Former Sex Worker & Activist Maggie McNeill on Why We Should Decriminalize Prostitution: 'This Is Not What Feminism Was Supposed to Be'

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"There is a very common form of rhetoric that's used against us … that sex work isn't work. That it's a dodge. That it's a scam. That it's a form of exploitation," says Maggie McNeill, a former sex worker turned activist who blogs at The Honest Courtesan. "We still pretend that there's a magical mumbo jumbo taboo energy about sex that makes it different from all other human activities."

McNeill sat down with Reason TV's Thaddeus Russell for a wide-ranging interview where she responds to the feminist critique of sex work, explains why research on trafficking may not be reliable, and says why prostitution should be decriminalized.

"The problem is that there are already laws for these things," states McNeill. "We have a name for sex being inflicted on a woman against her will. We call it rape. We have a name for taking someone and holding them prisoner somewhere. We call that abduction. … Why do we need [prostitution] to be laid on top of all these other things that already are crimes?" 

Produced by Alexis Garcia. Shot by Garcia and Zach Weissmueller. Music by Lee Maddeford

About 28 minutes. 

Transcript below. 

REASON: Hi, I'm Thad Russell with Reason TV. Today we're joined by Maggie McNeill, a former sex worker who runs the very popular and important blog The Honest Courtesan. She also wrote the lead article in the December 2013 CATO Unbound in which she argued for the decriminalization of prostitution. Thanks, Maggie for joining us. 

MCNEILL: Pleased to be here, Thad. 

REASON: So, I want to start with a criticism made by Katha Pollitt in The Nation magazine. She said that pro-decriminalization sex work activists—activists like you and Melissa Gira Grant—aren't really representative of sex workers. That you don't really—because you're educated, you're public intellectuals, you're bloggers, you're writers, you're authors—you don't actually speak for the typical sex worker, but you pretend to. How do you respond to that?

MCNEILL: Well, this is based on the concept that there is a a sex worker type—that there's a specific kind of person who is a sex worker. And there isn't. We run the gamut. There are every kind of person that you can imagine meeting in day-to-day life can be a sex worker. And so to say that I'm not representative, or Melissa Gira is not representative—or anybody is not—is rather foolish. It's pretending that there is only one type. I'm not any more or less representative than anybody else. 

REASON: So what types are there? I mean, when we think of a sex worker we think of—in America—I think American culture we typically think of a woman working under an overpass or on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood at three in the morning. Or a Cambodian peasant. Is that who they are?

MCNEILL: No. I mean those exist, certainly. But that's a minority. I would say, if I had to judge, the average sex worker now in the United States—okay we're talking just the United States—is probably middle class to working class, is an escort. She advertises on the internet. She's independent. She doesn't work for anybody else. That's probably the average now. That's probably the norm. 

REASON: So numbers—you've spent a lot of time on your blog trying to debunk the numbers that are commonly thrown around sex work. So let's talk about some numbers. This is where I think you're very useful. On the United States State Department website right now it says that there are up to 27 million slaves in the world. Where does that number come from?

MCNEILL: That number comes from a man named Kevin Bales. He runs an organization called Free the Slaves. And at a conference—I can't recall offhand what kind of a conference it was—some kind of UN thing a few years ago—somebody asked him to sort of make a spit balling just guesstimate of how many there were. And he said "Well, if I had to guess it would probably be like the third largest criminal enterprise in the world." And of course ever since then that's been quoted as iron clad. As some kind of thing derived by math. The 27 million number he did by creating a sort of an algorithm—well that's what he calls it anyway—that takes State Department estimates, other things, plugs them into a formula, inflates them by what he considers to be some sort of a number to represent things that aren't being reported and multiplies in media reports. And of course the danger of this is that when you're using media reports in the middle of a panic, your numbers are going to keep increasing. The more people talk about it, the higher of number of media reports is. 

REASON: I've seen numbers like 30 million, 35 million thrown around. Slaves. And also, I've seen sort of an implicit assumption that most of those are sex slaves. First of all, what is the real number here?

MCNEILL: There is no way to know. As long as governments insist on criminalizing these things, how do you get a number? Nobody is going to come out and talk to—in some places where the criminalization is particularly bad like in the United States or in Sweden—it's difficult to even get sex workers to come out and talk to public health people. Because anybody in a white coat, anybody with an official name tag, is viewed as working with the police, is working with the government. You're simply not going to be able to get those kind of numbers. My opinion, and this is my opinion only, is that the only numbers that can be considered even remotely reliable would be from New Zealand and to a lesser extent New South Wales because they have a decriminalized system. There's no reason in those places for the sex workers to hide. They can't be arrested simply for saying I'm a sex worker. And so I think we can trust their numbers a little better. 

