Why Is Prostitution Illegal?

Did you ever stop to wonder why prostitution is illegal? I did. Aside from explicitly religious moral reasons, I can't see why it is.

Pick your jaw off the floor. Got it? OK, then, I'll continue.

When you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, what is a prostitute doing? She…I know men prostitute themselves, too, but definite pronouns are less confusing…She is selling the use of her body for a span of time. Why is that illegal? It's her body. It's not like there isn't legal precedence for it.

Anyone who does physical labor, be it working in a coal mine, building a house, or being a body guard, is selling his body. His physical strength and endurance is an economic asset to himself, his family, and his employer.

Take athletes for example. They sell the use of their highly trained bodies to sports teams. They can be beaten up repeatedly and left with a multitude of lingering physical ailments when they retire. Nobody's arresting them (at least not for what they do for a living). Not only do they sell their bodies for competition, but they also sell themselves as clothing racks. Companies pay millions of dollars for a sports star to wear their logos or their brand.

Athletes aren't the only ones who sell their bodies as advertizements. These days, any ordinary Joe can walk around with an ad for GoldenPalace.com tattooed to his forehead. It's happened. There have even been pregnant women renting out ad space on their extruded abdomens. That's not illegal. It's capitalism.

Let's not forget the quintessential walking billboard, models. In fact, not only are they paid to use their bodies to show off clothing, they're paid to do so with sex appeal. Models use their sexuality as a business asset for themselves and for their employers, something they have in common with prostitutes.

Pornographic models are even more closely related. They're not just selling sexiness, they're selling eroticism. One might even argue that the goal of their work is to assist in bringing about sexual gratification for viewers. We Christians consider pornography vulgar and sinful, and rightly so, but it's quite legal (except under certain extreme circumstances).

What, then, makes prostitution illegal? What's the difference between a guy paying for a dirty magazine, looking at it, and pleasuring himself, and a guy who pays for someone else to arouse and pleasure him? From the preceding, it's clear that the selling of one's body, even for sexual purposes, isn't illegal. Nor is the purchase of goods and services rendered by another body. It must be the sexual act itself.

I suppose one could argue that prostitution detrimentally affects society in the form of broken marriages and the like. Then again, so do spending too much time at work or play, drinking too much, and adultery. When was the last time you saw someone get arrested for any of those?

Maybe prostitution is a public health hazard because prostitutes often carry and spread diseases. Well, there are a hell of a lot of people engaging in consentual unprotected sex and spreading diseases. Are we going to arrest them?

A common arguement is that prostitution is degrading to women. I could list a number of legal things that are degrading to women, but I'll refrain for fear of being mislabeled as sexist. Of course, for a lot of prostitutes, the job goes well beyond degrading when their pimps beat them or otherwise treat them as cheap property. Well, abuse is illegal on its own, so that's a red herring. Besides, this problem, and the health hazards, could be more effectively dealt with if prostitution were legal, which brings me to my next point.

Not only can I find little reason for it to be illegal, I can think of potential benefits of making it legal. In fact, legalization could help alleviate or ameliorate most of the problems mentioned above.

Prostitution's hard work and could permanently damage prostitutes' bodies. OK, give them health insurance. Better yet, force their pimps to pay for their insurance. As it stands, they're working anyway, but without insurance.

I mentioned that people sell themselves as billboards. Well, if prostitution were legal, the possibility of endorsement deals would open up. Condom makers, for instance, could endorse prostitutes. Another possibility would be clothing designers paying for their clothes to be worn on the job. There are other economic benefits, though. As a legal form of employment, prostitution would generate tax revenue through income tax collection.

How about the public health hazard? Well, that can be helped in two ways. The first is that legalization would put prostitutes and pimps into a legal employee-employer relationship that would be regulated by applicable laws concerning fair hiring practices, fair wages, etc. The second would be regulation. Corner hotdog vendors have to have 1) a sales permit that allows them to legally solicit on the premises and 2) a health permit that says that their equipment, methods, and raw materials have been inspected and found to produce safe foodstuffs. Why couldn't the same ideas be applied to prostitution? Permits for solicitation and health code certification could be required. Furthermore, periodic health screenings would help ensure not only the health of the workers, but also their customers.

As legally recognized members of the workforce, prostitutes could unionize. This would give them leverage against their pimps and result in better treatment and probably better pay.

Another considerable benefit of legalization would be spare law enforcement man-hours. If cops didn't have to investigate and arrest, lawyers didn't have to prosecute, and judges didn't have to judge and sentence prostitutes and pimps, they'd be free to pursue other, perhaps more dangerous, criminals.

All in all, the only harm I can see in legalizing prostitution is moral in nature. There are a great number of societal ills, as defined by religious morality, that open acceptance of the practice would cause. Since when is that a reason to make something illegal, though? If it were, there'd be a lot more we're not allowed to do, and we wouldn't be very free people. If, as a country, governed by representatives elected to wield legislative power by the free consent of the governed, we can agree that moral grounds are sufficient to make laws, so be it; prostitution should remain illegal. A corollary to that, though, is that the same moral grounds could justifiably be used to ban abortion and homosexual marriage. If, on the other hand, the electorate decides that moral grounds are insufficient by themselves for legislation, prostitution should be made legal.

