Not long ago, the idea of any politician running on a platform of decriminalizing marijuana was unthinkable. By not long ago, I mean only 10 years. It really is remarkable how much things have changed on this particular issue. It’s no longer a fringe issue for Libertarian candidates and hippies.
These days, most politicians won’t pay too high a price for saying they’re fine with decriminalizing marijuana. If anything, favoring its continued decriminalization is now a liability. It’s legal in so many states and has so much public support that supporting continued criminalization is on par with supporting gay marriage bans.
It’s just not popular and could tank an aspiring candidates career before it even begins.
We’re getting to a point where marijuana is no longer a hot-button issue. It’s almost past the point of no return in that regressing at this point would be more trouble than it’s worth. However, there’s always a place for social issues in politics. It’s just a matter of time, trends, and circumstances.
Now, like weed before it, we might be seeing a new social issue fill that void. This time, it’s decriminalizing sex work. It’s something I’ve talked about before. I’ve even speculated on how it’s likely to affect other social trends. It seems some of that speculation was accurate.
According to The Appeal, there’s momentum building for decriminalizing sex work in New York City. It’s gotten to a point where it’s now an issue in this year’s race for Manhattan District Attorney, one of the most important legal positions outside the federal government.
New York State appears to be on a trajectory of expanding the rights of sex workers. On Feb. 2, the state repealed its “walking while trans” ban, an anti-loitering law that critics said the police were using to harass trans New Yorkers. Many advocates are pressing for the passage of legislation that would decriminalize sex work.
But most of the candidates seeking to be elected as Manhattan’s next district attorney this year don’t want to wait for the legislature. If they win, they say, they would take the DA’s office entirely out of the business of going after consensual sex work.
Six of the eight declared candidates told New York Focus and The Appeal: Political Report that they would stop prosecuting charges involving sex work, whether against people who are selling sex or against buyers.
The relative consensus is a measure of how quickly attitudes on sex work have shifted since even 2019, when only one out of seven candidates for Queens DA, Tiffany Cabán, supported the full decriminalization of sex work. A coalition of activists, known as Decrim NY, launched in 2019 and has strenuously championed change since then.
For those who don’t live in New York or follow their politics, it may not seem relevant. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small issue in a political sphere with a limited scope. However, that’s how all issues begin.
Sex work probably won’t follow the exact same path, but there will be similarities. It just has to start somewhere outside the most rural parts of Nevada. Manhattan, one of most densely populated areas of the Country, would be a very high-profile site. If just one of these candidates can succeed on this issue, then that opens the door for others.
In addition, the very concept of sex work has changed considerably in wake of the pandemic, as indicated by the rise of those utilizing sites like OnlyFans. Those changes aren’t going to be automatically reversed once the pandemic is over.
There are many factors in play with this issue. It’s an issue that affects sexual attitudes, minorities, poverty, feminism, and so much more. That issue is sure to change even more once things like sex robots enter the picture. It won’t happen all at once, but this could be the beginning. Where it goes from here, only time will tell.
Not every issue changes so rapidly in such a short period of time. I honestly thought same-sex marriage wouldn’t be legal for decades when I graduated college. I thought it would take even longer for marijuana to be legalized. It turns out I was even more wrong about that.
As quickly as same-sex marriage gained acceptance, marijuana legalization has progressed even faster. It actually caught a lot of people by surprise. In 2012, two states legalized it through a ballot initiative. I don’t think even the most ardent weed legalization proponent expected it to progress as quickly as it did after that.
This trend, which I feel is objectively positive for society, is likely to spill over into other issues. That tends to happen a lot as social attitudes and norms evolve. What was considered taboo or undeniably negative for one generation is considered an issue of justice and progress to the next. We saw it with same-sex marriage in the early 2000s. Then, we saw it with weed in the 2010s.
Now, I suspect that the next issue to undergo that process might be prostitution, or sex work as it is more commonly known these days.
I make this claim with no expertise or insight. I’ve written about prostitution before, both in terms of its legality and its taboos. In terms of progress or change of any kind on this issue, there hasn’t been much since Nevada legalized prostitution decades ago. Unlike weed and same-sex marriage, prostitution has some unique challenges.
It recommends the decriminalization of consensual sex work, including those laws that prohibit associated activities—such as bans on buying, solicitation and general organization of sex work. This is based on evidence that these laws often make sex workers less safe and provide impunity for abusers with sex workers often too scared of being penalized to report crime to the police. Laws on sex work should focus on protecting people from exploitation and abuse, rather than trying to ban all sex work and penalize sex workers.
The policy reinforces Amnesty International’s position that forced labour, child sexual exploitation and human trafficking are abhorrent human rights abuses requiring concerted action and which, under international law, must be criminalized in every country.
When it first came out, this caused some uproar, especially among those who favored the Nordic Models of combating prostitution, which only criminalized the buyers of sex. That uproar hasn’t fully abated. There is still a great deal of disagreement on how best to reform prostitution laws to improve the situation for sex workers and combat human trafficking.
Then, the pandemic hit and like so many other things, we all had to rethink everything.
That’s a path that closely mirrors what happened with same-sex marriage. It’s also a path that the pandemic has reshaped considerably. Like every other industry, the sex industry has had to adapt. Even once the pandemic is over, it’s very unlikely things will go back to the way they once were.
The need for change is apparent now. That nature and extent of that change is still unclear. However, as the fight over weed legalization settles and same-sex marriage becomes mainstream, I believe it’s very likely we’ll see prostitution and sex work become a more pressing issue in the coming years. If for no other reason, it’ll have to be addressed. If it’s ignored, then expect progress on sex robots to accelerate even more rapidly.
