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.

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

117 thoughts on “Why Is Prostitution Illegal?

  1. Tim

    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???

  2. gbm3

    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).

  3. Schlomo

    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.

  4. john

    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.

  5. Fr. Wayne McNamara

    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

  6. isabel

    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.

  7. Funky Dung Post author


    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).

  8. suzy

    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.

  9. Julian

    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.

  10. Corey Furman

    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.

  11. Listen please

    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.

  12. Tiana

    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.

  13. Eric Williams

    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. 🙂

  14. Snoglydox

    If prostitution is illegal because it is immoral, then why isn’t cheating on your spouse illegal? Isn’t that the real concern? What’s the different if someone has an affair with their secretary, compared to going to a prostitute, except that it is cheaper to go to a prostitute? If sex was not on the table during courting, then relationships would be based on love…not satisfying a need.

  15. UnseenStrings

    I was raised in the Church of God. My mother (now 82) as a girl was raised in the Church of Christ. She couldn’t conceive of wearing any jewelry except a wedding band. She “knew” wearing pants or pant-suits was immoral. She had no doubt that the slightest hair-color or cosmetics would make her into a Jezebel.

    My mother is still a Christian, but she no longer believes exactly as she once believed.

    In the early days of Christianity, prostitution wasn’t regarded with the “outrage” that it is today. In fact, some sects of Christianity encouraged the female members to prostitute themselves to raise money to help spread the faith.

    Religions change over time and adapt to circumstances. The religions that don’t end-up dying-out like the dinosaurs did.

    Prostitution is made illegal in an effort to force individuals into “jumping through hoops” in order to satisfy their sexual needs.

    In other words, the energy and strivings that individuals experience as a result of unsatisfied sexual hunger are redirected for the benefit of the church, the organization, or the party. Sex sells primarily because we live in a sexually repressed society. Advertising can’t prey upon a sexually starved individual when the individual has a means to sexually satisfy himself/herself. Prostitution is an option that is eliminated to force the sexual energies and strivings elsewhere.

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