Please realize that this post is a long out-loud thought. I'm not irrevocably attached to any of the preceding arguments. I just thought they'd spur interesting conversations. So, dear readers, what are your thoughts on this matter?

Addendum 02/08/06: A certain theme in the comments has convinced me that some clarification is needed. A representative sample:

"I was just aghast that so much ink (or pixels, as the case may be) would be spilled on a Christian website arguing that prostitution should be legal."

If nothing else, it is my hope that a rational debate about this matter would aid in Christians in the pursuit of moral legislation on non-moral grounds. If we could be convinced, and then convince the secular world, that there are good reasons other than divine writ to ban (or maintain bans) on practices like prostitution, we'd be well on our way to formulating and executing more effective plans for getting wholesome legislation passed. Learning how to argue better on secular terms would be an invaluable asset in our efforts to abolish abortion, for instance.

Comments 15

  1. Tim wrote:

    My question is;;; if I take a date out for dinner, spend $200 for that, cab, etc.; then just happen to get lucky, is she a prostitute???

    Posted 23 Jun 2008 at 12:47 am
  2. gbm3 wrote:

    My question is;;; if I take a date out for dinner, spend $200 for that, cab, etc.; then just happen to get lucky, is she a prostitute???

    How about this?
    It depends. If there is a (verbal or written) contract for prostitution before (or perhaps during or after) the date, then yes. If there is not, it isn’t.

    From your fact pattern above (“just happen to get lucky”), it is not prostitution, but it’s immoral (pre/extra-marital sex).

    Posted 25 Jun 2008 at 9:27 pm
  3. Schlomo wrote:

    I swear, normally I would have a lot more to say. This is not to aver that said “lot more” would necessarily be of greater interest or utility to anyone at all, I’m just stating this for the record (however inconsequential it may be).

    That said, WOW, I’ve just spent a good hour or two (I dunno exactly) reading this thread and I am really amazed. I’m a non-practicing Jew, a believer in legalized prostitution, against organized religion, etc. But even if I’m not exactly the typical member of this community, and even if I might not see eye-to-eye with so many of you, I was extremely impressed, surprised, and even enlightened by so many of these posts. So to you, for that, I say “thank you very much.”

    Of course I was also often angered, even disgusted, moved to a bilious desire to rebut, etc. (yet chose not to; see beginning of this post), but then I see that as nothing more than evidence of a good discussion. 🙂

    Lastly, while I thought I’d say nothing particularly substantive, I’d like to clarify my anti-organized-religion comment. I happen to believe in God and/but support anyone’s right to believe or not believe as they so choose. My only real problems with religion, and these are my own bones of contention (although I suspect many of you would agree) are when religion proselytizes and/or imposes itself on others who are unwilling/uninterested, and when religion is used simply as a tool for monetary gain. Perhaps this critique, if you can even call it that, is quite simple and obvious. I, for one, think it is. But if it is so simple and obvious, I have to wonder how and why religions, as such, continue to exist, even thrive.

    Anyhoo, again, this made for some very interesting reading, and I thank you all for it. Especially you, FD.

    Posted 08 Jul 2008 at 5:36 am
  4. john wrote:

    Only cheap/inexpensive prostitutiion is illegal– the kind which is controlled by a pimp.

    In New York City, escorts charge $300/hr. at the minimum.

    No matter which way you look at it, the Pink is as valuable as one is committed to it.

    Posted 23 Aug 2008 at 7:49 pm
  5. Fr. Wayne McNamara wrote:

    Arguments for or against anything must begin with first thoughts of God in Scripture about the meaning of the body, the nature of male and female as ‘image of God’, the purpose of marriage and the one-flesh relationship. If you take the Bible as a normative revelation for all people at all times it is clear how prostitution distorts the image of God and corrupts the integrity and purpose of marriage.

    Fr. Wayne McNamara

    Posted 08 Sep 2008 at 9:16 am
  6. isabel wrote:

    i was wondering if this blog was ever published, or this is just striclty a blog, weird question… but ur blog is very fascinating to me and im trying to do an essay on your thoughts, and my professor requires an article that has a proper citation, im not allowed to use a blog, but hopefully i can get away with useing yours, help.

    Posted 30 Sep 2008 at 12:11 am
  7. Funky Dung wrote:


    No, this post has never been published by a reputable or peer-reviewed entity. However, self-published articles on the web (any web page, really) can be legitimately cited using standard citation schemes (e.g., APA).