REASON: But how high do you think the 27 million figure is?

MCNEILL: I think that's high by probably at least a couple orders of magnitude and the reason I say that is because the UN Office of Drugs and Crime—their numbers that they use for what they say that there's evidence or however they phrase it—or that there's evidence of or that they consider proven or whatever is one percent of that. 

REASON: We're talking about people who are allegedly forced into prostitution or other forms of labor, right?

MCNEILL: Correct. Correct. 

REASON: We're not talking about voluntary prostitution?

MCNEILL: Well, that's the problem. The problem is that nobody defines trafficking. Trafficking is this very, very broad term. Technically, supposedly, it's supposed to be force or coercion. But that's not what happens in practice. What happens in practice is that you have things like governments saying, "Well we're going to count everyone below"—and this is the United States—"We're going to count everyone below 18 as automatically being coerced, even if they're not." And you have things like police—I was just reading an article from Denver. It was not from this year, but it was last year's article, but still—where basically they said the police—the policeman being interviewed for this article said, "Well, even the ones who think they're not coerced, they really are coerced and we just have to convince them that they're coerced. That's our job." And so you have these sorts of things where people will insist vociferously that they're not being coerced and the courts simply ignore them. New York State now refers all prostitution cases to what they're calling trafficking court. And that's what they're calling it. You've got police departments that are doing straight out street stings—like they've done for a century and they're calling them human trafficking stings. So how do you get a number when you have that sort of thing when everybody has a different definition? 

REASON: Here's another number that's used quite often, which is that there are 300,000 trafficked children inside the United States. 

MCNEILL: That is a distortion of Estes—Neil Estes—no it was Richard Estes and Neil Weiner I think are the names. Estes and Weiner anyway. In 2001, they did a study that they purported to estimate the number of children, adolescents, and youth—because their number went up to at least 21 because some of these were working strip clubs and such. So their numbers went up to college-age people. And supposedly—this is the number that were at risk of sexual exploitation—was somewhere between 100,000 to 300,000. I think that they gave a number of 270,000. 

REASON: So children at risk were defined as being actually trafficked? 

MCNEILL: At risk. But not just children. But not just children. Because adolescents and youth also. But that was stripped away. When people quote that, they change at risk to in prostitution. They change children, adolescents, and youth to children. And also, the categories, even the categories. Weiner himself when he was interviewed for a Village Voice story a couple of years ago even said that actual trafficking—what people think of as trafficking—abduction and force—would be a very, very tiny percentage of that whole number. They included things like watching porn. They included things like legally working in a strip club. They included consensual homosexual relations as sexual exploitation. So when you have that kind of a vague—and then they narrow it down in the propaganda to represent something that even the original people who did the study weren't intending. 

REASON: Also many anti-trafficking organizations claim that the average age of entry into prostitution is 13.

MCNEILL: There's a researcher named Melissa Farley who does an awful lot of these kind of studies to provide numbers for the anti-prostitution people. And on her site she traced this supposed number of average of 13 to several old studies which all drew back to a study done here in LA actually in the early 80's—in '82. And that study found the average age of entry for underage sex workers—not for all sex workers, but only for underage ones—was about 16. In a different part of the study, they listed 13 as being the average age of first sexual contact. First kiss, first groping in a car, first whatever. Farley seems to have conflated the two numbers to represent that 13 as being the age not of first sexual contact, but of first accepting money for it. Even so, she still was only claiming that that was the age of origin for underage sex workers. Normal distortion, the gossip game syndrome, has changed that from underage to average of all. 

REASON: So let's say that these numbers are in fact grossly exaggerated. But would you deny that there are women that are forced into prostitution?

MCNEILL: No.

REASON: Would you deny that there are children who are forced into it?

MCNEILL: No. 

REASON: And then if that's the case, then what is the harm of exaggerating? Because the argument that's made is that it draws attention to a very important problem. 

