Prostitution: Desire and Reality

Prostitution as the oldest profession? Maybe. The exchange of sex for something else of value (money, food, protection, religious favour) has certainly existed in just about every society we know about. In a refreshingly frank essay in The Observer, Sebastian Horsley explains the reasons that some men prefer their sex with prostitutes:

"The problem with normal sex is that it leads to kissing and pretty soon you've got to talk to them. Once you know someone well the last thing you want to do is screw them. I like to give, never to receive; to have the power of the host, not the obligation of the guest. I can stop writing this and within two minutes I can be chained, in the arms of a whore. I know I am going to score and I know they don't really want me. And within 10 minutes I am back writing. What I hate are meaningless and heartless one-night stands where you tell all sorts of lies to get into bed with a woman you don't care for...

What I want is the sensation of sex without the boredom of its conveyance. Brothels make possible contacts of astounding physical intimacy without the intervention of personality. I love the artificial paradise; the anonymity; using money, the most impersonal instrument of intimacy to buy the most personal act of intimacy. Lust over love, sensation over security, and to fall into a woman's arms without falling into her hands ...

The big difference between sex for money and sex for free is that sex for money usually costs a lot less."

Unfortunately, Horsley goes on to argue that prostitution should be kept illegal because "crime and risk are part of the texture of life ... Risk is what separates the good part of life from the tedium." This is fair enough, I suppose, for the johns who like that kind of thrill, but I don't see how that helps a working woman in any way. More, he goes on to suggest that prostitution involves no exploitation:
"Of course, the general feeling in this country is that the man is somehow exploiting the woman, but I don't believe this. In fact, the prostitute and the client, like the addict and the dealer, is the most successfully exploitative relationship of all. And the most pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no squalid power game. The man is not taking and the woman is not giving."
Compare this, if you will, with the following passage from a searing article about prostitution in Vancouver:
"Walking along the back wall of the balcony [in a Vancouver porno theatre], behind rows of seats, it's impossible to miss a man and woman having sex in a stairwell leading up to the projection room. Several male patrons stand or sit nearby and watch the action. When the couple finish, the woman pulls down her skirt and slips back into a leather jacket, which hangs loosely from astonishingly thin shoulders. She stands unsteadily and her skin is pale, but she quickly heads down the stairs from the balcony area and pushes through the back door leading to the alley. The man, who's obviously well-fed, white, in his 50s and wearing clean dark pants and a bomber jacket, also heads out to the alley, but through a different door. "These drug-addicted girls are treated like garbage by the customers," says [sex-trade activist Jamie Lee] Hamilton. "And when one man pays for sex the others all crowd around thinking they can have a go for free" ...

Hamilton says one woman recently told her that management charges her and the other sex workers $10 each time they enter and re-enter the theatre-customers pay $8 admission and are allowed to leave and return the same day without paying an additional fee. Couples can also rent one of two "VIP" private rooms where they can watch movies in private, for about $20 an hour. The woman told Hamilton that when she can't afford the $10, management will give her credit until she makes enough to pay them. The woman claims that on a good day she can make up to $200. She makes an average of $10 to $20 per trick, but because she leaves often during the day to buy and use drugs, a large percentage goes back to the theatre when she pays the $10 entry fee


In Canada, it was long ago recognised that prohibiting a woman from selling her body could never pass muster under modern civil rights codes and, therefore, prostitution is technically legal. However, under "soliciting" provisions, it is illegal to discuss the business in public, and the police -- while claiming a shortage of officers to handle serious crimes -- seem always eager to harass hookers under these regulations. This situation
"puts street workers at risk because it puts them under constant pressure to avoid police by rushing through negotiations with potential clients. Sex workers often get into cars without having adequate time to screen a client or ensure that they are going to be adequately compensated for the service they agree to provide. The law also effectively forces sex workers to work in areas of the city that are isolated and out of public view, leaving them vulnerable to violence and predators with little chance of receiving help if needed."
The current status of prostition legislation positively encourages crime, disease, exploitation by both clients and pimps, and the degredation of women. This must end. How can it possibly hurt anyone should these women be allowed to set up self-supporting brothels? They would get the sex off the streets -- there are blocks and blocks of Vancouver's downtown eastside where these poor girls openly trade today -- and contribute to an increase in self-esteem, self-support, and good health among the workers.

What is stopping us doing this? I don't fully understand, but it must have something to do with our truly perverted sense of values. We encourage young boys (and girls, these days) to pull themselves out of the ghettos by selling their bodies to be used as punching bags in boxing contests (top ranked heavyweights are among the highest paid individuals on the planet), and yet the sale of an intimate and pleasurable experience is actively persecuted. We see hundreds of deaths and mutilations on TV every day, and yet two seconds of Janet Jackson's nipple earns record fines and sanctions.

I have no idea how this reversal of reasonable values came about, but I do know it is perverted.

September 28, 2004 in B.C., Prostitution, Vancouver | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack