Sexual Ethics
Part IV
A Modern Debate about Sex: Prostitution and Scripture
By Keith Allen

In Association with

Sexual Ethics
Part IV
A Modern Debate about Sex: Prostitution and Scripture
23 March, 2008

A Modern Debate About Sex: Prostitution and Scripture
My traditionalist is probably by now boiling with anger and indignation. He must be convinced I'm a great mass of sin.

Barely able to contain himself, this old fashioned moralist now says, "My ears feel dirty from just listenin' to your wicked lies, and it ain't just the wax in 'em, either. Still, I ain't done with you yet. I'm gonna hoist you with your own petard. You said that if one fella wants to have sex with somebody, probably another fella, but that other fella is conflicted, that he wants to make the first fella happy but he don't wanna have sex with him, then maybe it ain't right for the first fella to go a-sexin' the other one. You said that now. You can't deny it. Okay. Here's the deal. You've got to admit that whorin' ain't right, 'cause I don't know no whore who ever wanted to go sex some john just to make him feel good, and no whore ever wanted to have sex for free, neither. What that means is that, when a john has sex with a whore, he's doin' somethin' that goes 'gainst her desire. He's doin' somethin' wrong. Now you've got to agree with me about that."

I don't agree, though. The details of such an interaction are a little different than those just described. I agree that, in a given situation that could lead to a sexual encounter between a prostitute and a client, it's unlikely that the prostitute desires either to have sex with the man or to fulfill his desires. However, the prostitute does want something else. She wants to be paid. When she is engaging in a sexual act, she is doing so in exchange for money. It's a simple transaction.

"But she's still doin' somethin' she don't want to do, so it's wrong."

This isn't necessarily the case. Virtually all human beings engage in transactions in which we agree to perform some action that we have no desire to perform in exchange for something that we do desire. Very few of us, after all, are employed without compensation. Admittedly, some people enjoy their jobs. Some might even do them without compensation. Most people, however, work in exchange for something they need, money. They engage in an activity that they might not like in return for being given something they do desire. As long as there is no coercion involved in agreeing to such an exchange, then, since a person is a free agent, he is free to consent to engage in actions he does not desire to perform in order to receive something he does desire. A prostitute is as free to do so as is anyone else.

"There's a difference, though. I'm a plumber. I use my hands, and I have skills. A whore's just spreadin' her thighs. It's dirty and wrong."

I thought I'd already established that no part of the human body is innately dirty. A person's genitals are every bit as worthy as his hands are. They're just as beautiful, just as clean, and just as liable to being employed by that person for whatever end he sees fit. What's more, it's quite possible that a prostitute could develop as much skill at sex as a worker of a different sort develops with regard to his trade. Even if she doesn't, there's nothing shameful in unskilled labor. Frankly, it's as dignified as any other work is. It's often more so, in that unskilled laborers often suffer in terrible conditions and receive low wages and yet they work to provide for their needs and the needs of those they love. It would seem that they are more worthy, in this way, than are those who work little for high wages used to provide for an indulgent life-style.

"Okay, okay. Maybe a whore can flex her money-maker all kinds of ways. Still, you're talkin' about transactions between free agents. A lot of them whores ain't free. They've got pimps beatin' them if they don't go get johns. Some of them whores even get sold to their pimps. How are they free to agree to some transaction?"

Well, my old fashioned enemy will be happy to hear that this is one point I'll concede to him. If a person is forced into prostitution, if she is coerced into engaging in sexual activities in return for money, then the person so compelling the prostitute is behaving in an unethical fashion. The prostitute is, of course, a victim, and she is doing nothing wrong. Anybody compelling her is.

"Now I've got you. Now you've got to admit the john is actin' wrong too. He's havin' sex with a woman who's bein' coerced into havin' sex with him."

You are, indeed, correct. If a man goes to a prostitute for sex and has reason to suspect that she's working as a prostitute because she's being coerced, then, should he have sex with her, by so impinging upon her desires, by effectively raping her, he is behaving unethically. I might add that it is always unethical to take advantage of the labor of a person who has been coerced into doing that labor. This rule does not apply to prostitutes alone.

"Glad to know you got some sense. I hope you'll admit that another reason why we should get rid of whores is 'cause they spread disease. Besides, a whore might tempt a married man to commit adultery."

I suppose my traditionalist enemy was not paying attention earlier. I thought I had already discussed how a person would be acting prudently if he learned what the consequences of his actions could be and how he would be wise to take these into consideration when he does act. The same rules apply to a person's patronage of prostitutes as apply to any other sexual relations he might have. Again, an activity's having risks does not make it wrong.

As for a married man having sex with a prostitute, the same standards apply as would if he had sex with any other person. Obviously, if a person has freely agreed to limit his sexual partners and does not do so, then he is guilty of violating that agreement. It makes no difference if the person with whom he breaks that agreement is a prostitute or not.