At the same time, I don’t deny that not every adult is capable and not every child is ignorant. I’ve known people over 40 who have the maturity level of a 15-year-old. I’ve also known kids who are more mature than people twice their age. Everybody is different in terms of how and to what extent they mature. Some can handle adult situations better than others.
That brings me to strippers. I’m sure I have your attention now.
I bring it up because, this past year, a few strip club owners have been making waves in the news. Specifically, they’ve been protesting a law in Jacksonville from February 2020 that changes the minimum permissible age for a stripper from 18 to 21. That contrasts from many other jurisdictions, in which the minimum age is 18.
However, as what happened with the legal drinking age, this has become somewhat of a legal trend. Other jurisdictions have been seeking to raise the age limit, as well. They’re often met with protests, but so far the limits have been upheld. That may change with this case, as reported by AP News.
A lawyer representing 13 clubs and four dancers in Jacksonville argued before a federal judge that dancing is a form of expression protected under the First Amendment.
“This is just a ban on speech,” attorney Gary Edinger said.
The city law currently bans dancers under the age of 21 and was passed in an effort to reduce sex trafficking. The measure also requires dancer to have ID city-issued cards.
City attorneys said younger people are more susceptible to the coercion that’s often part of trafficking and argued that 21 is a safer age.
Now, set aside your feelings towards strip clubs for a moment. As someone who has been to more than a few and had a genuinely good time, I’ll make that effort too. I understand that, being a man, my perspective is going to be skewed. I still think it’s a relevant issue. Beyond the titillating undertones, there’s a bigger picture here worth considering.
It goes back to the questions I raised earlier about when someone becomes a legal adult. For much of the United States, reaching age 18 is often seen as a major milestone. It’s the age when you can become legally emancipated, which permits you to do all sorts of things like buy a car, buy a place of your own, and sign a contract.
What is it about that age that is so special? Legally speaking, it’s fairly arbitrary. We, as a society, just agreed that most people when they reach this age are mature enough to handle adult responsibilities. Sure, some take longer than others. Some reach that point before that age. It’s an imperfect judgement for an imperfect society.
However, we do make some exceptions, as we did with alcohol. Now, I don’t know if that exception is warranted. When I was in high school, I knew plenty of people under the age of 21 who drank regularly. Most were fairly responsible. A few couldn’t handle it. They’re just lucky Instagram wasn’t around back then.
If that exception is so flimsy, then what makes 21 better than 18 when it comes to strippers? We’re not talking about ingesting a substance that can kill you if taken in large quantities. We’re talking about people being allowed to show off their sexy bodies for willing customers. What’s the justification for raising the age requirements just three years?
The lawyers say that it’s a means of combating human trafficking. That’s a perfectly respectable effort, but one that is often misused and abused to attack the sex industry, as a whole. It can also be very counterproductive, as I’ve noted before. I can’t find any evidence at how raising the minimum affects human trafficking, but I doubt the lawyers involved in this case need it to win the argument.
You’ll never lose political points for saying you’re against human trafficking. The problem is when your efforts are largely symbolic or arbitrary, the results will lack substance.
Beyond this shallow justification, it’s also inconsistent. How can we explain to a legal adult that 18 is not old enough to allow them to strip for money? At 18, you can legally skydive, give blood, and join the military. All three of those activities come with dangers, but we let 18-year-olds consent to doing them. So, why do we make an exception for stripping?
Again, I’m not a lawyer, but I have a hard time justifying that exception. I’ve heard coherent arguments about the drinking age being 21. I’ve yet to hear a coherent argument about making the minimum stripper age 21.
Just saying it’ll help combat human trafficking isn’t enough. I’d like to see some evidence of that. I’d also like to understand why it’s still legal for an 18-year-old to have consensual sex, but they need to wait another three years before they can get naked for money. That just too arbitrary and inconsistent.
I understand age limits will always be arbitrary to some extent. I also understand that people get very uncomfortable when it comes to sex, nudity, and the people who do it for a living. We can never stop people from being horny or doing sexy things for money. We should have some reasonable regulations in place to govern that sort of thing. My question here is simple. Is raising the age requirements for strippers to 21 reasonable? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.
When you write a lot about sex robots and sex dolls, like I do, you tend to attract attention. It’s not always the fun kind of attention, but it’s still attention and I welcome it. I’ve been discussing this topic, and writing sexy short stories about it, long enough to make clear that my interest is serious. It really pays off when you connect with others who are equally serious.
That happened recently when some people from an actual sex doll brothel in Europe saw some of my articles. One of their representatives actually reached out to me and we organized a Skype call. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I was genuinely curious. It’s one thing to write about sex dolls and sex robots. It’s quite another to get actual insight from someone working in that field.
I’m grateful for the opportunity because the discussion we had was incredibly revealing. For the record, and in the interest of full disclosure, the sex doll company in question is called Naughty Harbor. Before you look them up, please note that their website has plenty of NSFW content. They work with sex dolls. That should be a given.
They currently operate out of the Czech Republic. They have facilities for both the manufacturing of sex dolls and for operating a small sex doll brothel. They haven’t been in business for very long, but they have been on the front line of this emerging industry.
The individual I spoke to, whose name I won’t disclose out of respect for his privacy, works closely with the founder and the owner of Naughty Harbor. He shared a great deal of information on the basics of the industry, the people who use it, the challenges of operating in 2020, and the emerging trends. Among the many issues that came up, here are some key highlights.
Issue #1: The Taboos And Stigma Of Sex Dolls Still Very Strong
This was probably the largest and most pressing challenge for Naughty Harbor and companies like it. Like most things related to sex, there are a host of taboos about sex dolls. From the people to use them to the people who buy them to the people who develop genuine connections with them, the stigma surrounding them is still incredibly strong.
