Why Prostitution is Not ‘Sex Work’

Since the 1970s, a tactical and politically driven agenda has been advanced to promote the global sex trade. This agenda has rested on the reframing of prostitution along two seemingly disparate lines, one being the promotion of prostitution as ordinary work, and the other being the promotion of prostituted people as a sexual minority. Although powerful interest groups have expended a great deal of energy and finance in shifting public opinion on both these points, the reality is that neither of these things are true.

Prostitution is neither sex nor work. 

Why Prostitution is Not “Sex”

Sex is a mutual exchange of pleasure, whether it happens within the context of a loving and committed relationship, a brief encounter between strangers, or anything on the spectrum in between. Sexuality is something which is shared in a spirit of mutuality. It is not something ever forced, bought, duped, bullied or coerced.

Pressure, intimidation and compulsion do not happen where mutuality exists, but they happen where ‘consent’ does every day. That is why consent is not a good divining rod for healthy sexuality. The presence or absence of mutuality is the determining factor in a psychologically and emotionally healthy sexual exchange, not consent. 

Mutuality is absent in the context of prostitution. There is none of the sexual giving and receiving that constitutes the reciprocity inherent to a mutually willing sexual exchange. Instead, sexually unwilling and uninterested people (usually female), submit to unwanted sex demanded by other people (almost always male), every day, usually multiples times per day, and because this unwanted sex is actively solicited, it is defined as consensual. The word ‘consent’ therefore creates an illusion; it is a linguistic tool that misrepresents sexual abuse as sex. It is espoused by liberal feminists and other progressives who either don’t know or don’t care to know that they’re endorsing sexual abuse on an industrial scale.

We must hold firm the distinction between sex and sexual abuse, and the clearest way to do it is to hold firm the distinction between consent and mutuality. ‘Consent’ exists in prostitution, and in numerous other human rights violations, if capitulation out of desperation is synonymous with consent; but mutuality does not exist in prostituted sex, and prostituted sex is antithetical to a spirit of mutuality. Mutuality, then, as a concept, reveals the reality of prostitutions unwilling nature. Prostitution does not constitute sex any more than rape does, because in both cases sex is brought about by factors devoid of mutuality.

We must hold firm the distinction between sex and sexual abuse, and the clearest way to do it is to hold firm the distinction between consent and mutuality. ‘Consent’ may exist in prostitution, but mutuality cannot.CLICK TO TWEET

Given prostitution doesn’t constitute mutual sex, it is an absurdity to assign prostituted people the status of a sexual minority. It is, however, a very calculated absurdity. It is also an egregious and indefensible cruelty, considering the decades of research that correlate childhood sexual abuse with prostitution.

Why Prostitution is Not “Work”

Not every activity which is compensated should be dignified by the terms ‘employment’ and ‘work.’ We see and accept this when we’re talking about human rights violations elsewhere, in sweat shops for example. When we examine prostitution however, we see that, unlike sweat shops, it is not the conditions of the ‘labour’ which renders it unviable employment, but every aspect of what passes for labour and, beyond that, the very structure of the framework within which it occurs. Prostitution, as an institution, is abusive in and of itself.

Safe working conditions are integral to any form of employment, but given the very essence of prostitution – not just its conditions of operation or any of the external circumstances that affect it, such as legislation – is harmful in a multitude of ways, prostitution is an irredeemable form of exploitation and in no meaningful way comparable to actual work.

Prostitution is an irredeemable form of exploitation and in no meaningful way comparable to actual work. CLICK TO TWEET

Prostitution does not function like employment on any axis beyond the compensation involved, and even then, it functions very differently. A prostituted person does not enjoy any career progression. Quite the opposite is true. The more experienced a person is in prostitution, the less they are valued and the less they are paid.

A person in actual employment will have gained a wealth of knowledge and experience over the course of twenty years, and be compensated accordingly – a person in prostitution will also have gained a wealth of knowledge and experience, and be considered very close to worthless because of it. A person in actual employment for thirty years will be at the head of their division, or organisation, and often be getting ready to retire with a comfortable and secure pension – a person thirty years in prostitution will be considered utterly worthless and be left bereft, unable to feed themselves. Prostitution operates unlike any actual form of employment at every stage, including its miserable conclusion.

The presentation of prostitution as normal, ordinary employment aligns with the ideological convictions of far-left voices who’ll never have to live it, and it serves the interests of the pimping and trafficking gangs that massively profit from it, but it contributes absolutely nothing of value to the lives of those caught in systems of prostitution worldwide.

There are those heavily invested in presenting prostitution as a matter of sexuality, in order that it can be presented as a matter of sexual freedom and aligned with the rights of sexual minorities. The same people will frame the incongruent argument that prostitution shouldn’t even bear its own name – that it’s valid and acceptable employment and ought to be known as ‘sex work.’ In reality, prostitution is neither sex nor work, much less both at the same time.

Prostitution is neither sex nor work, much less both at the same time. CLICK TO TWEET

ACTION: Ask your Legislators to oppose full decriminalization of the sex trade!

The misleading narrative reframing prostitution as “sex work” has led to increased support for harmful policies that decriminalize pimping, sex buying, and brothel keeping. These policies would hurt survivors and expand the exploitative prostitution marketplace. Please help your legislators understand the true nature of prostitution, and urge them to oppose full decriminalization of the sex trade, by filling out the action form below!

ACTION: Ask your legislators to oppose full decriminalization of the sex trade!


EDITORS NOTE: This NCOSE column is republished with permission. All rights reserved.

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