"Alright, then," my irate moralist yells, "you let them whores lead good men astray. I suppose you love them nasty hussies like they was human beings. Okay, okay. I've got a problem for you. You want to let these whores go sell their goodies all legal like. Ain't you worried about them? You know whores get roughed up. You know most of 'em are bein' told what to do by mobsters or gang bangers or other criminals like that. Ain't you concerned about that? Or do you just want to see them whores suffer? If you don't, how can you say it's okay to visit a whore?"

Yes, I am concerned that prostitutes are often the victims of violent crimes and that organized criminal groups do have a hand in running prostitution rings. It's partly because of these concerns that I believe that prostitution ought to be legalized. Of course, the primary reason that prostitution should be legalized is that there is nothing innately immoral about the practice. The persecution that prostitutes face does not affect this. If it did, then I suppose the traditionalist would have to admit that since Christians faced persecution during certain periods of Roman history, it was then immoral to be a Christian or to patronize Christian churches. The persecution of prostitutes, of those who patronize prostitutes, or of anyone, for that matter, does not somehow confer upon those persons persecuted the onus of immorality. Engaging in such persecution, which itself is to be condemned, does, however, make those persons or that society perpetrating it immoral. It is, thus, our own society that stands condemned by the problems mentioned, not prostitution or prostitutes. In fact, the problems mentioned actually support arguments in favor of legalizing the profession. In places where prostitution is illegal, if a prostitute is attacked, she has little recourse to the law, since she is herself a criminal. If her actions were legal, then she would have far more protection from dangerous clients. Also, if prostitution were legal, it could be regulated and criminal organizations would have far fewer opportunities to involve themselves in it. So, not only do the reasons given for condemning the institution of prostitution actually condemn society, but they also provide additional justification for the legalization of prostitution.

Now my dear traditionalist is surely annoyed.

He exclaims, "I sure hope I don't live to see a society like what you want, with people goin' around havin' fun, enjoyin' their sinful meat, girls not hidin' their precious flowers until marriage, men gettin' nasty with men, whores walkin' around like they're regular folks. It just makes me sick. That's not what I was raised to believe was right, and I don't believe none of that stuff is right."

It occurs to me that most of the sexual actions traditionalists claim are unethical are perfectly acceptable. In fact, I can't find a reason why any of the actions they rail against, premarital sex, sodomy, masturbation, and so on, should be condemned. Traditional concepts of sexual ethics are no more than a hodgepodge of irrational prejudices and don't deserve being given any credence whatsoever. They are completely without justification and are frequently hurtful. Traditional sexual ethics are utterly unethical.

"Okay," the irritated traditionalist now cries out, "you think you're so smart, but God is smarter than you are. He made this whole world in seven days, after all. He made the sun revolve around the Earth, hid fake dinosaur skeletons underground, and fitted nice slats in the sky so that He could spill rain on us. He even wrestled with a giant, killer hippopotamus, that Leviathan, to keep the world safe. God's mighty clever and He's as powerful as they come. You've got to admit that, and you've got to admit that God says, right there in the Good Book, that them things I hate are bad. He says that men who go a-sexin' other men are headin' for the fiery pit, and that women who go around spreadin' their thighs ought to be put down like rabid dogs. Face it, you've got to admit that if God says those kinds of things are wrong, then they must be wrong."

I will admit that the Bible and other scriptures do contain injunctions about what is moral and what is immoral. I will also have to admit that I am bound by my own intelligence. I cannot, for example, admit that two and two equal five. Because I must evaluate the world with my intelligence, I have to make ethical judgments based on what I, using that intelligence as best I can, determine to be right and wrong. I might make mistakes - actually, I'm sure that I do - but I'm still compelled to think and follow my best judgment. There is, after all, a difference between rational beliefs, which are justified, and irrational beliefs, which are not. The former are based on informed, critical judgments; that is to say, they are based on judgments that themselves are formed by depending upon experience and logic. The latter, however, are based on uninformed, uncritical judgments. Unfortunately for the traditionalist, belief in scripture falls into the latter category. Such a belief does not, after all, depend upon experience or logic. It is simply an unquestioning acceptance of the veracity of a particular text, and this sort of belief is the very opposite of a rational belief. Often, in fact, the statements of texts accepted as scriptures, that is to say, as being authoritative, are contrary to both experience and logic. That said, when a rational judgment about some matter accords with statements given in some scripture, I will concede that the scripture is correct with regard to that matter. However, when my judgment is at variance with some scriptural injunction, then I have to say that the scripture is wrong. So, when the Bible condemns the man who has sexual relations with other men, or the woman who has sex outside of marriage, I just have to say that the Bible is wrong. I cannot abandon my reason.

So what does all this mean? It means that virtually all traditional sexual ethics are more than just misguided. They are usually hurtful and, consequently, unethical. In this great war between tradition and reason, let's turn to reason. It is, after all, reason that tells us to behave in ways that acknowledge both the worth of others and the worth of our own desires. The old ethics are nothing more than irrational injunctions that bring suffering to the world. The new ethics can be joyous celebrations of life.

By Keith Allen

Sexual Ethics, Part 1
Sexual Ethics, Part 2 / Sexual Ethics, Part 3

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