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Legalizing Vs. Decriminalizing Prostitution: Knowing The Difference And Why It Matters

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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.

That’s a big problem too because, as I’ve noted before, sex work and human trafficking aren’t the same thing. That’s not just me saying that. This is what actual data says. According to research conducted by the International Labour Organization, only 22 percent of human trafficking victims are forced into sex work. The vast majority of victims end up in other forms of forced labor.

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.

While that sounds noble on paper, the results don’t line up with the goals. There’s no evidence that this model makes people less inclined to want sex from a prostitute. There’s also no evidence that it has improved the lives of sex workers. Even so, whenever prostitution comes up, any discussion of legalization is bound to draw ire from anyone who isn’t an ardent libertarian.

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’s for that reason, among many others, that more human rights organizations now favor decriminalizing prostitution over legalization or the Nordic Model. Among those organizations include the likes of Amnesty International, who issued their official position back in 2016 wherein they stated the following:

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.

At the moment, the only country that has embraced decriminalization is New Zealand. While it’s not perfect, the research on the effectiveness of policies show promise. It’s also the policy that many sex workers themselves advocate.

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.

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Why More Men Are Confiding In Sex Workers

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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.

Rather than speculate on those reasons, I’ll let Nicole Emma share the distressing details from her recent Ted Talk. While I strongly recommend everyone to listen to the full lecture, this one anecdote she shared nicely sums up the issue.

“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.

I know I’m not the only man who has felt this and there are people far smarter than me who have studied this. There are many factors behind this taboo. Some will blame “toxic masculinity,” a flawed concept at best. Others will attribute it to certain expectations about men that we simply don’t scrutinize as much as we should.

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.

Beyond the logistics, the exchange fulfills some of basic of needs. There’s actual, physical intimacy. There’s no screen between the man and the sex worker. There’s real human contact and that, in and of itself, provides significant health benefits. Add the inherent health benefits of orgasms and the impact of a sex worker can be more therapeutic than any therapist.

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.

Regardless of how you feel about the legality of prostitution or the men who hire sex workers, there’s no denying that this sort of intimacy is a fundamental need. We’ve seen what happens when people don’t get it. In recent years, we’ve seen it get downright ugly and hateful.

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.

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How Self-Driving Cars Will Change Sex Work (For The Better)

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When it comes to emerging technology, there’s one inescapable byproduct that I’m sure confounds plenty of inventors and innovators. If said technology can be used to enhance and/or accommodate sex, it will. It’s like taxes, gravity, or traffic during rush hour. It’s inescapable.

While I’m sure the inventor of the back massager knew on some levels that it was going to be used for lurid purposes, there are plenty of others who had no idea how horny people would use their creations. I suspect that those developing self-driving cars know that at some point, a horny couple will have sex in a self-driving car. It’s just a matter of relegating it to a secondary concern, at most.

Even if you don’t closely follow to ongoing trends of the auto industry, it’s hard to overlook the recent news surrounding self-driving cars. This is not some far-off technology like smart blood, artificial wombs, or warp drives. This is a rapidly-maturing technology that is happening. As we speak, big companies like Uber, Apple, and Tesla are testing this technology.

I can even personally attest to the potential of this technology. Earlier this summer, I got a chance to ride in a Tesla Model S with a self-driving feature. It was quite an experience and I can verify that the technology worked. The car drove itself on a busy highway in the middle of the day. The driver still kept his hands close to the wheel, but the results exceeded my expectations.

While riding in that car, I wondered for a brief moment how this would lead to more sex on the road. Being an aspiring erotica/romance writer, those kinds of thoughts come to me fairly often. With this, it was easy to envision.

The car drives itself.

The driver and the passenger get bored.

As they combat the boredom, they get horny.

Since the car is taking care of itself, they decide to have sex and make their road trip memorable.

I think it’s inevitable. I bet that on the same day self-driving cars enter the market, some adventurous couple will celebrate by having sex in one. It might be so expected that it won’t even make the news. People already have sex in cars, even while they’re moving. Self-driving cars will just make it easier.

This is where sex work enters the equation. It’s another, less common byproduct of technology. Whenever something comes along to change the sexual landscape, it often finds its way into sex work. It happened with the internet. It happened with smartphones. It’s going to happen with self-driving cars.

The impact won’t be direct. It might not even be immediate. However, self-driving cars are bound to affect everything from urban planning to job markets to personal finances. It’s not too great a stretch to believe that it’ll effect sex work.

I’m not the only one who has speculated on this issue. One academic from the University of Surrey and Oxford stated that self-driving cars could be the brothels of the future. Instead of hotel rooms, apartments, massage parlors, or street corners, a self-driving car could act as a mobile red light district, bringing sex workers to clients with greater ease than ever before.

Considering the recent legal upheavals to the world of sex work, self-driving cars may arrive in a chaotic market that is rapidly adapting to new circumstances. Today, it’s a lot harder for sex workers to operate online. It’s also increasingly difficult for them to organize and find support on any area of the political spectrum beyond standard libertarians.

Conservatives see prostitution as immoral and deviant, favoring prosecution and punishment of providers and clients alike.

