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Tuesday, January 14, 2014  

Love for Sale

My most recent feature in the Christian Century explores the ethical questions around prostitution, trafficking, and laws on sex work. I had the chance, in writing this, to conduct some really powerful interviews, and I'm grateful to everyone who spoke to me (as well as to Robert Kolker, whom I did not interview but whose astonishing Lost Girls proved invaluable). A taste:

The gathering debate over prostitution makes one thing clear: the culture wars over sexuality won’t end with the inevitable advance of same-sex marriage, contraception coverage and the acceptance of sex before marriage. The sexual revolution once aimed to re-center sexual ethics on love rather than heterosexual marriage. But revolutions are loathe to end where their early enthusiasts planned. More and more, the sexual revolution seems apt to turn on love itself as a norm. Hanna Rosin and others have described the preference among many young adults for casual sexual liaisons over courtship and commitment as a way to focus on a lucrative career rather than on relationships. Emily Witt, writing for n+1, delved into San Francisco’s extreme pornography industry—finding in it a way people escape from the shackling of sex to love or even to pleasure and personal autonomy. Enthusiasts for polyamory speak of “primary” and “secondary” sexual partners, much as one would speak of insurers. Prostitution may still be illegal. But the language of commerce is already commonplace when people talk about sex.

How you feel about the selling of sex is likely to depend on how you feel about selling and how you feel about sex. This accounts for the divisions the sex industry creates on both the left and the right. Some small-government enthusiasts are eager to interfere with business when that business is sex; some liberals and feminists are eager to interfere with sexual autonomy when it takes the form of business. The debate over how much prostitution is somehow coerced is in large measure a stalking horse for the deeper ethical question: Should selling sex be acceptable? There are strong intuitive and emotional reasons to say no, to keep the logic of lawful commerce out of this most intimate, vulnerable interaction. The traumatic stories and dead bodies may persuade us that sex work—that sexuality itself—can never be truly safe.

On the other hand, everything else in our world is for sale, and sex is already the responsibility of consenting adults. Perhaps we prohibit prostitution because a last cobweb of mystification clings to the plain truth that sex is not special—and that confining its expression within the bounds of love or even lust only serves to protect some outdated ideology. Perhaps the trauma and the danger persuade us only that the sexual revolution is not yet complete.

Read the rest here

posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 10:27 AM
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