sex work

I haven’t talked about sex work because I haven’t quite worked out what I think about it.

Well parts of it I have worked out. I think it’s an inevitable part of civilization and I think it ought to be legal and protected by OSHA – and already lots of people are horrified, right?

It’s inevitable. FigLeaf over yonder describes sex work as a symptom of patriarchal puritanism, but I see it as a byproduct of something that is ordinary and essentially universal about our sexual systems.

By which I mean this: at the population level, men want more sex than women do – take a million men and a million women and ask them how much sex they’d like right now or on average or how much sex they had yesterday, and the men’s combined answer will be bigger. (And there’s a funky, interesting emergent phenomenon related to this male sexual energy surplus. Must write post.) And at the population level, men control access to financial resources more than women do.

Neither of those facts is a modern phenomenon or a media construction; it’s been true for, gosh, at least 10,000 years.

So if you’re a woman with no education, training, work experience, or other social capital, and there’s this market for something you were born with that costs you nothing, hey. You have a livelihood between your legs. Sex work will ALWAYS exist because there will always be a market, QED.

It should be legal. Why should it be illegal to sell sex? All the physical health risks to both seller and buyer could be managed through regulation, which leads me to:

It should be protected by OSHA. Some sex workers – a small fraction – have the wherewithal to have control, choice, and safety. These folks choose sex work, despite having access to other options, for any number of reasons. That’s groovy. These are not the people I’m worried about.

I’m worried about the people who, for a wide range of reasons, many of them having to do with systemic injustices related to being a woman, don’t have any other way to feed their kids than this dangerous and, if you’re not actively choosing it, potentially soul-battering job.

There are lots of soul-battering jobs, lots of dangerous jobs. Hell, is prostitution physically more dangerous than mining? More soul-battering than telemarketing? (Personally I would literally rather have sex with strangers for a living than do telemarketing. Literally. Fortunately I know if I go crazy and lose my livelihood I can always live with my mother and work as a barista, so I’m hardly likely to need to.) If a woman has a choice between working as a prostitute and enlisting in the military… well illegal prostitution has worse health insurance and no pension.

Miners and soldiers are protected (to some degree, and we could talk for ages about how corporations and governments fail adequately to protect them) because their activities are regulated at a higher level.

Yes, I think it should be legal, federally regulated, and, due to its unique nature, organized in workers’ cooperatives. It’s important when your commodity is your body that you have a say in how it gets marketed, distributed, and priced. But it’s also important when your commodity is your body, that you’re protected by legal rights.

As I say, I’m sure about these things. However I have actively ignored the “moral” arguments around sex work and I have not, therefore, taken them into account in my reckoning. Which makes all of my reckoning totally useless in the real world.