At the same time, the demand for companionship and sexual experience is also strong. That’s never going away, no matter how much taboo or stigma is heaped upon it. Just ask the Catholic Church. That’s what drives the sex doll industry. With sex doll brothels now starting to emerge, the taboo is starting to wane to some degree.
The individual from Naughty Harbor explained how big a deal privacy was for customers. Some wanted absolutely no face-time with anyone. They wanted what amounted to a no-contact experience. They just call ahead of time, have someone set up a room with a sex doll, and have all the transactions occur behind a computer screen with complete anonymity.
It’s not unlike the type of no-contact deliveries that have become so common during the ongoing pandemic. It’s not like walking into a legal brothel, standing in front of a bunch of sex workers, and doing business out in the open. Even in places with liberal sex work laws, like Europe, the desire for privacy is still critical.
That’s likely to remain the same as more sex doll brothels open up. However, this is also where our discussion brought up other key insights.
Issue #2: The Pandemic’s Effect On The Industry
Like any industry, the ongoing that same pandemic I mentioned earlier is affecting the sex doll industry. The representative said outright that there has been a noticeable uptick in interest and sales. That makes sense too. People who have been stuck at home for weeks on end are bound to get lonely. Even if you live in a place with legal sex work, a pandemic is kind of a mood killer.
These sex dolls are suddenly seen as both a viable option and one that’s safer. You can clean a sex doll. In fact, Naughty Harbor reported that they’ve developed a very diligent process for sanitizing their sex dolls. It’s at a point where these sex dolls, including the ones being used at the brothel, are cleaner than your hands are this very instant.
For those who’ve become very conscious of germs and disease, as most of us have been under the pandemic, this is key. It’s an element of control and assurance you can’t get with a flesh and blood sex worker. It’s not even something you can get with a typical partner. There’s value in that and it outweighs any stigma or taboo.
While I wasn’t privy to exact numbers, Naughty Harbor did indicate that business has been strong for sex doll brothels during the pandemic. They’re expected to remain strong, even after the pandemic passes. If anything, it has shown people that this industry can provide a legitimate sexual outlet and that can be very beneficial for people.
Issue #3: Research And Benefits
Another interesting issue that came up was the ongoing research surrounding the use of sex dolls. Naughty Harbor is playing an active role in that effort. According to the representative, both manufacturers and sex doll brothel owners are coordinating with researchers who are interested in this field.
Make no mistake. The interest is growing and not just because of the pandemic.
Naughty Harbor believes that it can. Researchers are interested in just how much or how little help that a sex doll can provide. Even though they’re not alive, the mere facsimilia of human companionship is certain to have a tangible impact on someone’s psyche. The nature and extent of that impact remains unknown, but will be a key point of interest.
Between social isolation due to pandemics and the emerging concerns regarding the incel phenomenon, sex dolls could provide key points of interest. We’ll need that perspective, especially as sex dolls become more lifelike and eventually become sex robots.
Issue #4: They’re Getting More Lifelike
In addition to the social impact, we also talked quite a bit about the technology. The sex dolls of Naughty Harbor are quite lifelike, but you’d never mistake them for an actual person from afar. They’re still getting incredibly close, though. They’re just on the edge of that uncanny valley in which most sex dolls and sex robots operate at the moment.
The fact they still look artificial may be part of what fuels the taboo, but the technology is changing rapidly. The individual I spoke to says it’s getting both better and faster. Companies like Naughty Harbor are already using technology like 3D printing to both build and repair sex dolls. They’re also using better silicone blends that better mimic the feel of real human flesh.
They’re getting to a point where they can look like real people. They’re also at a point where they can be made to look exceedingly unreal for those with specific fantasies. That was something Naughty Harbor said is a growing trend. Those who seek the use of sex dolls don’t just want sex. They want an experience and they’re willing to pay for it.
Accommodating those fantasies is currently a niche market, but one that’s getting easier as the manufacturing processes are improving. It’s getting to a point where the only issue is scale, which is more a logistics challenge than a technical challenge.
Issue #5: They’re Getting Cheaper
Five years ago, if you wanted to buy a well-made sex doll, chance are you’d have to spend upwards of $5,000 to $7,000. There are used cars that cost less than that. That kind of cost is also a major barrier for those seeking an experience with a sex doll. It’s also helped keep the industry shrouded in taboo.
Today, that cost is not nearly as big a barrier as it once was. While many high-end sex dolls still cost thousands, many quality models now can be bought for less than $3,000. It’s less the cost of a used car and more the cost of a large appliance, like a refrigerator or washing machine. The models offered by Naughty Harbor range between $3,000 and $1,800.
That’s still not cheap, but it’s trending in a cheaper direction. In our conversation, we both agreed that once the price drops below $1,000, then the market will start to expand. I think there’s a psychological component to seeing something that costs less than four figures that makes it seem less daunting as a purchase. If you’re lonely, that may be a price you’re more willing to pay.
Like I said, the main issue now is scale. It’s hard to make a quality sex doll and charge a low price for it. Manufacturing is still quite labor intensive, especially for those who want to customize their dolls. That process will need refinement, but once that happens, it could become as easy and routine as ordering a pizza.
Issue #6: They’re Being Customized In Unexpected Ways
Another issue that came up, which I actually brought up, was the kind of customization that people are asking for. Naughty Harbor does offer customization options for their sex dolls, as most other companies doo. However, the customization requests haven’t been too extreme.
One common request is for dolls that look like ex-lovers. That is apparently more popular than those who want sex dolls resembling their favorite anime characters, which is a niche field in and of itself. That surprised me, but it probably shouldn’t. I can understand someone missing the physical intimacy once provided by an ex-lover, even if the relationship didn’t work.
It helps affirm that there’s a real emotional component to those who use sex dolls. Again, it’s not just about the sex or the sweet release that comes with it. There’s a deeper connection at play and it’s different than the release someone gets with a typical sex toy.