MCNEILL: Oh, I'm sure it does. I'm sure it does draw attention. But the problem is that these—these false numbers, these inflated numbers are invariably linked to purported solutions that aren't solutions. Greater criminalization. The so-called end demand which is the idea of pursuing clients. And the pretense is that sex workers are not being targeted when they still are. They're just being targeted extrajudicially. In the United States, it's really kind of absurd to even claim that we're only targeting the clients when all the laws against sex work—against sale of sex are still on the books. So how can you claim well we're only targeting the clients and what—we just won't charge sex workers when we don't feel like it? When you look at the language that's used in the media reports—especially with these FBI innocence lost, that sort of thing. They'll use the term rescue. And of course rescue means arrest. Rescue means jailing them. In some places it might mean putting them into some sort of facility, some sort of foster-type facility. In other places it just means plain jail. And they're calling this rescue because the premise they seem to be preceding from is that the idea that being in jail is better for these girls—and it's always girls—even though young male sex workers do exist and adult male sex workers do exist. But that's not part of the narrative.  

REASON: So is it safe to say that the organizations and individuals that push these numbers are generally not in favor of decriminalization?

MCNEILL: That's correct. 

REASON: Let's talk about Somaly Mam, who was recently revealed as essentially perpetrating a fraud—that she claimed that she had been sold into sex slavery in Cambodia. She established a very popular NGO in Cambodia that was a big cause célèbre of many American celebrities. She had women working for whom she claimed were also sold into sex slavery and that has all been I think shown to be a fraud. 

MCNEILL: Pretty much, yeah.  

REASON: Ok. So let's say that's true and it's all a fraud. What harm did Somaly Mam do?

MCNEILL: Well, for one thing, again, it's the same as what we just were saying. That when you tie these stories to an agenda and there was a very definite agenda in Somaly Mam's case. The agenda in her case was she would have these joint raids with the police. She would get the police to raid brothels—to go in and arrest again—and all the women working there. They would lie about the ages. They would claim that they were younger than they were, generally. They're then incarnated in either her so-called rehabilitation centers or in plain jails where they are subjected to basically the same sort of harsh, awful treatment that sex workers are often subjected to at the hands of police the world round. So the—what the harm is is you—when you have a narrative that is being used directly to justify horrible abusive treatment, I'd say that's a problem. 

REASON: So I was reading an interview in VICE recently of an anti-trafficking hero in India—I forget her name—but who runs a rehabilitation center for allegedly trafficked women. And she was asked what happens inside her rehabilitation centers and she refused to answer that. What typically does happen inside those centers?

MCNEILL: It's funny you ask that because just a couple of weeks ago—I do on my blog I do a guest blog once a month. And my last one for May was by a young Indian sex worker who now lives in London. But when she was very young, actually before she even started sex work, she had friends that were sex workers and she was caught up in a raid and imprisoned in one of these centers and she explained what does happen. Well, there's a lot of physical abuse in the arrest process of course. The same as the rest of the world over. But then once they're there in the center, the main function is for them to—their reason for being there is to justify the existence of the NGO—is to justify the NGO continuing to get money. One of the ways they do that is by prosecution. They have to prosecute so-called traffickers. And so they need the girls to serve as witnesses. So they keep the girls against their will as witnesses in these rehabilitation centers while the so-called traffickers pay their bail and go home. And the girls can be kept—in India—because it's the example we're using—their court system is very slow. This can be years that they're sitting in these rehab centers. They're basically treated very poorly and whenever the rich American ladies come to see what their money is paying for they're trotted out to give a show like trained dogs. To give a show for the white ladies that are coming to see. The young woman that wrote the guest column for me told me that she was hidden away whenever these donors came because she could speak some English. And so they basically would lock her up in her room because they only wanted the girls who couldn't speak English so that they couldn't interact in any meaningful with the donors and tell them things they didn't want to hear. 

REASON: So you, like many activists insist on using the term "sex work" instead of prostitution. Why is that?

MCNEILL: I'm probably less rigid with it than a lot of others. I pretty much use whatever term I think the person's comfortable with, but sex work is the preferred term in the movement. The reason for this is because there is a very common form of rhetoric that's used against us—it's been for forever—that sex work isn't work. That it is a dodge. That it's a scam. That it's a form of exploitation. That it's a lazy approach to making money. That it's—I mean fill in the blank. Anything other than giving it the dignity of work and as a matter of fact, one of their little mantras that you often hear the prohibitionists spouting these days is that prostitution is not the oldest profession, it's the oldest oppression. So again, when you strip away it's character as work then you take—then you basically are trying to derail the argument of workers' rights. You're trying to derail—we don't question that McDonald's, for example, or the garment industry, or the Apple—the iPad factory—we don't question that these things have a right to exist. Even people who are fighting against what they perceive as abuses in these industries don't question that the industry itself should exist. But in sex work, because it's cast as not work, they pretend that it has no right to exist at all. And so there's these ideas of abolishing it, getting rid of it entirely. Nobody is talking about abolishing fast food. Nobody is talking about abolishing iPads. 

