Minor Thoughts from me to you

Prostitution: Different from Adultery?

Earlier this week, Reason Magazine columnist Cathy Young asked why is it still illegal to pay for sex?

Yet prostitution is perhaps the ultimate victimless crime: a consensual transaction in which both parties are supposedly committing a crime, and the person most likely to be charged"”the one selling sex"”is also the one most likely to be viewed as the victim. (A bizarre inversion of this situation occurs in Sweden, where, as a result of feminist pressure to treat prostitutes as victims, it is now a crime to pay for sex but not to offer it for sale.) It is sometimes claimed that the true victims of prostitution are the johns' wives. But surely women whose husbands are involved in noncommercial"”and sometimes quite expensive"”extramarital affairs are no less victimized.

Another common claim is that prostitution causes direct harm by contributing to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. However, that may be the reddest herring of them all. In Australia, where sex for money is legal, the rate of HIV infection among female prostitutes is so low that prostitution has been removed from the list of known risk factors in HIV surveillance. In the U.S., reliable data are more difficult to come by, but a 1987 Centers for Disease Control study likewise found very low infection rates among prostitutes.

Why is prostitution illegal? From a Biblical perspective, I have a very hard time distinguishing between prostitution and plain old adultery. In one case, one person directly pays another for sex. In the other case, one person indirectly pays another for sex through dinners, compliments, movies, and other outings. Why should it be illegal to pay a someone for a sex, but not illegal to take a co-worker out for dinner and drinks before going back to their apartment for sex?

I think the common answer is that sex should only be enjoyed within the context of a loving relationship -- that it shouldn't be commoditized and sold like any other service. I would agree that sex shouldn't be routinely bought and sold. I'm not at all certain that all prostitution occurs outside of a loving relationship. After all, some women would certainly leave a man if he didn't provide enough expensive gifts. Why should we classify cash payments any differently? I am certain that not all adultery occurs in the context of a loving relationship. Many men and women will commit adultery purely out spite and not because they love the person they are committing adultery with.

Simply put, I think there can be a lot of overlap between prostitution and adultery -- and adultery are equally morally objectionable. I don't see the distinction that makes one worthy of criminalization and the other "merely" worthy of scorn.

I'll talk later about whether I think adultery should be criminalized.