This led us to discuss whether anyone has requested a sex doll resembling a celebrity. At the moment, Naughty Harbor says that has not been a very common request, but they expect that to change. It’s only a matter of time before someone requests a sex doll that looks exactly like a popular Marvel, Disney, or DC Comics character.
If there’s money to be made, the industry will find a way. However, that will send it into some legally contested territory. While American sex doll manufacturers cannot make dolls out of real people, other countries don’t have those same restrictions. According to Naughty Harbor, the Czech Republic has no such laws on the books. I doubt that’ll remain true for long.
That brought us to the last issue that is sure to become prominent at some point.
Issue #7: The Legal Issues Are Just Beginning
At the moment, the laws in both Europe and the Americas designate sex dolls as sex toys. They’re basically classified as a far more elaborate version of a vibrator. For now, given their current place in the uncanny valley, that makes sense. The question is what happens when sex dolls become both more lifelike and more accessible to the general public.
Can you classify a sex doll brothel the same way you would a traditional brothel?
Can you make the act of essentially renting a sex toy illegal?
How do you even classify and regulate a service like producing sex dolls?
Those questions cannot go unanswered because there have already been some issues. One of the biggest involves the sale of sex dolls that resemble children. That’s an issue that Naughty Harbor acknowledged is a growing concern. At the moment, those kinds of sex dolls are illegal to make in many parts of the world, but there is an emerging black market for them, mostly out of Asia.
Like with any black market, there will be nefarious customers seeking nefarious providers for an illicit service. Naughty Harbor did say they work with the authorities on addressing this issue. At the same time, they too are trying to figure out the best way to deal with it. Like with many issues involving the sex industry, there’s always a chance that one particular effort could do more harm than good.
It’s a serious issue, but one that is making clear that sex dolls are here to stay. There is a demand for them and that’s not going away anytime soon. The law is very behind the curve right now. Naughty Harbor and I both agreed on that. At the same time, it may also be what’s driving the industry.
As concerns about sex work and human trafficking remain highly contentious, sex dolls might emerge as both a recourse and a complication. If the demand for human prostitution goes down while the demand for sex doll brothels goes up, then is that something the public and the politicians they vote for will accept?
Only time will tell. Naughty Harbor is just one of many companies in this emerging field. They’ll certainly have a part to play, especially as the industry matures and more research is conducted. Once it gets to a certain point, lawyers will get involved. That’s sure to complicate the industry, but after talking to Naughty Harbor, I’m fairly certain it cannot be stopped.
Once again, I’d like to thank Naughty Harbor for taking the time to speak with me about this issue. I hope to have more like them in the future. The sex doll industry is growing and evolving alongside other emerging technologies. It’s going to happen faster than most of us expect. Are we ready for it? That remains to be seen. I have my doubts, but I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this issue. A pandemic may have tempered our collective libidos, but our desires will eventually return. Like it or not, sex dolls may be a larger part of the sexual landscape from here on out.
We all have certain assumptions about prostitutes and the people who hire them. We have just as many assumptions about drug dealers, politicians, spies, celebrities, athletes, CEOs, minorities, the elderly, and our next door neighbors. Most of the time, those assumptions are inaccurate or incomplete. Even those with a shred of truth are just a tiny tree in a vast forest.
When it comes to prostitutes, though, it’s hard to shake those assumptions. It’s easy to find horror stories about victims of human trafficking and people who fell into sex work because they were desperate or coerced. However, those stories don’t paint a full picture of what this illicit and taboo world is like.
I’ve talked about prostitution before and why decriminalizing it is a good idea, both for sex workers and their clients. I’ve tried to be fair and objective when it comes to assessing the issue. I try to paint it in a legal, logical, and moral framework that does justice to all those involved. However, there are real human stories within this issue that are worth telling that transcend the legal and ethical issues.
Forget for a moment that sex is so taboo and complicated. For a moment, just focus on the people involved. Specifically, focus on those who actually hire sex workers. The profession wouldn’t exist without them. Most have assumptions about who these people are.
When you picture someone who hires a sex worker, you picture some fat, ugly, self-professed misogynist who sees women as walking playthings and their bodies as nothing more than toys to rent. I won’t say there aren’t assholes like that in this world, but they make up a very small minority. The actual people who hire sex workers are very different and very diverse.
Below is a video from Radio TTS, a channel I highly recommend, that has former and current sex workers tell the stories of clients who have made sad, tragic requests. By that, I don’t mean kinky or perverse. These are requests that reveal real, damaged individuals who seek the comfort of a sex worker. Some of these stories are very powerful. I urge you to listen to them with an open and compassionate mind.
I do have to issue a bit of a trigger warning, though. The last story in this video is not for the faint of heart. It’s downright tragic, but it’s still a story worth telling.
I hope that shifted your perceptions about sex workers and their clients. Like I said, their stories are worth telling. Regardless of how you feel about sex, sex work, or the people who hire them, the industry will continue to exist and stories like this will keep happening.
Imagine that you’re young, low on money, and in need of a quick buck. You do a few side-gigs, like drive a taxi or do some yard work. You make some money up front. You’re grateful for it. You wish you didn’t have to do it, but you still did and you’re ready to move forward with your life.
Now, imagine that same work you did ended up making someone else a boatload of money that continues to flow in, even though you’ve long since finished your part. Maybe while mowing the lawn, you discovered a priceless artifact under a tree stump. Maybe while driving a taxi, your car became the site of an infamous crime. Anyone with a white 1993 Ford Bronco SUV can attest to that.