REASON: Well I think the argument more commonly is that it is a special form of exploitation—that it's an especially intimate form of exploitation that you find in no other form of work. How do you respond to that argument? 

MCNEILL: There's a lot of work that's intimate, isn't there? I mean what about raising peoples' children? But in America we don't have a problem handing our children over to complete strangers to raise them in day cares or nannies. What about therapy? I mean you're telling this person things that you might not even tell your best friend. You might not even tell your spouse. What about nursing? I have friends who are nurses and they have to clean peoples' intimate parts and things like that. My gynecologist gets pretty intimate with my private parts when she examines me. So, the fact of something being intimate I don't think that's an argument. I think that's neither here nor there as long as both parties agree. I can't see where the relative level of intimacy—and what is intimacy anyway when we really get down to it? I mean who defines that? I think that the two parties involved are the only ones that have a right to define that.  

REASON: There's a common assumption, very common assumption in our culture that that kind of work is damaging to women. That selling their bodies for money constitutes some sort of damage to them psychologically, spiritually, morally, physically that they can never really recover from. What do you think about that?

MCNEILL: Well, it's positively Victorian, isn't it? I mean it goes back to lie back and think of England. It's the idea that women are not sexual beings, that women are intrinsically asexual, that we're only sexual—that we can only be sexual under certain conditions. That it's almost like some sort of radioactive material or something. That we can only be sexual if it's wrapped in pretty bows and ribbons and it has the sanctity of the church on it and we call it marriage and we give you the special certificate or you're only doing it because you love the person. All these sorts of things and this is absurd. This is not what feminism was supposed to be. But this is what we've come back around to. We're prone to these, again, very Victorian notions that a woman is damaged by sex. A woman is hurt by sex. That when a woman is raped for example that her life will never be the same again—that she's ruined. They used to call it a fate worse than death. And I think that this is an intrinsically anti-feminist view because it gives tremendous, tremendous power to men, really. Because what you're saying is that a man has this almost magical power to destroy a woman's life merely by touching her in the wrong way. 

REASON: What about Katha Pollitt's argument that prostitution is an industry in which men's desires are catered to, therefore, it is essentially patriarchal?

MCNEILL: Well peoples' desires are catered to in restaurants. Peoples'—I mean any main business if you don't cater to the client you don't get business. I think she's trying to shove a square peg in a round hole there. I don't think a business can be patriarchal per say. I mean maybe some people may disagree with me. Maybe there is some sort of Marxist interpretation that says otherwise, but to me the principle of voluntary exchange is neutral, is gender neutral. I don't really see a case—I mean I suppose an argument can be made, but I've never seen one that I've found—

REASON: It's a desire like any other in another exchange. 

MCNEILL: Sure. Sure. 

REASON: So if there is a problem with involuntary sex work, which would be trafficking or slavery, what should be done then? Do you want to do nothing about it? Let the market take its course?

MCNEILL: No. No, I wouldn't go quite that far. The problem is that there are already laws for these things. We have a name for sex being inflicted on a woman against her will. We call it rape. We have a name for taking someone and holding them prisoner somewhere. We call that abduction. These things are already against the law. We have (a law) against a boss taking wages that don't belong to him. We call that theft. These things are all against the law already. Why do we need this new construct and vague construct that isn't even properly defined? Why do we need this to be laid on top of all these other things that already are crimes? And the answer of course is because it isn't the involuntary that they really care about. The prohibitionists don't care about the involuntary. I think that there's some of them maybe that are deluded enough to think that this is common, but I think a majority of them know better. I think the majority know quite well that what they're actually targeting is consensual sex work by redefining it as non-consensual. And to redefine it as non-consensual once again we have to go back to that idea that a woman doesn't have agency over her own body. That choices a woman makes where sex is involved are automatically suspect. That really—that essentially in the area of sex, that a woman is a permanent adolescent because when you look at things like the Swedish model—and it's become very popular in the United States and now Canada is trying to impose it—this idea that only the client should be criminalized. What does this resemble most closely? What it resembles most closely to me is statutory rape laws. The idea that the woman is not—that her consent is immaterial. That the male is essentially her moral superior. So he needs to be held accountable and whether she agreed or whether she didn't agree is completely immaterial. 

