Moral Objections, and Legalizing Prostitution

For once, I’d like to pose a question without necessarily providing an answer: should prostitution be legal?

As a general rule, I’m against the idea of women being used for sex, and as a result, I don’t like the idea of a world in which prostitution is legal, common, and not taboo. But legalization — or something shy of it, like decriminalization — seems overwhelmingly supported by feminists, and activists concerned the safety, independence, and basic well-being of women.

Perhaps more importantly, it seems the sort of thing that, while dangerous, can be made safe by regulation (unlike, I think, drugs).  This means I’m out of reasons to oppose legalization, or decriminalization, but I don’t like it. Am I missing something?


  1. I believe it should be legal – absolutely. Regulate it and make it safer for the women. It’s really no different thn the porn industry. Women having sex for money.

  2. On the broader point, I would also argue that in general I think legalizing vice (note: not encouraging it) usually reduces crime.

    1. Yeap – look at how effective Prohibition was . . .

      1. Exactly. Plus the drug war which has ruined the lives of millions of Americans and not made a dent in consumption.

        1. Wait, did you and I just agree on something . . . .

  3. I think you’re a victim of your phraseology. If prostitution = women being USED for sex, then it’s wrong.

    If prostitution = women CHOOSING to have sex for money, then it may be okay.

    1. Well, I see that, but the language was deliberate. I’m sort of assuming in the background that few women would CHOOSE prostitution for themselves, unless they were forced into it. But I don’t know if that’s the kind of pressure the law can contemplate and recognize.

      1. Well, do women choose to become nude exotic dancers or are they forced? Are the one who work their way through law school urban legend? If not, how fine a line do you want to draw between pole dancing in clear plastic stillettos and “helping” a guy or girl get off in the alley?

        1. I agree with Phillip. The same for the porn business. No one is forcing those women into their work. Now we can all debate what kind of culture and/or home life might have nudged them in that direction BUT we could also the same for a lot of bullies ending up as cops or corrections officers. Or arrogant dicks being lawyers.

          Sorry – couldn’t resist the last one.

          1. hum, what degree di Rep. Weiner have?

            Couldn’t resist that one either.

            And, while I know Mike doesn’t like for us to make policy comparisons to other countries in these debates, what’s the experience been where some of these things are regulated? Are the Dutch more inclined to perversion or lawlessness because of Amsterdam’s Red Light District?

            1. When it comes to vice I actually think the Europeans mostly have it right (and it pains me to say so).

            2. No need to compare to other countries, there’s rural Nevada.

      2. “Choice” is a wide spectrum of things. For example, one may “choose” to go to work at a job they hate because they choose to eat and can’t get a better job.

        1. One is rarely chained to one’s workplace or living under the threat of violence if one does not bring one’s boss his money.

          1. Being chained to one’s workplace is entirely a function of prostitution being illegal. If neither party can go to the police or courts to solve disputes, they will find some other way to do so, usually violent.

  4. I wonder if the laws against prostitution are intended to protect society from prostitutes or rather from unapproved sex. It hardly seems that they are intended to protect the prostitutes themselves, since they get treated as criminals.

    1. Well… depends what society you’re in. Most laws, yeah, it’s to “protect” society. Some places, though, most famously Sweden, the law treats prostitutes as crime victims.

  5. I’ll put myself on the record as saying I support legalized prostitution. I consider sex work an honorable profession and have a great respect for the (mostly) women who work in the field as I believe they provide valuable quasi-therapeutic services to their clients in addition to entertainment.

    Way I see it, brothels should be legal establishments and their employees treated the same as workers at any other business (subject to the same labor laws as workers in other professions, able to get health, dental, and retirement benefits and paid time off the same as workers in other professions, etc.).

    Marius, I have at least one friend who I’m certain would choose to work as a prostitute if it were legal and she could get decent pay, and others who I suspect would as well.

    I think a lot of the “harm” of prostitution isn’t caused by prostitution itself but by the illegality of prostitution.

  6. We’re having pretty much the same debate around these parts (Denmark), although in reverse since prostitution is legal here. The main point so far has been that it’s important to distinguish between different categories of prostitutes, especially those working the streets, and those working in “clinics” (as they’re euphemistically known around here). The former tend to be much more vulnerable and very often victims of human trafficking and criminal exploitation, while the latter usually have better conditions and tend to be involved voluntarily. So while some parties have argued for criminalising the clients in order to protect the street workers, it seems that a more targeted approach would be better.

    So looking at the question from the opposite point of view of whether to decriminalise or not, doing so would probably be beneficial for what you could call the ‘stronger’ segment of sex workers, but on the other hand do very little to help the more vulnerable ones.

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