*What is the difference between prostitution and pornography?
Probably not much morally speaking. If your moral code asks people to remain sexually pure, it doesn’t matter whether your sex acts are filmed or paid for; in either case you’ve done something wrong. The reverse is equally true, if sex is permissible it doesn’t cease being so because of the presence of money or a camera.
So why does our society prohibit one and not the other?
While it is possible that the country’s history of being founded in part by moralistic Puritans, this explanation is unsatisfactory. As pointed out above Christian ethics would require pornography to be illegal as well as prostitution – which isn’t the case in our country.
More likely is the country’s affinity for money and the putting on an ethical front. So because pornography has always been tied to a multimillion (if not billion) dollar film industry which is openly taxed it gets a pass. Prostitution on the other hand has always been hidden and looked down upon; therefore it has never been legitimized enough to be accepted and taxed by the government. Ergo it is illegal.
True as all of that may be, none of it should matter. Because in our country we profess no nationally sanctioned moral code so all laws should be based what is best for the country, state, or local municipality. And there is no reason that both of these activities couldn’t become revenue streams.
Yes there would be initial resistance but that is only because we like to pretend that sex work is somehow unquestionably negative. The truth is that many sex workers are engaged in a trading their time for money; what they do during that time differs from other jobs but the basics of the monetary transaction are identical to an hourly fast food worker.
I also acknowledge that prostitution currently attracts a criminal element that engages in human slavery – often involving children. My response is to pay attention to the example of alcohol. Before the years of Prohibition in this country alcolhol was a booming business that did not have a disproportionate amount of criminal activity. By making alcohol illegal (when the desire to drink was still high), that inspired criminals to get involved in the industry. Put a different way: Prohibition increased the amount of crime associated with alcohol. Similarly the illegality of prostitution inspires criminally minded individuals to engage in its business. Eliminate the legal issue and much of the criminal element will disappear. The legalization of marijuana has shown this to be true.
The key part of the phrase “sex work” is “work.” It is a job. It affects only those who want to be affected by it (unlike most things that are illegal which affect those trying to avoid being affected – robbery is a crime where someone who wants to keep their stuff is deprived of their stuff). Once we start treating all sex work (in particular prostitution which is illegal but also strip clubs, pornography, and erotica to name a few aspects of sex work) like other work. Municipalities can generate more tax revenue and begin shoring up the safety of those involved.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.