REASON: So what is it about sex here? Why is sex work seen as this sort of separate—entirely separate category of work? Why is it stigmatized in the way that it is?

MCNEILL: I think it's just sex. I think sex is just it's just the same reasons sex is stigmatized.

REASON: What does that say about our culture and it's view of sex?

MCNEILL: I think this is a very ancient thing, isn't it? I mean sex in ancient times was different. It was the only thing that could produce a human being. And I think what's happened is that we simply haven't caught up, we simply haven't matured, we simply haven't recognized that birth control and abortion make this not so. There's not necessarily a chance when a woman has sex that a life could result. Maybe back in ancient times when that was true, maybe they were right in those days to think of sex as being a special case because it could produce a baby and that's important. But not now. A woman who doesn't want to be pregnant now doesn't have to. But yet, we still pretend that it's a special case. We still pretend that there's a magical mumbo jumbo taboo energy about sex that makes it different from all other human activities. And this is something that I simply don't see. 

REASON: So why should it be decriminalized?

MCNEILL: The decriminalization I think has nothing to do with the sex argument. I think the decriminalization—the best argument for decriminalization is a harm reduction argument which is simply that all the other forms of managing it cause more harm than good. Criminalization certainly does. The Swedish model certainly does. Even the so-called legalization regimes like we have here in Nevada. The idea that you can only do sex work if you're doing it for somebody else, in a specific place far from where good people can see it, way out in the desert, only in small counties and then only connected cronies can get the licenses. So this is—this is a not a good—I'm not saying that if a woman chooses to work in a brothel that that's bad. If that's her choice, that's her choice. What I'm saying is that the choice shouldn't be taken away. And in a legalized system what you're seeing is that that choice is taken away. What's particularly bizarre to me is that you can cross a border and the rules of legalization change completely. So in Nevada, the only form of sex work allowed is in a brothel. In Canada, brothels are illegal. You can only do it if you're not working for someone else. Same thing with the English Channel, right? In the Netherlands, brothels are legal. In Britain, they're not legal. And what New Zealand did and what New South Wales in Australia did is they both recognized that when you want to start making regulations, laws, and rules about sex work you get in to some very deep thickets very fast because then you get into things like what is prostitution? If a man gives me an expensive present and I have sex with him for this expensive present, is that prostitution? If he pays me a flat rate per month and I have sex with him, is that prostitution? And you get into these things like that and what New Zealand and New South Wales both realized is that these rules when you start asking police to make these judgements they will always judge on the side of criminalization. They will always judge on the side of arrest. If there's an ambiguous situation, they're going to just arrest everybody. And to stop that you need to just take the police out of it entirely. 

RUSSELL: It seems like at the end of the day, it's not a legal question, it's a cultural question.  

MCNEILL: Sure.

RUSSELL: It sounds like from what you're saying that as a culture we need to think differently about sex before we have a solution to this.  

MCNEILL: We need to grow up. I mean, it's that simple. We need to grow up. The idea that if you—if they find out that a hotel room was being used by a sex worker that that contaminates the hotel room because there's some sort of magical taboo energy that goes into it. This is silly. It's childish. This is not something for the 21st century, for the most technologically advanced nation on Earth to be still practicing and yet we do. So yeah, I think that's what it is. I think we just need to grow up. 

RUSSELL: Well thank you Maggie for joining us. This has been great. For Reason TV, I'm Thad Russell. 

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53 responses to “Former Sex Worker & Activist Maggie McNeill on Why We Should Decriminalize Prostitution: 'This Is Not What Feminism Was Supposed to Be'

  1. In a statement Donovan said “Prostitution can involve violence against women, addiction and in some circumstances can be human trafficking. It’s important that we educate community members that prostitution is far more complex and dangerous than just a business transaction. ”

    Seven men were arrested June 18 in an undercover prostitution investigation in South Burlington, police said.

    The South Burlington Police Department placed an online ad on a website used by prostitutes, and within minutes requests came in from text messages and phone calls, police said. The ad was online for six hours and during that time, 40 people made contact with an undercover officer in Vermont, police said.