Liberals see prostitution as exploitative and oppressive, favoring policies that prosecute pimps and treat sex workers as victims.

As a result, operating as a sex worker is very difficult. Even if you live in an area that doesn’t criminalize sex work, as done by the increasingly popular Nordic Model, the logistics of having a place to operate and getting to customers is still fraught with complications. It’s here where self-driving cars could be a potential game-changer.

The most obvious and immediate impact has to do with mobility. As it stands, sex workers have to either operate on the streets or advertise online. Both have only become more dangerous in recent years. A self-driving car is akin to a Taxi that doesn’t ask questions or judge a sex worker on what they may or may not be wearing.

With self-driving cars, sex workers have a cheaper, more anonymous method for getting to clients and expanding their reach. They don’t have to stand on dirty street corners or stay in seedy hotels with questionable laundry service. They can get to where they need to go and not have to rely on a pimp or partner, which is critical in terms of limiting exploitation.

That’s one of the key factors in what makes sex work so dangerous in places where it’s illegal. Sex workers can’t rely on the police or standard legal services for protection. Pimps, including the violent kind, provide that service in a black market environment where workers have to surrender their autonomy in exchange for safety. Self-driving cars could make those services less necessary.

That means sex workers will be able to operate more independently. In terms of limiting the potential for abuse, that’s critical. While the operations of sex work are difficult to study, most research has shown that independent sex workers are better able to avoid the abuse and exploitation that often follows the illegal sex trade. Self-driving cars could make that easier for more sex workers.

Beyond the logistics, self-driving cars could actually become a life-saving tool for sex workers. One of the greatest dangers they face is escaping a violent client. In the past, a sex worker had to rely on a pimp or a fellow worker to get out of those situations. Even calling a cab was risky because, for all they knew, the driver could refuse to help them or report them to the police.

A self-driving car is less prone to ask questions. In addition to being cheaper, it could get them farther away from a bad situation and allow them to operate far from their where they reside. They don’t need to be confined to certain areas or districts. They can move around more freely and expand their reach while keeping more of the money they make.

That’s just the initial impact, though. There are plenty more potential benefits that self-driving cars could bring to the world of sex work. That concern about mobile brothels is probably not an exaggeration. The current laws prohibiting brothels in many jurisdictions assume that domain of sex workers isn’t moving. That wouldn’t apply to a self-driving vehicle.

Even in places where prostitution is legal, establishing a brothel is riddled with all sorts of red tape and regulations. A self-driving car that operates as a brothel isn’t constrained by zoning laws or specified districts. It literally goes to wherever the demand is. Considering how expensive apartments and hotel rooms are in some areas, a self-driving car/brothel may actually be the most cost-effective way for a sex worker to operate.

Given these potential benefits, it’s very likely that plenty of areas would seek to prohibit or regulate this kind of prostitution. However, I suspect that enforcing those laws would be even more difficult than the existing statutes. If a self-driving car operating as a brothel is always moving and the sex workers are discrete, then how would the public or the authorities even know?

There’s also the possibility that self-driving cars could make some aspects of the sex industry even worse. A self-driving car could make activities like human trafficking easier by giving traffickers a cheap new way to move people around. It could also set up some tricky legal battles, especially if sex workers regularly move between areas where prostitution is legal and illegal.

One way or another, self-driving cars are going to affect the world of prostitution in ways that neither an academic from the University of Surrey and Oxford nor an aspiring erotica/romance writer can contemplate. Given how prevalent prostitution has been in every society, no matter hard religion and government tries to suppress it, enterprising sex workers will find a way make the most of it.

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Why Prostitution Is Illegal And Why It Shouldn’t Remain Illegal

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When it comes to matters of sex, there are usually two components. One involves passion, emotion, and intimate connection. That’s the romantic side of the equation, the one often glorified in my novels and in centuries worth of romantic media. That side is rarely controversial. In a perfect world, the primary purpose of sex would be to celebrate that connection and propagate the human species. That’s it.

Sadly, and unsurprisingly, we don’t live in a perfect world. That’s why the second component exists. That’s the economic side of sex, the one that involves utilizing sex as a means of exchanging value. That value doesn’t always involve money, resources, or vengeance for a bitter ex-lover. However, the nature of that value is what gives this form of sex greater taboo.

It’s because we glorify the romantic aspects of sex that the idea of treating it like any other exchange makes some people feel uncomfortable. The idea that the intimate act we do with the love of our life in a candle-lit bedroom in Paris is no different from a couple of strangers having a quickie in a gas station bathroom on the Jersey Turnpike just doesn’t sit well.

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It’s that sentiment that has kept prostitution and sex work of all kinds illegal in most of the developed world. It’s also why efforts to change the legal status of sex work often encounters strong opposition. It’s not just from the uptight Puritanical crowd who are against anything that feels to good. Even those within secular organizations oppose it.

Prostitution, sex work, or whatever you want to call it has a long, colorful history. It has always had a place in every society in some form or another. It’s in the bible, it’s in the ancient world, and it has found a way to thrive even in the most repressive of eras. Wherever there are resources to be exchanged or just a large collection of horny individuals, prostitution finds a way. It’s kind of like life itself.