With those ideas in mind, let’s talk about Mia Kalifa. If you don’t know who that is, just ask any straight man with an internet connection and a suspiciously large supply of tissue boxes. You might not get an honest answer, but rest assured, she’s a known public figure and not just because she has over 15 million followers on Instagram.
For someone who was that successful in an industry that’s already exceedingly crowded by an abundance of content, that just doesn’t seem to add up. Most working people make more than $12,000 in a year, even if they’re paid minimum wage. They even get to keep their clothes on. What’s going on here?
There is a context to that story. By her own admission, she was in the industry for about three months. She only got paid a flat rate of about $1,000 for each scene she did and, given how few she ended up doing, it’s still more than minimum wage. She basically made $12,000 for approximately two weeks of work. Ignoring, for the moment, that the work involved making porn, it’s not a terrible rate.
However, what stands out most about her story is that she continues to generate money for the companies that initially paid her. To this day, those scenes she shot still generate traffic for popular sites like PornHub and that traffic still makes its parent company, MindGeek, some additional profit.
Most people don’t know, or want to know for that matter, that the most popular porn sites and studios are owned by MindGeek. Think of any site your significant other won’t admit to visiting. Chances are, they own it. They’re basically the Amazon of porn. They’re so big that there really isn’t a close second.
It’s because they’re so big that Ms. Kalifa’s story isn’t unique. Most people who enter the porn industry, be they male or female, have to go through MindGeek in some form or another. They’re basically a monopoly and because of that, they can get away with shady practices, such as underpaying workers or short-changing them with fine print.
It’s not a situation unique to porn. Other elements of the entertainment industry have used similar practices for years. The music industry has plenty of examples of successful artists who sell millions of albums, but still go bankrupt because most of that money went to the companies they worked for rather than the artists themselves.
Think of any industry that involves performing or creating some kind of art. There’s a good chance that there are cases where someone creates something that becomes successful, but the creators themselves don’t profit from it. Only the companies profit.
Again, there’s a context to that. In industries like music, the top one percent of performers earn over three-quarters of the revenue. Most creative endeavors fail to turn a profit. As someone trying hard to break into the publishing industry, I can attest to how common failure and rejection are. These industries, as shady as their practices might be, need to make a profit and that often requires enduring many losses.
That’s exactly why Mia Kalifa’s story matters. It doesn’t just shed light on the less glamorous aspects of the porn industry. It highlights how the actual people behind popular media don’t reap as much of the benefits as we think. For porn stars, current and former, that’s made even harder by the stigma and taboos surrounding the industry. Ms. Kalifa endured those unpleasant elements more than most.
Given the dirty nature of the business, few politicians or advocates will loudly proclaim they want to help the people in the porn industry. The last few years have been very difficult for anyone in the sex industry. Laws are making sex work more restrictive and more dangerous to everyone involved. Performers will end up with the stigma, but the companies will get most of the profits.
To some extent, what happened to Mia Kalifa’s career is a microcosm of what’s happening to entertainment in general. We’re currently in an era where big companies are acquiring as much intellectual property as possible. Companies, be they major movie studios or porn producers, have a vested interest in controlling the content at the cost of the performers.
Since so few entertainment products turn a profit, these companies have too much incentive to short-change performers and creators. There’s no law that requires companies to give performers a small percentage of future earnings. There’s no law that stops them from exploiting the content created by performers, even if those same performers don’t want to be associated with the work anymore.
Given the money and influence of these companies, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. However, Mia Kalifa did us all a service by making people aware of this very flawed system. The fact that she did this while fully clothed and being brutally honest in a world that lives in alternative facts might be her best performance to date.
In addition, I’ve tried to focus on the bigger picture. That’s often necessary because debating gender politics can get frustratingly personal. I can make a perfectly reasonable argument on an issue like abortion, but that argument will get overshadowed by the fact that I’m a straight male. When it comes to something so divisive, the big picture is often the only one you can scrutinize.
I’m going to try talk about gender politics again and I’m going to get into a few specifics. I understand that’s risky. I also expect more than one person to disagree with my point, if not outright resent it. I’ll take that chance because I feel like this is a point worth making within the current political climate.
On top of gender politics, which covers a great many areas from media depictions to social issues, I’m going to explore it in the context of prostitution. It’s another issue I’ve scrutinized on both a legal and societal level. In this case, they’re intertwined in certain aspects that have major implications.
For those concerned with men’s issues, the issue rarely comes up. When I’ve asked about it on places like Reddit, most adopt the libertarian stance. It shouldn’t be illegal and it’s not the business of the government to prosecute consensual sexual behavior. There are a few who oppose it for other reasons, but there isn’t the same divide as there is in other men’s issues.
That could change very soon and, unlike other recent controversies involving gender, it could have serious legal implications. That’s because for the first time in generations, the legality of prostitution is a serious issue during a major election cycle. More than four presidential candidates have gone on record as saying they favor decriminalization of sex work. For such a taboo issue, that’s pretty remarkable.
Some have likened it to the recent successes surrounding the decriminalization of marijuana. Others contend that recent crackdowns on sex workers have added greater urgency to confront this issue. Whatever the source, prostitution is finally becoming a relevant issue and gender politics is sure to be part of it. Unfortunately, that may not be a good thing.
To understand why, it’s necessary to understand what happens when lawyers and the law enter a debate. This isn’t like the anti-harassment movement that seeks to help victims of exploitation in the entertainment industry. This deals in real-world legal issues that have decades of complicated precedent. Changing the law is going to have impacts that go far beyond any trending hashtags.
Gender politics is sure to affect these issues. It already has, to some extent. In recent years, prostitution has become intertwined with transgender rights because it’s not uncommon for transgender women resort to sex work for survival. Keeping prostitution illegal puts an already-vulnerable population at even greater risk of exploitation.