    The ad generated 285 separate contacts with the undercover officer.

    Seven of the people were given a location to meet up with a prostitute and engage in sexual activity, police said. All seven were arrested at the Anchorage Inn and released on a citation to appear in Vermont Superior Court July 3.

    wptz.com

    1. UPDATE: In lieu of charging seven men who were implicated in prostitution sting, the men will be required to take a class about human trafficking.

      State Attorney Thomas J. Donovan says men will be required to attend a class on understanding the complex circumstances that underlie prostitution.

      The class will be run by Give Way To Freedom, a private operating foundation that creates and supports culturally relevant projects aimed at providing care and empowerment to survivors of human trafficking, as well as those vulnerable to human trafficking. Edith Klimoski will lead the class, she is a member of the Vermont Human Trafficking Task Force.

      1. Five dollar bet that Give Way To Freedom was the main solicitor of the state in setting up this “class.”

        1. I’d bet they instigated the whole sting.

    2. Prostitution can involve violence against women, addiction and in some circumstances can be human trafficking.

      Mostly because its illegal. This is how black markets work. Want to stop it? Legalize the market.

    3. Accounting methods are no different than any other illegal field where there is state money to be had “solving the problem”.
      Drug addiction rates are based off the theory that every person that smokes a doobie is an addict – which is no more sane than saying that anyone that has a drink is an alcoholic – I guess everyone is a food addict.
      However, many people have a vested interest in inflating these numbers – mandatory drug counseling courts and classes, etc…

      1. Oh, I also love how the amount of people seeking treatment is used to show how bad the drug addiction problem is. Of course, most of those people would NOT seek drug treatment, they are there because of court order or pending cases.

  2. Oh sure, first you’re going to legalize it. Then you’re going to demand that medicaid and medicare cover prostitution services the way that enlightened European countries do. Then you’re going to demand that employers pay for their workers to see prostitutes as part of their health insurance packages.

    Reason is just a tool of Big Pimp

    1. McNeil’s blog the honest courtesan is a pretty interesting read. It must make feminists head explode. She actually thinks wives have a duty to satisfy their husband’s sexually.

      I tend to agree with Glen Renyolds in that prostitution laws are just the law trying to ensure women have total control over male sexuality. Without prostitution, men have sex when women decide they will and that is it.

      1. Re: John,

        She actually thinks wives have a duty to satisfy their husband’s sexually.

        My wife would beg to differ. She believes that *I* have to satisfy her sexually and that it should be more than… once a month. Such a nympho.

        1. Lol yeah.

          I’m with Mexican on this one. I could bang my wife anytime I wanted to, problem is I don’t want to anywhere near as often as she wants me to

          1. Maybe we should work out some kind of a trade.

            1. Hit ‘n Run Wife Swap.

              Sounds legit.

              1. Reason is a din of inequity.

                1. I’m sure most progs would agree with that. They’d also think it’s a den of iniquity.

                  1. That too BP.

                    1. “din of inequity” is brilliant, whether legitimate typos, or you were deliberately joking around. Seriously, top shelf.

      2. Women have that control either way. With sex work, men simply have one more persuasion tool available to them. Every man, if he lives to be old enough, will one day need that additional tool.

    2. Yeah, it kinda came across (wrong) in this light to me too.

      The churchies at Hobby Lobby don’t strike me as “Victorian-era”, “magical mumbo jumbo”, types. I agree that laws could be reformed, but saying our culture needs to grow up because the other side is a bunch of doo doo heads seemed kinda stupid to me.

      Any woman who thinks any sex law is written the way it is because the church needs to ask herself how her father would right the sex laws. Also, any woman who describes whatever happens at her OB/GYN as intimate has either crossed a line with their OB/GYN or has a really twisted definition of intimate.

      “Now please, turn your head and cough.”
      “*cough*iloveyou*cough*”

      1. The biggest drivers of prostitution being illegal is women. And they do it to control men.

        The question I have is if sex really is for fun and not procreation, then what is the justification for monogamy? It used to be that monogamy was justified because you had sex to have kids and to raise kids you need to be sure who the father is and have two parents around to raise them. In this day and age of available birth control, that justification doesn’t work very well does it?

        1. Yes, but notice most of the “legalize prostitution!” articles at Reason are also written by women.

          ‘Smatter ladies? Does Reason really pay that bad?

