Re: Economist article on the Sex Industry

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Subject: Re: Economist article on the Sex Industry
From: Tanya Foundation (
Date: Thu Jan 07 1999 - 09:59:43 EST

Dear All,

This is a copy of the Economist article referred to in recent postings
regarding the ILO recommendation regarding dealing with prostitution as sex

I believe that any developments that recognise the work element of sex work
and afford participants the same protection as other workers will allow
abuse to be more effectively addressed then the present system of
criminalisation and associated stigma.

Giving sex workers greater inclusion and enforceble labour rights will have
an impact on abuses that are often enabled by the present alienation of sex

Best regards


  The sex business
INDEX TERMS Sex|industry's need for official toleration and deregulation;
Prostitution|industry's need for official toleration; DATE14-Feb-98 WORDS996
The sex business HAPPY Valentine’s Day. Did your post include a card or two
with a bit of suggestive doggerel? Are you off for a steamy supper with a
loved one tonight? This is the time of year when card-makers and
restaurateurs and florists and perfumers smell romance in the air, and cash
in. But all year round, other entrepreneurs are cashing in on another sort
of sex business (see ). In the rich world, most people smile indulgently on
the first sort of commerce but would prefer not to think about the other.
The change in morality that has led many people to tolerate pre-marital sex
and even extra-marital affairs has hardly altered public disapproval of the
oldest profession. Does such intolerance do more harm than good? To anybody
who thinks about sex for more than a moment or two (and we assume readers of
The Economist generally have more important things on their minds), the most
curious transformation in the past couple of decades is the vastly greater
tolerance of sex outside marriage, and the willingness of the media to
discuss sex in public. America has seen a spectacular demonstration of both
points in recent weeks. Americans have shown an extraordinary willingness to
forgive Bill Clinton his supposed philanderings (although if he turns out to
have lied to them, that will be another matter), realising the difficulty of
impeaching a president from the waist down. And newspapers and television
commentators have left many parents faced with embarrassing questions about
the true meaning of the word “intern”.

Dont frighten the horses

Behaviour has changed even more than attitudes. Sex before marriage is not
new—in Britain, according to work at Edinburgh University, almost 60% of all
first births in 1800 were conceived outside marriage. But the advent of
reliable contraception has helped pre-marital sex to become the norm in some
countries: in Britain, again, three-quarters of all couples now live
together before they marry.

Adultery is a rather different matter: after all, one of the three parties
involved rarely consents and usually suffers. America’s National Opinion
Research Centre, which has tracked public attitudes for more than two
decades, has found that the proportion of adults who think adultery is
“always wrong” has risen by ten percentage points, to 78.5%, since 1976. How
many live by what they believe? Who knows: the same pollster found in 1996
22% of men and 14% of women who would admit to being unfaithful at least
once. But such slender evidence as there is shows no sign that adultery has
become rarer.

That people should talk more openly about sex and its consequences is surely
desirable. After all, unwanted pregnancies are as undesirable as ever and,
thanks to AIDS , sex is now more of a potential killer than it was even in
the heyday of syphilis. Children need to be taught the practicalities of sex
as well as the morality. But what consenting adults do in the privacy of
their homes should not generally be a matter for government. Where sex
becomes an important policy issue is when it is up for sale. And here, in
most rich countries, confusion and intolerance reign.

Many governments prohibit either prostitution or soliciting. Much of the
pornography business is also illegal. Yet prostitution flourishes and
pornography is expanding, benefiting more than any other industry from the
border-hopping wonders of global communications.

Both industries pose awkward questions about the role of the law and the
limits of liberalism. Torn between disapproval and realism, many countries
seem to prefer to combine unenforced (and often unenforceable) legislation,
reflecting what they wish were the case, with turning a blind eye to the
real world. Police chase hookers off nice uptown streets, leaving them to
peddle their wares in poorer districts, out of sight of middle-class
families. The problem with this approach is that it leaves prostitutes more
exposed to violence and exploitation than workers in legal industries.

Legalising prostitution and pornography ought, at least in theory, to bring
advantages. The huge profits that accrue to an illegal activity that escapes
the law would be undermined. As in other industries, entrepreneurs that
maintained high standards would have an incentive to tell tales on those who
did not, thus making the business to some extent self-policing. Some of the
more disagreeable public manifestations of prostitution would go: how many
legitimate businesses are forced to advertise their products by hanging
around on street corners? Above all, the workers could be more readily
protected from abuse by their employers.

Drawing the line

At the same time, advocates of legalisation face awkward questions. For one
thing, some aspects of both prostitution and pornography must always be
illegal, such as acts that involve children or extreme violence. To the
extent that clients want to pay more for the thrill of illegality,
legalising most forms of prostitution may make the illegal sort more
lucrative—though a clear distinction between the legal and the illegal is
likely to make it easier to enforce laws against the illegal kind. For
another, outlawing prostitution may discourage it, even if it cannot prevent
it. If legalisation led to a large increase in the overall size of the
industry, there might be just as many bad pimps and abused women as before,
although this has not happened where gambling has been legalised.

The right approach to the seamier side of the sex business is not to assume
it will go away. Instead, it is important to be clear about the goals of
legislation: are they to get rid of the undesirable side-effects, or to try
to stop people paying for sex? Wise governments will accept that paid sex is
ineradicable, and concentrate on keeping the business clean, safe and
inconspicuous. And wise men will be grateful for the fact that changes in
contraceptive technology and public morality have made free sex more widely
available than ever before . . . and go and buy a bunch of roses.


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