This is where the gender politics surrounding prostitution could either get slightly better or significantly worse. In a perfect exchange, the dynamics are simple. Two consenting adults agree on an exchange of money for sex. They carry out the act, exchange the money, and that’s the end of it. Both are satisfied, relatively speaking. There’s no further need for conflict.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Even in a world where prostitution laws are as equitable as possible, there are plenty of complications. Say, for instance, the two consenting adults agree to the exchange, but one fails or refuses to deliver on their part. Maybe a prostitute could suddenly change her mind about a client. Maybe a client feels the service did not warrant the payment.
How is this resolved?
What happens when someone tries to take a sex worker to court or vice versa?
How does the court or the police go about handling these issues in a way that protects the privacy and welfare of both parties? Is it even possible?
These are all relevant questions and gender politics can only complicate the answer. At the moment, most sex workers cannot go to the police or seek legal recourse when a client becomes abusive or uncooperative. If prostitution is decriminalized, then not only do they have recourse. They have leverage. To appreciate that leverage, consider the following scenario.
A married man with a steady job and several children is going through some serious issues with his wife. As a result, he seeks the intimate comfort with a female sex worker. They engage in multiple exchanges and, by the letter of the law, their actions are legal.
Then, one day, the sex worker incurs an unexpected debt she can’t pay. As a result, she finds out the married man is wealthy and asks for help. When he refuses, she threatens to go the police and claim that he was violent with her during one of their encounters. It’s not true, but filing a report will expose his activities to his family and likely ruin his life.
Very little in this scenario is outright illegal. The sex worker could get into a lot of trouble for filing a false report, but even if she cannot prove her case, the law allows her to pursue a recourse for a client who wrongs her and even if she doesn’t prevail, the client could still suffer incur significant damages.
It’s not just men who are vulnerable, either. Even if sex work is completely decriminalized and those who participate are safe from prosecution, it can still be used against them in entirely legal ways. To illustrate, consider this scenario.
A young woman gets accepted into a prestigious university, but is unable to pay all her expenses, despite having taken out multiple loans. She decides to get into sex work to make extra money, which helps her pay her way through college. She ultimately graduates with honors, gets a great job at a good company, and leaves sex work altogether.
Years later, someone she knew from college joins the company. They knew she did sex work on the side, but don’t bring it up. Then, they’re both up for a promotion and to get an edge, her associate reveals to the whole office that she did sex work. To prove it, this person provides an ad she used that they just happened to have saved.
The woman is humiliated and outraged. On top of that, she doesn’t get the promotion. She is so angry that she tries to sue the company and the person who revealed her past for damages. She also threatens to quit, but knowledge of her past is already public and even though her work was completely legal, it dissuades others from hiring her.
This issue isn’t entirely fictitious. In 2013, a California woman was fired from her teaching job after it was discovered that she’d worked in porn years ago. Even though what she did was perfectly legal, she lost her job and the appeal to get it back. With decriminalized sex work, this could become even more common.
In a world of decriminalized prostitution, those who seek the services of prostitutes are suddenly vulnerable in entirely new ways. A sex worker who need not fear arrest for their activities has a greater ability to expose their activities and use it against them. It doesn’t matter if it’s out of desperation or spite. The leverage is there.
The same applies to those who participate in sex work. Like it or not, there is still a heavy stigma for anyone who works in the sex industry. Even if prostitution is decriminalized, the stigma may still linger. If clients no longer fear arrest, then what’s to stop them from using that stigma against sex workers?
Whether you’re a man, woman, or transgender, these are major complications that have significant implications for everyone. They could ultimately widen the many divides within gender politics. Sex workers and clients alike could face significant, unwanted scrutiny that could trigger a whole host of new debates that nobody is ready for.
These issues aside, I’m still of the opinion that decriminalizing prostitution is preferable to prohibition. History shows time and again that prohibition does more harm than good. We cannot completely remove the harm, but at the very least, we can mitigate it.
Anyone who has dealt with lawyers for more than five minutes will likely tell you that the words you use in legal issues really matter. In fact, even punctuation matters. There has been more than one case in which the placement of a comma has made a difference measured in millions of dollars. When it comes to issues like prostitution, the stakes are even higher with respect to word choice.
For better or for worse, but mostly for worse, the debate surrounding prostitution has been derailed by poor word choice. That’s because when most people discuss prostitution these days, it gets caught up in rhetoric surrounding human trafficking, sexual slavery, and exploitation. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, there’s no way to get around such ugly verbiage.
Despite this, it hasn’t stopped anti-prostitution advocates from citing human trafficking as a reason for keeping prostitution illegal. However, as a few notable cases have revealed, broad scale prohibition of prostitution doesn’t work. That’s why a number of western countries have attempted other legal models to deal with the issue, the most popular being the Nordic Model.
Under this model, sex work isn’t entirely legalized. It’s legal to sell sexual services, but it isn’t legal to buy it. It’s basically akin to legalizing hot dog stands, but not the consumption of hot dogs. It may sound absurd, but the intention is to attack the demand surrounding prostitution, punishing the people who patronize an exploitative industry.
Liberals see prostitution as exploitation of women, minorities, and the poor.
Conservatives see prostitution as immoral, dirty, and sinful.
Feminists see prostitution as a product of oppressive, patriarchal traditions.
With such powerful opposition in mind, it might help to take a step back and understand the actual substance surrounding legal sex work. When most people think about legalized prostitution, they probably imagine scenes like the legal brothels that operate in Nevada or the Red Light Districts that operate in parts of Europe. However, that’s only a small part of a much larger story.
That’s because legalized prostitution is not the same as decriminalized prostitution. Make no mistake. The difference is subtle, but has huge implications and you don’t have to be a sex worker, a police officer, or a lawyer to appreciate them.
