For a recent article in The Real News, interviewer Taya Graham starts off, “We all know men like to pay for sex.” Seriously?
I’d say that a far more acceptable generalization would be, “We all know men like sex, and some are even willing to pay for it.” But that is still a generalization, because while some of us may care very deeply about the exploitation involved, others simply want at least some bit of romance in their hookups. Some really believe it is sinful, or at least a bad idea. And others are simply too poor or too cheap or too afraid of getting caught.
I forget when I first learned – probably from TV – that some women traded sex for money, but I suspect I first thought more deeply about prostitution while reading The Catcher in the Rye, through the characters of a pimp, the elevator operator Maurice, and a young hooker calling herself Sunny. As I look back, it was quite an accomplishment for the reclusive JD Salinger to have permanently soured a sexually curious young high schooler on the idea that there was any glamour in paying for intercourse.
After my freshman year of college, working for the county, two of us summer interns were surveying the police offices, and saw a woman handcuffed to a chair, awaiting her turn before a magistrate. She could have been there for any reason, but somehow from her dress and demeanor we had the idea that she was a prostitute. My coworker couldn’t stop staring at her until she scared the bejesus out of him by flashing a big, toothy smile.
A year later, during another summer job for the Corps of Engineers, I first heard prostitution – along with drug abuse – justified as a victimless crime. My fellow intern Alan was just as young and callow as I was, but he seemed confident that it was simply a blameless business transaction.
The following year, at another summer Corps job in Southern VA, I was at a crowded bar with three fellow college interns, when a good old boy offered to introduce us to some whores. “If you want,” he said. “I don’t give a shit.” We all laughed a lot, and I thought, “Uh, no,” but one of my comrades wanted to know more. “Are they pretty?” he asked. Now the GOB had a thick local accent, so we thought he replied that they were fat, but when my friend said, “We don’t want fat!” he clarified, “No not fat, fair! They’re fair.” Fair. What an elastic term. We laughed some more and let the subject drop.
In the Real News article, Kate D’Adamo takes the mainstream liberal viewpoint that prostitutes, now called sex workers, are primarily just workers, and should enjoy the protections of society. She admits that trafficking is bad, but believes that the decriminalization of prostitution in New Zealand has resulted in the, “healthiest sex industry in the entire world,” with low rates of violence and sexually-transmitted disease. The International Union of Sex Workers asserts that sex work is an empowered choice.
The mainstream conservative viewpoint is that prostitution is a sin, but a lot of them are sinners. In practice, when a prominent conservative is caught soliciting, he must claim to be truly sorry, return to the arms of family and religion, and hope that the prostitute mysteriously hangs herself, all of which happened with former Senator, and now lobbyist, David Vitter. That was before serial sex consumer Donald Trump was president, of course. More recently Robert Kraft simply relied on his lawyers to have the video evidence suppressed. His massage parlor madam was not so lucky.
A third viewpoint is the so-called Swedish or Nordic model, in which the customers and pimps are vigorously prosecuted while the sex workers are referred for counseling and job training. This viewpoint considers prostitution a form of male violence. As reported in The Guardian:
A statement signed by 177 verified sex trafficking survivors from Sex Trafficking Survivors United (STSU) suggests that: “Without the buyers of commercial sex, sex trafficking would not exist. If we start penalising and stigmatising the buyers, we could end sex trafficking in our lifetime … prostitution is not a victimless crime; it is a brutal form of sexual violence.”
A few mornings ago, I turned on my cell phone to find two similar text messages, supposedly from young girls (21 and 23) who supposedly live near me and supposedly want to find older sexual partners. Seriously?