494: Sex Work

Do you think prostitution and/or sex work should be legal?


Full episode script

Prostitution and sex work are sometimes referred to as “the world’s oldest profession” — which I have some serious critiques of — but trading money or items of value for sexual activity is something that has been going on in just about every recorded human society in some form or fashion.

In 2012, the UN put out a report that called for the decriminalization of sex work. As reported in the Washington Times:

“Nearly all countries of Asia and the Pacific criminalize some aspects of sex work, … [but] criminalization increases vulnerability to HIV,” said Cherie Hart, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), describing the dangers of contracting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

The report called for the decriminalization of prostitution because it found “no evidence from countries of Asia and the Pacific” that outlawing the sex trade has prevented HIV epidemics among sex workers and their clients.

There’s also the argument that criminalization makes many of the problems of sex work worse. From Business Insider, quote:

As Cornell law professor Sherry Colb has written, “Prostitution should not be a crime. Prostitutes are not committing an inherently harmful act. While the spread of disease and other detriments are possible in the practice of prostitution, criminalization is a sure way of exacerbating rather than addressing such effects.”

That’s not to say that there are universal arguments calling for decriminalization. As Rachel Moran wrote in the New York Times in 2015:

I know there are some advocates who argue that women in prostitution sell sex as consenting adults. But those who do are a relatively privileged minority — primarily white, middle-class, Western women in escort agencies — not remotely representative of the global majority. Their right to sell doesn’t trump my right and others’ not to be sold in a trade that preys on women already marginalized by class and race. The effort to decriminalize the sex trade worldwide is not a progressive movement. Implementing this policy will simply calcify into law men’s entitlement to buy sex, while decriminalizing pimping will protect no one but the pimps.

It’s a massively complex and complicated question that is tied up in everything from economics to morality to race, class, and gender politics alike. So…

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.