By and large, the presence of red light districts are a byproduct of legalization. That’s because under a legalization model, the government and local authorities regulate the practice. This is how it works in countries like Germany and the Netherlands. Like the Nordic Model, the intentions are good and it even sounds good on paper.
The government license sex workers, thus providing them with a legal paper-trail. They can also include things like mandatory health screenings, adherence to specific labor laws, and access to public services and benefits. Again, that sounds good and it has plenty of benefits, especially when compared to the inherent dangers of street prostitution.
The drawback is that government regulation of prostitution has the same issues associated with government regulation, in general. It effectively requires that the lives of sex workers be micromanaged to a degree that those who work in fast food or coal mines don’t experience. Those who don’t abide by those regulations are as worse off as they were under illegal prostitution.
In essence, legal prostitution improves things for sex workers who are able to comply with the various regulations. Given how many sex workers come from poor or marginalized backgrounds, this ensures that not everyone enjoys the benefits of legal protections. It essentially creates two tiers of prostitution in which one is still very vulnerable to exploitation and the government gets to decide who is in that tier.
Regardless of how much you trust the government to decide who in the sex trade to protect, the legal shortcomings are inherent. This is where decriminalized prostitution sets itself apart. In this model, the government doesn’t exactly legalize prostitution as much as it removes the criminal penalties associated with its activities.
It’s a small, but critical distinction in that the government and the authorities don’t play favorites with who they prosecute and who they ignore. They still have to enforce laws surrounding violence and coercion. That means human trafficking is still illegal. You can’t force someone to become a sex worker any more than you can force them to work in a copper mine. Essentially, it treats sex work as actual work.
While I’m sure that offends the sensibilities of many people on various parts of the political spectrum, it does frame sex work in an important context. In almost every form of labor, there’s room for exploitation. Workers can be underpaid and subject to deplorable conditions. Shady business practices can ensure that only a select few see the benefits. Decriminalization makes no special exceptions for sex work.
The same laws that attempt to combat those practices in other businesses are simply applied to sex work. Even in the United States, if prostitution were decriminalized tomorrow, human trafficking and forced labor would still be illegal. It would just be treated the same as those who employ trafficked labor to work in agriculture or factories.
To some extent, this makes sex work less taboo from a legal standpoint. When you make special classifications for specific behaviors, it sends the message that there’s something that sets it apart from other similar activities. In societies where sexual activity is subject to all sorts of taboos outside prostitution, it can effectively reinforce many of those taboos.
It recommends the decriminalization of consensual sex work, including those laws that prohibit associated activities – such as bans on buying, solicitation and general organization of sex work. This is based on evidence that these laws often make sex workers less safe and provide impunity for abusers with sex workers often too scared of being penalized to report crime to the police. Laws on sex work should focus on protecting people from exploitation and abuse, rather than trying to ban all sex work and penalize sex workers.
It’s still not a perfect policy, but that makes it all the more important to understand the differences between what’s being done now and what could be done in the future. Prostitution is called the world’s oldest profession for a reason. Human beings are sexual creatures. They are wired to seek sex. There will always be those who seek it and those willing to provide it for a price.
Laws can change, but no amount of legal distinctions and enforcement are going to change human nature. The emergence of sex robots and sex doll brothels promise to further complicate the issue. There’s no one perfect way to handle an issue as sensitive as prostitution, but there are plenty of ways to make it worse.
Where do you turn to when you need to confide in someone? Who can you trust to listen to your problems, not judge you, and show you basic human decency? Some people are lucky enough to have one or more person they can turn to during difficult times.
For me, it’s my parents. Both my mother and my father have always been there for me, no matter what I’m going through. I can tell them anything and I know they’ll listen. They won’t judge me. They won’t tell me to just suck it up. They’ve helped me through some pretty difficult times and I love them deeply for that.
Some people aren’t as lucky. They don’t have close friends or family members they feel they can turn to. This is especially true for those with poor social skills or severe social anxieties. These issues affect everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. However, in recent years, the impact on men has been more pronounced.
As a result, some of those men have been turning to an unexpected source when they need to confide in someone. It’s not friends, family members, or licensed therapists. It’s sex workers. While there are plenty of ugly politics surrounding sex work, some of which I’ve discussed, this unusual phenomenon makes sense, albeit for tragic reasons.
“Yesterday, a miracle happened. Since my wife passed, I’ve been very lonely. I haven’t so much as been hugged in over two years. I’m not handsome. I’m not rich. I don’t know how to talk to women, but you held me. You rubbed my back. You listened to me vent about my grief. This might just be a job for you, but today you saved my life.”
Think about this aside from the fact that a man hired a sex worker. This man was lonely, having lost his wife and not experienced much physical intimacy since then. He’s not some charismatic character from a beer commercial. He’s just an ordinary man with the same basic needs as everyone else. He felt like he couldn’t meet those needs so he turned to a sex worker.
Why he felt this way is difficult to surmise, but as a man, I can make a few educated guesses. Like it or not, there’s a stigma associated with men who share their insecurities. I learned that first-hand last year when I dealt with the death of someone very close to me. Even though I was comfortable confiding in my parents, I still felt inclined to hold back.
Regardless of the cause, the issue comes back to having few outlets for their feelings. Not everyone can afford a therapist and some are even reluctant to share these sentiments online. Given the prevalence of trolling these days, I can’t say I blame them. In that context, a sex worker is in a perfect position to help these men.
Yes, I’m aware that may be a poor choice of words.
Logistically, it provides them with something clear and transparent. The man knows what the woman wants. The woman knows what the man wants. The price is clear and predetermined. There’s no uncertainty or mixed messages.