        2. Let alone the justif’n for same-sex marriage.

        3. @John – I think religion is the biggest reason prostitution is illegal. Christopher Hitchens has a real eye-opening chapter in “God is Not Great” about sexist views of all religions and that women are the “bad guy” in all matters involving sex.

          Lots of women use their sexuality as “currency” so to speak. From the girls at the bar schmoozing for free drinks to the full-blown gold-digger – Women don’t need to eliminate prostitutes to manipulate men by using sex.

          Men resent the fact that women are most often the “gate-keepers” of sex.

          1. Oh yeah, and historically men have made most of the laws in this country.

          2. Just because men make the laws doesn’t mean that women don’t have any input. Further, the sexual power that women have comes at the expense of other women just as much as it comes at the expense of men. What man is going to argue for legalized prostitution and then go home and explain his position to his wife?

            And Hitchens is an ignoramus on the subject of religion. He doesn’t even get the criticism right. For most of the history of Christianity prostitution was legal because men were not considered to ever be guilty of adultery. Only women were guilty. The concern in all societies has always been married and bethrothed women who cheat and thus make the paternity of children in doubt. No one has ever cared about whores or about men risking their soul in sex. That came later. And that came primarily because married women got more powerful in society and didn’t want their husbands out cheating.

            Show me society that is truly patriarchal and I will show you a society where prostitution, at least of the female variety is accepted. When the sexes started to get more equal is when women stepped in and demanded that it be legal.

            Hitchens was a good writer but he didn’t know shit about history or religion beyond his own idiotic prejudices. I suggest you find a better class of atheist to read, if you want intelligent critiques of religion.

            1. I have numerous times said prostitution should be legal in front of my wife, even with others present. She tends to agree with me. No big deal.

          3. Not an explanation, Logical 1. “Religion” is just a label wrapped around some of the things we think. It doesn’t explain why people have this “religious” belief.

            1. Robert, that is fair criticism. What I meant is that religion teaches that sex is a sin, it’s evil and immoral (except when it’s used to make more sheeple). Maybe there were practical reasons for this view–avoiding STDs and unwanted pregnancies–but this attitude still remains (millions of people still believe in a virgin birth!). I read a borrowed copy of Hitchen’s book so I don’t have it handy to quote from but IMO his insightfulness is brilliant.

    3. You don’t understand libertarianism, do you. Libertarians don’t buy into the argument that government must either prohibit or support activities, rather than simply leaving them alone.

  3. We still pretend that there’s a magical mumbo jumbo taboo energy about sex that makes it different from all other human activities.”

    I guess Ms. McNeil isn’t much into tantra.

    Her loss.

    1. She makes a valid point but that ignores biology. The fact is that women and some men really do attach special significance to sex. And I really don’t think it is based entirely on socialization. I think it is based on biology and the biological association of sex and procreation. Why do women feel betreyed or of lesser value when a guy bangs them and moves on? Because for the thousands of years before birth control that happening often meant having a child with no way to provide for it. It makes sense that we women would be hard wired to feel bad when a guy screws them and doesn’t want a commitment. Women of course still free will and can ignore that preference. And some may not have it. But most do and most have a hard time ignoring it for whatever reason.

      The problem is that we as a society have no coherent position on sex. It is supposed to be for fun when you are young and single but then when you get married it is supposed to take on some special significance such that you don’t do it with anyone else. Well, why not when you were doing it for fun with people before? What is so special about marriage is sex is just another fun activity? Why does it cease to be that when you get married?

      Since sex is no longer associated with procreation, we have no real rational answer to that. We just have a lot of mumbo jumbo about “emotional commitment” and such.

      1. I don’t believe you even have to go that deep. Just ask yourself, “Does anything feel as good as sex? Does anything come even close?” The closest I found was the first time I fired full-auto, and even that was a distant second.

        1. Sure. But I have a hard time constructing a rational societal and ethical framework for sex that isn’t either the Catholic extreme of sex is all about procreation and nothing else or the libertine extreme that sex is just another fun activity and nothing else. I am not endorsing either view. I am saying whatever their faults, both view at least are internally consistent and rational based on their assumptions. The problem is when you try to construct anything in between, you wind up either ignoring the implications of your assumptions or following them and ending up at one or the other extreme.

          That is where society is now. We want to believe that sex is special and all that when we want it to be, usually in marriage or some committed relationship. But at the same time we want to believe it is this great fun activity that anyone can engage in as long as they are not committed to someone else and everyone is an adult. You really can’t rationalize those two positions.

