The time has come for the world’s oldest profession to become legal in the Anglo world. The vocation I am referring to is sex work.
During the Progressive Era, many progressive and Christian groups were shocked at the moral rot of society. That fact shouldn’t be contested. But instead of dealing in the marketplace of ideas, Christians holed up in Churchdom and let their rental location in the marketplace of ideas lapse, then they teamed up with do-gooder progressives.
Despite the repeal of Prohibition over 80 years ago, citizens of the United States often cling to the notion that locking people away will help things. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of engaging in ideas that will help those in need (such as the trafficked), people pat themselves on the back and make it seem like something is being done, when it is not. You can either do things that will bring something to an end and in the process demonstrate that you actually care, or you could continues with the hopeless idea of sweeping things under the rug, all the while enriching the people that have to enforce such laws.
In an age of personal freedom, where you can marry whom you want and do with your body what you so please, does it make any sense to ban consensual sex between two individual adults? Granted there are some issues that do need to be worked out on the interstate commerce side, but in general, as Nevada has shown, it can be as safe as any other legalized vice. As long as safe sexual hygiene is followed, then why should the government have any say in this matter? It very well may seem immoral, but the same could be said of many other legal vices.
In our discussion of sex work, it must be remembered that even the ultra-conservative Catholic Church allowed it in junctures of their history. The reason is because it is a societal safety valve. When aggression is pent up and not properly released through sex, sports, and other means, then stress builds up. In some cases this will merely release itself in bad health. But other times this will lead to violent behavior, of individuals taking out aggression on other individuals.
Just as it has been shown that rape has gone down with the rise of porn, if sex work was legalized, I believe we would not only see the quantities of sexual assaults continue to drop, but other forms of aggression drop as well.
Also, consider that despite it being a virtue, not everyone is fit for marriage. People who denigrate the institution of marriage, which stands at about a 50% failure rate, are rather self-defeating and miss the point. Marriage is for people that truly believe it, not a cookie cutter contract that everyone must fit into. When you try to fit things where they do not belong, you will start to see a failure of the institution, as we have seen with marriage in the West. Sex work keeps “undesirable types” from destroying the institution conservatives claim to cherish.
We must also consider the so-called undesirables of society. Should their potential be limited because of fear of supposed boogie men? Hell no! Just as everyone realizes that everyone requires food and shelter (per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), we must also realize that everyone is entitled to seek happiness as they see fit and to take advantage of every opportunity to reach their fullest potential. There is a case out in California testing this idea out. We shall see what the courts have to say about this.
One of the aspects of this issue that irks me the most is the economic one. People say that the problem is on the demand side. No kidding! Whenever you ban something for a while, there will be pent up demand for it. But in the long run, I do not believe that any decent human being wants to have intimate relations behind a dumpster or other disgusting places. They have a need that needs serving and with an organized and regulated market, the working conditions of the sex worker would improve. Further, the slack demand would eventually be eaten up by the supply in the market. This is the precise reason there is a black market. If there are no superior goods in a market, an individual will have to accept an inferior good. This has played out in sectors of the economy as diverse as automobiles and software. People want choice, and they will either accept the existing goods or services or they will find alternatives.
Then there are the details of how the US should legalize sex work. To me it seems simple. While not totally libertarian in scope, I believe it would address the very real concerns of trafficking. State and federal legislatures should keep existing interstate sex trade laws on the books, but deregulate the intrastate sex trade and provide treatment to those who are trafficked against their will. Enforce existing laws, and enact tougher ones, that ban pimping, but allow brothels to operate as long as the people involved are individual contractors. Pass laws that would compel sex workers to get screened for STDs and to maintain proper hygiene. Steps like these would keep sex work ethical and competitive by allowing both men and women to choose how they want to sell their labor.
Regardless of any and all regulations that would be rolled out, neither the john nor the sex worker should be charged with a crime if everything is consensual. The War on Sexual Freedom, and just like the War on Drugs, is an undeniable failure, and borne of ideas as outdated as those that gave us the Comstock Act. It’s time for some real progress concerning sex’s place in the economy.
* Zach Boyle is the Vice Chairman of the Northeast Lower Michigan Libertarian Party.