Even without the sex, a sex worker offers the man something that’s difficult to find, even in today’s hyper-connected world. For once, they’re with someone who will listen to them in a way that’s objective, unbiased, and free of judgment. A sex worker may see them as a client, but part of their work involves providing intimacy. Oftentimes, the line between physical and emotional intimacy isn’t clear.
Ms. Emma, having been a sex worker for years, understood that and, based on her personal testimony, she did her job very well. That man she referenced benefited from having that kind of intimacy. Unlike a therapist or a counselor, she didn’t treat him as someone who was sick or in need of medication. She just treated him as a lonely man who needed some intimacy.
I think many men can empathize with that situation. I doubt don’t that women can empathize with it as well. Sometimes, you don’t want therapy and you don’t want the complexities of other social interactions. You just want someone who provides a service that allows you to feel some basic level of emotional and physical intimacy.
People need emotional and physical outlets, regardless of gender. The fact that sex workers are the primary outlet for some men is emblematic of a much larger problem. Beyond the taboos, stigmas, and misguided gender politics, we’re still human. We all still seek intimate connections. Without it, people will suffer and ignoring that suffering will only make it worse.
What constitutes cheating in a relationship? It’s a simple question with not-so-simple answers. It often varies from couple to couple. For some, a simple kiss counts as cheating. For others, nothing beyond full sexual intercourse counts as cheating. For a few, even sex doesn’t count, provided there’s no deeper emotions involved.
It’s a difficult issue, but one in which the factors are clear. You have two people in a relationship. Ideally, they want that relationship to work and part of that involves being faithful. Cheating undermines that. Regardless of whether you think humans are inherently monogamous, it’s generally a good idea to understand the merits of fidelity.
Now, take every complication that surrounds cheating and throw sex robots into the mix. It doesn’t just require that we reevaluate what counts as cheating. It changes many of the fundamental factors behind it.
What inspired this particular issue was a study conducted by the University of Helsinki that evaluated attitudes on cheating, prostitutes, and sex robots. The methodology was fairly straightforward. It surveyed participants’ reactions to a particular scenario involving a 30-year-old individual whose gender varied from that of those responding.
The scenario was that, while on a business trip, the individual visited either a prostitute or a sex robot. Sometimes the individual was married. Sometimes they were single. For the most part, respondents didn’t condemn the person for using either if they were single, although the one using the sex robot wasn’t subject to too much scorn.
However, it was when the person was in a committed relationship where the data really diverged. Whether the person visited a sex robot or a prostitute, they were still guilty of cheating in the eyes of the respondents. Those who used the service of the sex robot, though, weren’t as harshly condemned. In other words, using a sex robot isn’t the same as soliciting a prostitute.
This insight is pretty striking, in and of itself. It has major implications for the prostitution industry, which has been subject to some major upheavals in recent years. If this research is any indication, the market is about to get very ripe for sex robots. As prostitution becomes increasingly taboo, sex robots may emerge as a more palatable alternative.
That said, the study did make clear that the participants saw using sex robots as a form of cheating. Even if it wasn’t cheating on the same level, it still constituted cheating to some extent. This is revealing in the context of sex robots because, unlike living prostitutes, it ascribes an emotional connection.
These aren’t vibrators, dildos, or flesh lights. These are robots that look, feel, and act like living people. A woman bringing herself to orgasm with a vibrator or a man doing the same with the aid of internet porn is seen as an individual act. The function is the same, though. These devices are created with the intent of giving the user a sexual experience.
It creates a situation in which this unspoken standard emerges in the context of cheating. People in a relationship may not always like that their significant other gets a sexual release without them, but generally won’t consider them using toys or porn an issue, although that does become an issue for certain people.
In the context of this study, sex robots hint that those in a relationship own their significant other’s sexuality to some extent. If they’re not getting their release from them, then that counts as cheating. It’s easier to overlook with sex toys because they don’t have faces or a measure of intelligence. Once it becomes human-like, though, it becomes an issue.
This aspect of cheating, establishing that how someone goes about pursuing individual sexual experiences, will require people in relationships to start asking some uncomfortable questions.
Do those in a relationship have a say in how their partner goes about pursuing a sexual release on their own?
Just how much should sex be a factor in determining what constitutes cheating?
What is the fundamental difference between a sex robot and a sex toy?
Does using a sex robot constitute a unique sexual experience beyond cheating?
There is one component, however, of this study and this issue that I feel is worth highlighting. Unfortunately, it involves gender politics and I know how heated that can get. I have a feeling that just pointing this out is going to trigger all sorts of heated discourse, but it’s still worth noting.
In the same University of Helsinki study, there was one bit of data that’s sure to complicate future discussions of cheating. Regardless of whether prostitutes or sex robots were involved, there was a gender difference in terms of condemnation. Specifically, women gave stronger condemnation to users of both prostitutes and sex robots. This is the exact quote from the study.
“There was a consistent difference in how female subjects showed slightly stronger condemnation than male subjects.”
The keyword in there is “slight,” but in research, those differences matter. Some of that difference could be cultural. This research was conducted among young college students in Scandinavia. The demographics and sample size is worth taking into account.
That said, such a difference does seem to reflect the extent to which gender matters with respect to cheating. The women, in this study, had a broader definition of what constituted cheating. A sex robot and a prostitute aren’t that different. Both warrant condemnation. Both can be used as a means of judgment and scorn.
As sex robot technology becomes more advanced, this difference is likely going to become more apparent. As a result, it’s likely to trigger even more gender-driven conflicts than we have now, which is saying something given the topics that trigger such conflicts. Changing concepts of cheating will likely intensify those conflicts.
Again, and this is a necessary disclaimer for research of any kind, this study is not definitive. It’s still worth studying, though. It provides a telling clue at where the line is right now with respect to cheating. It also hints at just how much it’s going to change in the coming years as sex robots become more advanced.