    Posted 30 Sep 2008 at 1:12 pm
  8. suzy wrote:

    I agree with the Alex. But to get down to the source of the fire men are ultimately the ones responsible for prostitution. With out the demand for sex with various women there would be no prostitution; but men love it. They have an urge to be with as many women and if women can’t stop these urges by being faithful and good women why not charge and get something out of it. I think it degrading to make prostitution ILLIGEL. This is a mans world but if it was legal it would be a womans world. Most women are taught that their bodies are priceless and sex is so special and whatever……after breakups over infidelity over and over it doesn’t feel as special as it was supposed to be. But if women could put a price on their bodies I bet they would feel a lot more valuable. Without any education in prostitution the starting wages are higher than most college grad wages per hour. Just as long as men are not recieving any of the profits then it is not degrading at all. And manipulation of a second person (yes this person can be a woman also) I think if someone was to manage they would be working for the prostitute and the prostitute would be the boss and the person setting up the appointments would be like the secretary so maybe 70/30 or 80/20 depending on how generous the prostitute. Or hourly. Whatever the case pimps never really serve a purpose. If its to protect the prostitute there are self defense courses and mace that can help her out in violent situations. And also…….I think prostitution can help society out. When men have sex they get a little drained and their essence (testonsterone levels) drop and thus they are more calm, relaxed and less animalistic and violent. I also believe prostitution can enlighten the lives of unhappy, ugly, fat, lonely men with low self esteem. I mean prostitutes should be commended for doing those undesirable types of men cause god knows they are probably never getting laid for free. And why wouldn’t god want us all to have a good lay. God made sex and it was one of his greatest creations. Its just the urge in men is too deep to ever satisfy completely and thats probably due to the fact that animalistically he has a need to perpetuate the species with as many of his clones as possible. Anyways…….i can think this out forever. Nice article.

    Posted 15 Nov 2008 at 2:48 am
  9. Julian wrote:

    wow, i just read the entire thing and you seem to be very smart, as a matter of fact too smart to be christian (i used to be catholic and then became christian… for a few weeks until i realized how nothing made sense) now im agnostic. did you ever consider looking into these things? listen to george carlin (although an atheist he has GREAT points) and other opinions? were you raised christian or catholic? do you really think christians do have the “right answer” to go to heaven? dont you have that idea (logic) in your head that tells you that maybe people that is willing to kill themselves for their believes (muslims and other religions) have as much “faith” in their religion as you do and that def one of them have to be wrong? (possibly both) do you really think you have the answer to a question arguement and fight older than 2000 years. i read your article and i think you are very very smart. your should read about and consider other religions or perhaps none. i thought id write this to you because id feel its a waste that such a smart person would make a decicion based on only one book (divided in 2, the old one in which God is kind of a prick and the new one which he is nicer which proves they’re both obviously written by man and if God inspired them, he must have been drunk that night huh?) Anyways check all your options, you wouldnt say vanilla is your fav flavor if its the only one you’ve ever tried right? oh and if you’re wondering what im doing in this website, i looked up on yahoo “why is prostitution illegal” and this one came up by chance or like a christian would say “God put me in your path” so yeah… pure chance.

    Posted 07 Dec 2008 at 1:34 am
  10. Julian wrote:

    oh i forgot to say, you should leave christianity to the brainwashed with low IQ. you’re too smart for this.

    Posted 07 Dec 2008 at 1:38 am
  11. Corey Furman wrote:

    Please explain in logical terms why it is objectively destruction (without resporting to Scripture or Tradition).

    This is something that Christians just should not do. We are commanded to follow the scriptures.

    Furthermore, I find the argument that it’s simply practical to legalize prostitution deeply flawed on a moral level. If a thing is wrong then it should be treated as such, apart from the concept of enforcement.

    Posted 11 Feb 2009 at 5:54 pm
  12. Listen please wrote:

    The article the OP wrote is a solid argument. There really is no refuting it. The societal ills caused by prostitution i.e disease, the degradation of women are a result of its illegality. You basically stated this in your article. No one in this whole thread has been able to state a reason why it is bad that hasnt been based on the assumption that sex is wrong and we should try to stop it. Also there is no way you could ever make me believe that people who seek government aid in the Netherlands are told to go sell themselves first before receiving aid. How could anyone be getting government help if this is the case. You have to include references in order to make such a ridiculous claim. Those countries have welfare states so much larger than our own. or is it just attractive people who are told to go out and be a prostitute when they file for unemployment. There is simply no way that this is true. That made up assertion was the only argument against the OP that held any water.

    Posted 19 May 2009 at 5:36 pm
  13. Bat wrote:

    The next you know stealing would be legalized too. 😀


    Posted 14 Jun 2009 at 1:34 pm
  14. Tiana wrote:

    i kno this blog is years old but i am doing a research project in my 12th grade english class about why prostitution is illegal. me and my father have addressed this issue many times and i was looking through multiple sites for information when i found this blog. i can relate my view points on many of the topics the author has hit in this blog. in my research project i hope to be able to write my paper as good and influencing as this one. if the author still checks this blog i would like to tell them that their thoughts have inspired me and will better help me with my research paper.

    Posted 16 Dec 2009 at 8:57 am
  15. Eric Williams wrote:

    Thanks, Tiana. I’m glad most helped. 🙂

    I’ve moved on to new blogs (politics and family), but I leave this one up for popular posts like this. I might eventually import it into my new blog, though.

    Anyhow, since writing this post I’ve learned that my argument is a common libertarian one. An excellent example can be found in Walter Block’s classic, Defending the Undefendable. I hope that helps. 🙂

    Posted 23 Jan 2010 at 7:16 pm

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