          1. As Alan Watts said (quoting someone IIRC), society makes sex good-bad. And both the “good” and “bad” aspects are made, together, into a much bigger deal than an objective look would justify. The decision to fuck or not with a particular person or at all is overlaid with a fear of regret that is inconceivable when it comes to other good, or even good-bad things. Like, it’s harder to be friends once you’ve had sexual intercourse with each other. What about once you’ve seen a good show or something else pleasurable together? I don’t understand it.

            1. Yes we do. We see this with regards to homosexuality. Both sides act like anyone who is a homosexual is somehow compelled to act on it and it defines their entire existence, rather than seeing it as just another preference. Christians do this by pretending that the sin of homosexuality is some kind of special sin. That is bunk. It is no different a sin than hatred or envy or greed or anything else. Since Christians fixate on sex as some kind of special sin, they often can’t reconcile their commitment to forgiveness with homosexuals. It absurd. You can accept a homosexual as a sinner just like you can any other sinner. We all sin. Accepting each other isn’t an endorsement of our sins. It is an acknowledgement of our equality in sin.

              In contrast, the pro homosexual side thinks that objecting to homosexuality as wrong is something special and different than objecting to any other form of behavior or preference. That homosexuality is somehow entitled to universal acceptance in a way no other choice is. Both sides are completely obsessed with sex to the detriment of their rationality.

              1. “That homosexuality is somehow entitled to universal acceptance in a way no other choice is.”

                You assume that sexuality is a choice. When did you choose to be straight? If you are.

                Homosexuals expect acceptance because it is not a choice. I think the greatest day for any human would be the day they are simply accepted for human with all the natural born rights that entails, without having to be categorized. Why should I have to be excepted to be accepted?

            2. I forget what sutra it was in, but I remember that the Buddha stated that sexual desire was the most powerful tanha, and that if there were another as equally powerful, then even he wouldn’t have achieved enlightenment. Watts, as always, showed that sex, like all dharmas, is essentially “empty“.

              1. HM,

                Sex is like any other worldly pleasure, transient and ultimately unfulfilling.

                1. Indeed. But in the meantime, I’m gonna keep trying to fulfill myself.

        2. “Does anything feel as good as sex? Does anything come even close?”

          To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women?

          1. I’ll contemplate that on the tree of woe.

          2. There is that of course. But there are some deviants out there who are not into that.

      2. I think this is largely a tie in to religion and the religious definition of marriage. I’ve had some very open minded married couples as friends and without fail, they were atheist or ‘spiritual’ with no tie to religion. They are ‘moral’ and productive members of society, with no issues around the transition from single to married you’ve described. I’m sure there are other types, but I would bet the conflict for the majority would come from their religion.

  4. VID: Former Sex Worker & Activist Maggie McNeill On Why We Should Decriminalize Prostitution

    I misread that as, “VD:…Why We Should Decriminalize Prostitution” and thought, “Fuck, yeah.”

  5. Decriminalize Prostitution

    Fuck that half-assed shit. Legalize it, don’t regulate it, maybe sales tax on the service.

    1. In the context of sex work policy, decriminalization typically refers to a relatively free market in the sex industry. Legalization refers to policies where it’s legal but very heavily regulated with things like licensing, mandatory STI testing, etc (e.g., Netherlands, Germany, Canada).

      1. Oh. Thank you. Then decriminalize.

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    1. I don’t think Google accepts sex-work ads….

  7. I would have really liked Ms. McNeil to have been asked about what reaction she gets to these arguments, and why they aren’t as compelling to some as they seem they ought to be.

  8. Well I couldn’t agree more with this. It’s a matter of consent between two adults. We’ve got sites like Rub Maps, craigslist, backpage all catering towards this growing market. It’s not a surprise that there needs to be legalization and regulation. Hopefully, there can be a difference in this market.

  9. Presumably then with decriminalization the libertarian view of government would limit its activity, just, as in other markets, to enforcement of contracts (between consenting persons who can make legal contracts of course) against force or fraud. Thus, for one example, Mr Sterling would have cause to enforce a contract against his mistress if he could prove consent to a written, signed contract and that either it was agreed with fraud by the other party or was agreed to be violated, and so could collect damages. I’d like to see some model contracts on the order of existing pre-nuptial agreements. Ashleymadison.com

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