is part of why I think nonabusive sex work should be legal. I want us to be able to catch the real bad guys, and lumping the not-bad-guys in with them is a terrible way of going about that. You don’t enable whistleblowing by making whisleblowers illegal. When one part of a profession is dangerous, you don’t outlaw the whole profession (see: banks), you make it easier to spot and attack the parts that are dangerous. We don’t outlaw banking because of wall street assholes or loan sharks and we shouldn’t outlaw sex work for the same reason.

Point (b): sex workers aren’t capable of choosing whether or not they want to do sex work. I’m paraphrasing. More often, this argument comes in the form of comments like, “but it’s dangerous”, “but it’s degrading”, or “but people only do it if they’re desperate”. In order:

“It’s dangerous!”

Yes, doing sex work does involve taking certain risks (to a greater or lesser extent depending on the environment the work is done in), just like almost any profession out there. How many people do you see arguing that because there’s a risk of brain damage, football players are incapable of making a decision to play football for themselves?

Anyone? …Anyone?

“It’s degrading!”

This is entirely a matter of opinion and practice. Many sex workers (and I’ve known several) do not find it degrading. At least one person I know who recently went into sex work has found that it’s the most personally rewarding job she’s ever had.You know what profession I think is degrading? Telemarketing. You don’t see me rattling off how telemarketing shouldn’t be allowed because it’s degrading and anyone who can’t tell is obviously fooling themselves.

“People only do it if they’re desperate!”

First off, I would only go into telemarketing if I were desperate. Again, you don’t see me arguing that telemarketing should be illegal. Second, is that really your solution for people in desperate situations? Is that really what you think will help? Find people in desperate situations and take away the some of the few options they have? Really?

Ultimately, the above three arguments all boil down to paternalism: I don’t think that the people who want to do sex work are capable of rationally evaluating these factors and making the decision for themselves. There are risks, therefore I don’t think you’re capable of making a decision about it like an adult. I find it degrading, therefore I don’t think you’re capable of deciding whether it’s degrading to you. People do it when they’re desperate, therefore the only reason people would do it is out of desperation, and they shouldn’t be allowed to make that choice. So, for the record: Fuck. That. Noise.

I want to treat people like adults capable of making their own decisions, and I want the real problem people to get caught and sent to jail, and both of those are reasons I support the legalization of all nonabusive forms of sex work.

I hope we’re done here.

4 comments on “Why I’m for the Decriminalization of Sex Work

  1. I agree 1000000% and trust me, I’ve gotten beaten down by professors, public health gurus, feminists …. Everyone for feeling this way, but, I can’t help it. It’s just so, rational. At its core. It is rational.

    Thanks for posting what im sure many are afraid to say.

  2. “How many people do you see arguing that because there’s a risk of brain damage, football players are incapable of making a decision to play football for themselves?”

    For what it’s worth, a Google News search on “football brain damage” right now is turning up headlines like “Head injury fears a threat to football’s future?”, “Out of Bounds: High Schools Should Ban Football”, and a lot of people arguing that “we can keep football but make it safe” (which only makes sense if they’re responding to people who are in fact saying we should ban football altogether).

    I agree with your point in general, though. I would make the analogy to firefighters or oil rig workers. The danger is arguably much higher in those professions, and literally no one is saying “we shouldn’t allow anyone to be a firefighter.”

    • Ooh, I like oil rig workers. I considered policemen, but opted against it, since I figured allowing for risk was more intuitive when the profession was about lowering risk of terrible things happening for the population in general.

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