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It’s for that reason that making prostitution illegal and keeping it illegal seems both asinine and futile. It’s one of those issues that has too many forces from both sides of the political spectrum working against it to ever change. Considering the growing concerns over our current approach to sex, it’s an issue that deserves greater scrutiny.

While efforts to regulate or prohibit prostitution are nothing new, the reasons for doing have changed. For most of human history, the reasons were entirely pragmatic. In the days before modern medicine, unregulated prostitution could lead to outbreaks of deadly diseases. Some of those diseases were so debilitating that it’s entirely understandable that many would adopt a very prohibition-centered approach.

As with other prohibitions though, the effects only went so far. Despite all the health risks and moral considerations, there seemed to be this unspoken understanding that prostitution is inevitable. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, a man who had a very narrow view of sin, is said to have said this about prostitution.

“Prostitution is like a sewer in a palace. Take away the sewer and you will fill the palace with pollution.”

Older societies might not have had access nearly as much knowledge as we do today, but they did notice one thing. A society full of horny people with no outlet for all that sexual energy is not a stable one. We even see evidence of that today. Even with the risk of disease in an era before modern medicine, those societies understood that.

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It wasn’t really until the early 20th century that the western world really made a push for prohibition. It coincided with other social purity movements that fought for the prohibition of alcohol, gambling, and anything else you can do in Las Vegas on a weekend. It had less to do with pragmatics and more to do with a moral resurgence fueled by religion and political zeal.

While that movement eventually conceded that prohibition of alcohol was fruitless, the anti-prostitution laws they inspired still lingers. As it stands, prostitution is illegal in most of the United States, except for a few places in Nevada. In Europe, there’s a messy patchwork of legality that ranges from fully legal, to quasi-legal, to outright illegal.

Regardless of what the laws say, prostitution exists and will continue to exist. The only thing that changes are the reasons for combating it. Most people these days won’t get into a moral debate about whether two consenting adults having sex is immoral, even if they’re not married. They will, however, show great concern about exploration and subjugation.

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Today, anti-prostitution attitudes are shaped largely by concerns over human trafficking, a crime that is horrible on too many levels to list. Whether by coincidence or agenda, prostitution is so closely tied to human trafficking that the two are sometimes used interchangeably. Considering how human trafficking often involves more than just sex, that’s not a fair comparison.

Fair or not, it’s that underlying concern that ensures attitudes about prostitution remain predominantly negative. It certainly doesn’t help that many of the victims of human trafficking are mostly disadvantaged women, whose suffering has become a much larger issue in recent years.

While nobody doubts the awful nature of human trafficking and the exploitation of innocent women, it still undercuts the very understanding that many societies in the past either accepted or learned the hard way. A society without a sexual outlet is not a stable one.

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Whether you’re concerned about the effects of “toxic masculinity” or people developing unhealthy attitudes about sex in general, the attitudes the fuel the prohibition are the same sentiments that keep people from exploring their sexuality. If their desire to just have sex for the sake of sex is seen as a flaw, then that’s going to cause problems. As I’ve noted before, treating sexual desires as a disease rarely works out.

There’s no doubt that there are those who become prostitutes out of desperation, just as there are people who work in fast food restaurants out of desperation. There are also those who freely choose to become prostitutes and even enjoy their work. Ironically, laws prohibiting prostitution hurts both by relegating it to the criminal underworld.

Treating prostitution as a crime seriously undermines the impact of real crimes. It’s not like murder, theft, or violence. These are activities that actively harm other individuals and involve someone going out of their way to subvert someone else’s will or property. Prostitution, namely the kind that involves two consenting adults, involves no such subversion.

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However, by making it illegal, it ensures that there will be criminal elements involves. Criminal elements, by default, involve the kind of violence, theft, and deviance that supporters of prohibition cite. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of the worst kind. It’s like shooting yourself in the foot to protest gun violence.

That’s not to say there’s no hope for reforming our attitudes surrounding prostitution. There are branches of sex-positive feminism out there that support recognizing sex work as actual work. Back in 2016, Amnesty International even adopted an official position stating that the decriminalization of prostitution is critical to the pursuit of human rights.

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While society is probably a long way from full legalization, at least until sex robots are perfected, the attitudes that keep it illegal may end up being more harmful in the long run. The late, great George Carlin said it best with a simple, succinct, and naturally hilarious question.

“I don’t understand why prostitution is illegal. Selling is legal, fucking is legal. So why isn’t it legal to sell fucking?”

The fact that such insightful logic is so funny also makes it kind of frustrating. It’s almost tragic, to some extent, that we insist on complicating what should be a very simple concept. Not every sex act can be an act of passion, just as not every act of passion need be a sex act.

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If society is going to develop healthier attitudes towards sex, then we’re need to give people the ability and opportunities to explore. Prostitution, whatever our attitudes may be, will likely be part of that effort. Any effort to eliminate it completely is doomed to fail. That’s why it’s called the world’s oldest profession.

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