Concept Of Prostitution Introduction The concept of prostitution is one that causes a visceral revulsion in conventional Western morality – a symptom of which is how the many colloquial terms for a prostitute, such as ‘whore’, or ‘harlot’, are commonly used as denigratory pejoratives towards women. Although a persistent phenomenon throughout human history , it remains difficult to view prostitution in an objective light – various cultures have alternately tried to ban it on religious or moralistic grounds, or stigmatise it under a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” sort of veneer which was a barely-tolerated but necessary evil of society. It is interesting to note that despite an increasingly secularised attitude towards sexual relationships, as seen in society’s increasing tolerance of homosexuality or pre-marital sex, prostitution retains much of its social stigma. Faced with the strong reactions which the concept of prostitution tends to elicit in common moral viewpoints, any discussion of the topic must be prepared to look beneath these reflexive attitudes, examine the motivations and justifications for such attitudes, and, hopefully, come to a more informed judgment on the morality of prostitution, or lack thereof that is not founded in mere blind adherence to dogmatic social norms. For the purposes of this essay, I have defined prostitution in the strictest sense of the word, that is, the sale of sexual intercourse for the purposes of pleasure(this obviously omits surrogate mothers). While potentially ambiguous examples of the above exist both in reality(for instance, sexual surrogates as a form of impotence therapy) and possibility(such as what Adeney and Weckert term “symmetrical virtual sex” ), to simplify discussion I will confine this essay to a discussion of the morality of prostitution as it is understood – old-fashioned, physical sexual intercourse sold purely for pleasure.
I will also omit discussions into the morality of third-party soliciting, such as pimps or madams, for brevity’s sake. Moral vs. Legal justification. When considering the issue of prostitution’s morality, I would like to begin with a distinction between morality and legality. There are many instances in which the two concepts have existed independently of the other – and whether the law should apply itself to moral issues is a subject beyond the scope of this essay.
However, with regards to prostitution, it may very well turn out that prostitution could be immoral and yet legally tolerated, if not sanctioned. The contemporary liberal view, in the Millian tradition, is that such acts are essentially private contracts between consenting adults which is beyond the purview of legal enforcement because they(according to some) do no harm to other parties. However, the issue at stake here is not so much whether the law should come down in favour or against prostitution, but whether prostitution itself is inherently morally objectionable. In a that vein, I will also therefore avoid arguments about the enforceability of any proscription against prostitution – whether prostitution can be stamped out or not is irrelevant to whether it is morally objectionable or not. There is also, of course, the age-old ethical question raised about definitions of morality, and by what moral benchmark one uses to judge an issue such as prostitution.
To this end, I would like to approach the issue from several disparate perspectives: traditional Christian morality, the utilitarian perspective, the radical feminist perspective, and the secularly romantic perspective Traditional Christian morality Primoratz sums up the traditional Christian argument succinctly: “[it] views sex as something inferior, sinful and shameful, and accepts it only when, and in so far as, it serves an important extrinsic purpose which cannot be attained by any other means: procreation. Moreover the only proper framework is permissible only within marriage. These two statements make up the core of the traditional Christian understanding of sex .. ” Now, Primoratz goes on to argue that while prostitution which is “both non-marital and disconnected from procreation” would appear to go against such a moral ethos on the surface, he also further notes that many eminent Catholic theologians such as Aquinas and Augustine are willing to go beyond this scriptural concession to fallen human nature, which permits the satiety of physical lust within the confines of the institution of marriage. They are willing to tolerate prostitution particularly if it serves a purpose as an outlet for rampant male sexuality, which, if overly repressed, might actually harm the institution of marriage. While I may agree with Primoratz’s argument on utilitarian grounds, with regards to the Christian ethos, it would be seem a surrender of morality to argue that the institution of marriage can only be maintained under such a context.
Christianity is not a utilitarian ethical framework. The whole idea of the sanctity of marriage is that it is the sole acceptable outlet of male lust in addition to serving as an instrument of procreation – and a necessary institution that exists as a moral alternative to rampant adultery. Good Christians are supposed to master their passions within the concession of marriage allowed them – not use the necessity for a stable marriage to justify further extra-marital sex. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, defines certain acts(citing the Second Vatican Council’s list of examples, prostitution among them) as “intrinsically evil” which can never be “subjectively good or defensible as a choice”, even if the intention behind it serves to “diminish their evil”. Despite not being necessarily logically true, it is a good indication of how most people who adhere to common perceptions of Christianity would view prostitution – and hence in that context the common Christian would find prostitution morally objectionable – it clearly goes beyond the sexual boundaries permissible only within a heterosexual, married couple.
This perception, of course, is valid only for people who would adhere to the most commonly accepted Christian moral viewpoint; indeed, some revisionist theologians have made arguments that prostitution is not explicitly forbidden in Scripture(alluding often to Jesus’ tolerance of such women as well as numerous references to concubinage and harlots in neutral terms within Old Testament verses). The utilitarian perspective This is the perspective that, perhaps, commands the most debate when contemplating the issue of prostitution. Most people in these secular times would prefer to argue that prostitution is not so much morally objectionable because of any commandment from on high proscribing sex for sale, but because it has a variety of adverse effects, both on society as a whole and on the women who ply that trade. Firstly, it is obvious that two of the most obvious reasons for the stigma against prostitution(and rampant fornication, for that matter), ie, unwanted childbirths and venereal diseases are now largely controllable by science. True, we still do not have a cure for AIDS, but we have scientific recourse to minimise the risk of contracting it. Indeed, many writers have noted that if unwanted childbirths or venereal diseases occur, they are largely because the stigma surrounding the act that drives it underground exposes prostitutes to a variety of dangers that would not otherwise exist, such as ill-treatment at the hand of organized crime syndicates filling in the niche market or a lack of acce …